San Diego State players get first look at Snapdragon Stadium

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SAN DIEGO – After playing home games in a Los Angeles suburb the last two seasons, San Diego State’s football players loaded into buses Wednesday afternoon for the 10-minute drive to their new stadium.

They liked what they saw of 35,000-seat Snapdragon Stadium so much that they were already looking forward to what it will be like having a home-field advantage again when it opens Sept. 3 with a game against Arizona.

Linebacker Caden McDonald said getting to open a new stadium in the school’s 100th season of football was a big reason why he came back for his senior season.

“My last two seasons, I’ve been in Carson. I haven’t been able to play San Diego football in San Diego,” McDonald said. “We’ve been in Carson. So, this is truly going to be a blessing to be able to play in front of San Diego fans in San Diego.”

The Aztecs haven’t played in San Diego since 2019. Due to the pandemic affecting the 2020 schedule, the school decided to move up demolition of 70,000-seat SDCCU Stadium earlier than originally planned to help expedite construction of Snapdragon Stadium. The stadium is the first phase of a campus expansion in Mission Valley.

The Aztecs went 12-2 last year for the best season in school history. But because they played 116 miles from campus in Dignity Health Sports Park in Carson, many of their fans didn’t see them in person. SDSU went 6-2 in Carson, including a thrilling three-overtime win over Utah of the Pac-12 and a victory against Boise State that clinched the Mountain West Conference’s West Division title. That meant making one more trip up the freeway for the conference championship game, which the Aztecs lost 46-13 to Utah State.

SDSU bounced back with a Frisco Bowl win over UTSA to finish No. 25 in The Associated Press poll.

“Having the convenience of being 10 minutes from the campus is going to be a game-changer for sure,” McDonald said after the seniors were the first group of players to tour the stadium, which is still under construction. “This is what it’s about. This is how college football is supposed to be, not playing 14 away games a year. Now we actually get a home-field advantage. This will definitely be one of the best home-field advantages in college football this season.”

The Aztecs said the first thing that jumped out at them is how steep the stands are and how close they are to the field.

“I’m not a design guy, but I tell you, the fans are going to be right on top of you and it’s going to be a great atmosphere,” said coach Hoke, who has been to the new stadium a few times. “When it’s your home place, it’s great, believe me. I think it makes a difference, especially if you’re playing well.”

Athletic director J.D. Wicker said all of Snapdragon Stadium, other than the top of the west side upper deck, would have fit inside the field-level seating at SDCCU Stadium. “It’s very intimate and that’s what we were going for,” Wicker said. “We’ve got a great example in a basketball arena on campus of an intimate facility that’s steep and is a lot of excitement and that’s what we’re going to have here.”

Snapdragon Stadium is going up just west of where SDCCU Stadium stood since 1967. After the NFL’s Chargers bolted for Los Angeles following the 2016 season, San Diego State won a ballot measure that gave it the right to buy the majority of the Mission Valley site for a campus expansion and new football stadium.

Senior wide receiver Jesse Matthews, who grew up in San Diego, voted for that ballot measure in November 2018. Now he gets to play in the stadium.

“That’s cool how it all came full circle,” he said. “I wasn’t sure when they were going to get it done. But it’s a perfect storm, our 100th season, my senior year, being back home after being on the road for two years, it’s incredible.”

The Aztecs have sold 11,500 season tickets with a goal of 18,000, Wicker said.

The ground-up concrete from SDCCU Stadium is in a massive pile about 150 yards east of Snapdragon Stadium. It will be used as fill at the campus expansion site.

Air Force football sanctioned for recruiting violations

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AIR FORCE ACADEMY, Colo. — The Air Force football program received two years of probation from the NCAA and had its squad size reduced by 10 for four years as part of its sanctions for recruiting violations.

The penalties were announced Thursday after Air Force and four individuals reached an agreement with NCAA enforcement staff on recruiting violations. A fifth individual in the case has contested their role and will be heard by the committee on infractions.

The sanctions also include a fine and a reduction of 46 total official visits for the football program in the 2022-23 and `23-24 academic years. In addition, there’s a prohibition on unofficial visits in football from Sept. 1 through Oct. 12, 2022, and a reduced number of evaluation days this fall.

Air Force has around 115 players on its varsity roster, plus a JV team that all count as NCAA athletes and its roster size.

“The (committee) appreciates the parties’ efforts in working collaboratively together to reach agreement on the violations, levels, classifications, and significant and meaningful penalties,” Gary Miller, the chief hearing officer for the panel and president at Akron, said in a statement. “The panel also recognizes that Air Force has gone above and beyond in its overall approach to this case.”

In a joint statement, Air Force Academy Superintendent Lt. Gen. Richard Clark and director of athletics Nathan Pine said: “The U.S. Air Force Academy is pleased that our case has progressed to the point of the NCAA accepting our negotiated resolution. We will continue working with the NCAA on this ongoing self-reported case from the COVID dead period, as it’s our responsibility to ensure integrity of the institution, athletics department, cadet-athletes and staff.”

The Falcons are off to a 3-1 start and host Navy on Saturday to begin the Commander-in-Chief’s Trophy competition. The trophy is presented to the service academy with the best record in the round-robin format.

Florida shakes up secondary after dismal game at Tennessee

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GAINESVILLE, Fla. — Florida coach Billy Napier is shaking up his secondary after the Gators allowed 349 yards passing – including 247 of those on eight plays – in a loss at Tennessee.

Safety Trey Dean, a fifth-year senior who has started 32 games and played in 54, is out with what Florida is calling a “lower leg injury.” But no one would be surprised if Napier was quietly benching Dean after he made two mental errors against the Volunteers that resulted in 70- and 45-yard gains and set up touchdowns.

Freshman Kamari Wilson will replace Dean and make his first college start Sunday against Eastern Washington.

Cornerback Jaydon Hill will join Wilson in the starting lineup. Hill, a third-year sophomore, will make his first start since 2020. He missed the 2021 season with a torn knee ligament. He impressed Napier and his new staff in the spring but sat out preseason camp with another knee injury.

Hill will replace sophomore Avery Helm, who also struggled against the Vols.

“You talk about what he’s been through from an injury perspective,” Napier said following practice Wednesday. “Jaydon was one of the better players that we had on our team in spring practice. I was very impressed . It’s no surprise to me. He showed pretty quickly here that he’s very capable. I’m excited to watch him play.”

Georgia transfer Jalen Kimber, a former five-star recruit, is now listed as a third-team cornerback. Kimber played just 11 snaps in Knoxville a week after he returned an interception for a touchdown in a 31-28 win against South Florida.

“I like to say we try to eliminate the bad football,” Napier said. “Talking about mental errors, misalignments, poor communication, bad fundamentals and techniques, bad decision-making within the play. … We have a laundry list of things that we need to eliminate each week.

“Last week’s game, I thought we were really close, but there’s 12 or 15 plays in the game where Florida is beating Florida. We’ve got a smart group here. I think they’re very aware of what the issues are, and I think they’re working hard to address those issues.”