Brady Hoke gives first football update since beginning of COVID-19 pandemic

Brady+Hoke+poses+in+front+of+the+media+after+being+introduced+as+San+Diego+State+football%27s+head+coach+on+Jan.+8.

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Brady Hoke poses in front of the media after being introduced as San Diego State football's head coach on Jan. 8.

by Kyle Betz, Sports Editor

On Tuesday, San Diego State football had its first formal press conference since the COVID-19 pandemic began.

While all of the team’s past press conferences have taken place in Fowler Athletic Center on the west side of SDSU’s campus, Tuesday’s was held over Zoom — the same format the team has used to conduct meetings the past few months.

Head coach Brady Hoke said he was happy with the way the players have adjusted to the new measures despite the ongoing pandemic.

“We’re excited that we get closer and closer to fall,” Hoke said. “Very impressed with the way our players have engaged in everything that we’ve done from the Zoom meetings to what they’re doing on the field right now… Obviously, the repopulation, the health and safety is something that is priority for us.”

The team returned to campus for summer voluntary workouts on July 7, but is set to begin walk-throughs on July 24.

Aztecs adjust to new meeting methods amidst pandemic

Football is a game of close interaction — whether that be in the film room, locker room, practice facility or game field.

But that’s not the reality teams contend with during a pandemic.

Hoke said he’s been having Zoom meetings with players and parents to discuss the new limitations and measures student-athletes have to follow.

“We constantly try and educate their parents and them on what we’re doing and them knowing that they’re safe and their health is a premium,” Hoke said.

While it might be more difficult to contain position groups within a “bubble” during voluntary summer workouts, Hoke said the quarterbacks have been meeting for the past three weeks. Once a starter has been selected, they will only meet with offensive coordinator Jeff Hecklinski.

“Right now, they’ve been all working out together,” Hoke said. “We’ve talked about whoever the starter is meeting one-on-one with coach Hecklinski, then meeting virtually with the other three.”

The team will begin walk-throughs on Friday and start full practices on August 7.

Hoke said the team has two plans: keep practice as similar as it has been in the past and make sure it stays competitive.

“As a staff, we got six weeks of winter conditioning then six days of practice, so there’s a lot of competition out there and a lot for our staff to make sure (of) in our evaluations,” Hoke said. “We will make it as competitive as possible.”

Hoke said that no players or personnel have opted not to participate in preseason activities over concern for the virus.

The program has implemented outdoor workouts with equipment, physical distancing and mask-wearing when appropriate.

Every football aspect, including conditioning and lifting, has been conducted on the practice fields outside of Fowler Athletic Center.

Hoke also discussed a potential solution if one or more student-athletes tested positive for COVID-19.

“We’ll look at that situation a little more,” Hoke said. “I think the protocol right now would be that you’d quarantine a group. But I think as we keep knowing more about the pandemic and those kind of things, there’s a good possibility that (we would) maybe quarantine one individual and do the testing on the others.”

Aztecs no longer able to play entire initial schedule

With the Pac-12 announcing conference-only play for all teams involved in fall sports on July 10, UCLA was removed from SDSU’s schedule. The Aztecs and Bruins were slotted to play during the Aztecs’ third game of the season on Sept. 19 at SDCCU Stadium.

Despited this schedule change, Hoke is still feeling confident the Aztecs will be able to play their 11 other regular season opponents

“I think from everything that we know and talking with the Mountain West (Conference), we feel confident and hope to obviously get some good football in the fall,” Hoke said. “Until we hear anything else, we’re preparing for the season.”

Hoke said another opponent could replace UCLA on the Sept. 19 slate, pending administrative decisions.

“We will wait on the conference to make some of those decisions,” Hoke said. “As a coach and as a player, I think (with) your competitiveness, you’d like to replace it.”

Hoke said the COVID-19 testing process originally took longer than expected, but the team has caught up and he looks forward to getting ready for the Aztecs’ home opener against Sacramento State on Sept. 5.

“Talking with the other coaches in the Mountain West, I think there is some belief the longer this goes to some degree, I think the tests will become a little bit more affordable,” Hoke said. “But at this point, we’ll have (85) guys that have been tested and that will be on the field on Friday.”

Plenty of preseason recognition

The Aztecs were selected to finish first in the West Division of the Mountain West by the media on Tuesday morning, receiving 19 out of 21 first-place votes (122 total points). Nevada finished second in West Division voting with two first-place votes (100 total points).

The Aztecs haven’t received votes to finish first place in the West Division since 2017, when the team finished the regular season with 10 wins but were edged out by Fresno State to win the West.

Hoke said the preseason honor doesn’t mean much considering the route the team has to take to play in the regular season.

“Obviously, we want to play a season and we want to earn that,” Hoke said. “I don’t know if it was surprising because of some of the guys that we have returning, particularly on defense. At the same time, that’s great, but that doesn’t mean anything right now.”

Tuesday’s ranking is one of many preseason honors that SDSU football has received in the past week.

Senior defensive back Tariq Thompson and sophomore defensive lineman Cameron Thomas were each given watch list honors for the Chuck Bednarik Award on July 13. The Bednarik Award is annually issued to the best defensive player in college football.

On July 20, Thompson picked up another preseason accolade when he and junior cornerback Darren Hall were named to the Jim Thorpe Award watch list (awarded to the nation’s top defensive back).

Junior tight end Daniel Bellinger was named to the John Mackey Award watch list on July 17. The honor is given to the best tight end in the country.

Before Tuesday’s press conference, Thomas was mentioned on another preseason watch list— the Bronko Nagurski Trophy— honoring the best defensive player in college football.

Hoke said the players need to prove why they’ve been recognized on game day.

“It’s exciting for them, I’m sure. It’s exciting for us as a program,” Hoke said. “But as you all know, you got to go out to prove it. This program was based on toughness and mentality. Part of that mentality is, the guys who have played, they’ve got to play at a higher level than they did the year before. The other part of it is, the best players have got to play.”

The preseason honors won’t stop there. The preseason all-Mountain West team will be announced on July 22.

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