Q&A: AztecSportsReport’s Ruben Meza on why this SDSU recruiting class might just rival Boise State’s

Please do not tailgate this man while driving on the freeway, thank you.

I could write my own lengthy, in-depth article on San Diego State football recruiting, honest! My insights into recruiting in general and the Class of 2018 in particular include, but are not limited to, the following facts:

  • SDSU is hot on the trail of top tier talent
  • Children are our future
  • Several of these recruits were born after the Baha Men released the smash hit “Who Let the Dogs Out?”
  • My god I’m getting old
  • Recruiting is the *true* Game of Thrones

    But on the unlikely chance you wanted to know even more about Aztecs recruiting, I went ahead and tracked down Ruben Meza from Rivals.com. Ruben publishes the AztecSportsReport, which you should definitely subscribe to. Before you do, enjoy this Q&A on how SDSU’s class is shaping up and the factors leading to this early success – as well as an update on Ruben’s car troubles.

AztecsKillingHim: Recruiting coordinator Tony White has been posting some cryptically cheery messages on Twitter lately. Is it justified? The way this class is shaping up, how do you see it comparing with other recent classes?

Meza: Coach White’s use of Twitter has been great. He basically puts out a bat signal every time a new recruit commits, which just gives me further confirmation on some of the info I have and definitely makes my job easier. I also think D-line coach Ernie Lawson is becoming a must follow on Twitter because his selection of gifs is top class.

The main difference between this class and previous years is that San Diego State already has a legit headliner in JR Justice on board. He’s well known around the county and he’s the quarterback of one of the most recognized schools in San Diego: St. Augustine. If he were to wait until next February, his commitment would be a major “signing day splash” to get Aztec fans pumped up. But Justice wanted to get his recruitment over with to focus on his senior year and he knew that his commitment to the school would only help SDSU convince more local recruits to join him.

The start of this class is also different in that SDSU is taking a different approach in their methods. One poster on my board compared it TCU back in the day, when they recruited primarily on pure athleticism by signing the most athletic players they could find. High school teams typically play their best athletes at quarterback or running back and SDSU already has a couple of commits in that same mold. They are also targeting offensive tackles that can play guard or center, receivers that can be defensive backs, defensive ends that can play tight end or linebacker and so on and so forth. The versatility in this class will certainly help SDSU make decisions on who they take down the final stretch of this class. They’ll worry less about “position of need” and care more about athleticism and playmaking ability, which in my opinion is the right way to go.

Boise has long been the getter of top-shelf talent in this conference. Is this approaching their level?

I actually mentioned this on my premium board. You can argue SDSU has had better talent in recent years regardless of rankings based off their conference championship results, but Boise State does seem to be considered “signing day winners” of the Mountain West more often than not. As of now, this class has a chance to at least match Boise State in terms of notoriety and recruiting rankings.

The gap certainly is closing and it will continue to if SDSU keeps up the winning trend. If they beat Boise State again the next two years then we’ll really start talking about a big-picture shift in recruiting momentum between the two schools.

As you mentioned, JR Justice is a huge commitment. How good is he and why would he turn down Power Five schools to come here?

He’s very, very good. The local class coming out of San Diego this year is very top heavy and JR is in that top-tier group. There’s a good chance San Diego county produces up to two 5-stars and up to three 4-stars when the final rankings are out. That’s a very good year for any city.

The only thing going against Justice potentially receiving a coveted fourth star is that he will likely be playing quarterback during his senior season, rather than primarily at receiver. Regardless, he’s an explosive player with great size and he uses his body well. Most impressive are his hands. He makes very strong catches against good coverage and stays on his feet after the catch. The two biggest issues with SDSU receivers have been their hands and their tendency to fall to the ground after big downfield catches, rather than looking to keep the play alive. Justice solves both of those problems for the Aztecs.

Besides Justice, who are your top players to watch in this class so far?

It’s just getting started and SDSU will likely make another run at commits before and after the season, so my favorites may change, but I really like the latest addition of Demejay Williams. One of the biggest traits SDSU looks for out of defensive players is their instincts and agility. If you’ve watched SDSU’s defense over the years, opposing teams’ offensive plays usually end before they get started because Rocky Long puts his guys in the perfect alignment and the defense takes care of the rest. Williams fits that mold perfectly and he’s capable of playing any spot in the secondary, in my opinion.

The second, as of now, has to be Josh Bornes. During signing day each year, I usually give out “awards” for certain Aztec signees and I already have an early pick for “hardest hitter.” Bornes is not the biggest guy in the world but he’s going to be one of the most feared linebackers in the county this upcoming season. Think Jake Fely.

If you’re asking about top players that aren’t commits, I’d pick these two to keep it local: Sante Fe Christian defensive end Demitri Washington and El Camino running back Chris Brown. Washington moves insanely well for his size (6-4, 250) and is just really light on his feet. His recruitment would be big time if he went to a bigger high school but he does have some solid options to choose from like Cal and Boise State.

As for Brown, he’s a type of kid who you can tell is a superstar when you walk on the field. He has a Reggie Bush kind of look to him and he’d be perfect in SDSU’s offense, but he’s likely going to end up at a Power Five school.

Rocky Long has always had a type – the mentally tough overlooked guys. A lot of these commits are far from overlooked. From what you know of them, do you think they fit Rocky’s mentality?

I think so. None of the recruits SDSU is targeting, that I’ve spoken with, come off as prima donnas and they all still feel like they have been a bit overlooked during the recruiting process for whatever reason. Two examples are New Mexico athlete Jordan Byrd and El Paso, Texas athlete Cedarious Barfield. Both possess legit speed and are major playmakers on their high school team but they are both undersized, which is likely why other programs didn’t recruit them as hard. Like the rest of the class, they did have some solid, competitive FBS schools to select from but it’s not like they will get to SDSU thinking that they are better than everyone else inside the locker room.

The coaching staff definitely is wary of the personalities that they bring into the program and there’s a lot of talented players that they don’t bother recruiting very much because those guys have their eyes set on the Pac-12 and all the glitz and glamour that comes with it. I’ve seen really talented prospects attend SDSU camps that don’t have Aztec offers and wonder why – until I talk with them. More often than not, it’s because they have Pac-12 fever. The coaching staff has done a good job changing that type of attitude by its winning ways in recent years though, and this class is another step in the right direction.

What can you tell us about Tony White? What makes him so effective?

He’s the prototypical recruiter every college coaching staff needs to have. He has tremendous evaluation skills, takes chances on kids who don’t have any offers (then suddenly have double digit offers as signing day approaches) and is really likable.

His recruiting map is all over the place, too. Typically, college coaches are assigned certain areas of certain states to scout and recruit every year. But whenever I make calls to kids from all over the west coast, they always mention Coach White’s name along with their area recruiter. It’s pretty ridiculous, honestly. I bet if you were to ask White if he’s ever heard of that one offensive lineman from Barstow he could give you a full rundown on his ability and recruitment. The staff has even targeted a couple of Canadian transfers over the years – which is unheard of – and I bet Coach White has a lot do with that too.

He’s definitely a rising star in the coaching ranks that SDSU is lucky to have, but he’s not the only one on staff. Shhh, let’s keep it between you and me, but offensive line coach Mike Schmidt already has a tremendous track record for developing linemen, Zach Arnett has done the same with the linebacker unit and new defensive line coach Ernie Lawson seems like a tremendous recruiter based off the chats I have had with several prospects.

How much of a factor do you think a season of national D.J. Pumphrey hype has been in all this?

It’s big, and helpful on a lot of levels: One, offensive linemen want to come block for guys like Pumphrey, and even though he’s gone now, SDSU’s offense seems to churn out NFL-caliber running backs year in and year out. Two, running backs want to come to get the carries and opportunities Pumphrey did. And three, speed receivers/running backs who are versatile athletes enjoy the way SDSU’s offense gets the ball in the hands of its playmakers, whether it be on receiver routes or taking handoffs out of the backfield on fly motion sweeps.

The conventional wisdom (certainly from SDSU detractors) has been that the stadium uncertainty would kill recruiting. Do you get a sense that hasn’t been the case so far?

Not one bit. As much as some portions of the public are being brainwashed with the idea of SDSU going homeless, it’s not impacting the recruits I’ve spoken with. I can see rival teams bringing it up to recruits once we get to that last ditch effort/desperation point leading up to national signing day, so we’ll see when we get there.

For now, SDSU can always just argue back that the chances of the team having its own brand new shiny college football-sized stadium is just as, if not more, likely to happen than the football program becoming homeless in the next five years.

OK, for those who haven’t been following your tweets, can you explain what happened with your car?

It’s resolved now, but there was a sudden stop on the 5 south just before rush hour and an 18-year-old girl behind me didn’t react in time so I got rear-ended. I pulled over, then walked back to see the damage and write down her info and license plate number. I didn’t see a front license plate on her car, so I asked if she had one. She just went silent and pointed toward my exhaust. This is what I saw:

Be honest, was the accident related to SDSU recruiting in any way?

No. But I was on my way to Tacos El Gordo when it happened. SDSU takes its recruits to some of the best food spots in town during official visits and having tacos is certainly on their list. That’s the only connection. I swear.

I just decided to share the updates on Twitter because they pretty much all coincided with updates on my car’s dealings with insurance, inspectors, repair shops etc., so it was my own little running joke. My girlfriend and I enjoyed reading all the conspiracy theories while sitting down in waiting rooms, so it was worth it.

Thanks very much to Ruben for taking the time. – ed.

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Author: Aztecs Killing Him

Former proprietor of AztecsKillingHim dot com, a long-dead SDSU sports blog that was possibly dumber even than this one. On Twitter at @akh_blog.

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