In the latest episode of the Sons of Montezuma podcast, the guys catch up with former Aztec defensive standout Kyahva Tezino. To say the “Monster on the Mesa” was an Aztecs great would be an understatement.
The two-time all Mountain West Conference first-team selection reflects on his youth football days, his highly successful time in the Red and Black, and his ongoing dreams of a career in professional football.
Tezino, a proud alumnus of the Snoop Youth Football League in Los Angeles County, came to the Montezuma Mesa as a four-star recruit in 2015. Still ranked as the 2nd highest recruit in SDSU football history, Tezino’s greatness is told both on and off the gridiron.
His Aztec career got off to a slow start when he was called out to not only redshirt his freshman season, but to watch and learn the defensive system by playing scout team and special teams—of which he earned scout team player of the year. By the time he was an upperclassman the linebacker was a force on the field and in the locker room.
“As a freshman, I looked up to (fellow linebackers) Jake Fely and Calvin Munson,” Tezino recalls. “Playing special teams was a humbling experience.”
Admittedly Kyahva did think about making a change at the time. “I did think about transferring. But, I stuck with it and it all worked out for the best. SDSU has a very special place in my heart.”
Even as a highly regarded high schooler, Tezino faced his share of adversity. During his junior year, the future Aztec star’s mother was incarcerated. Her absence was felt in a significant way.
“Junior year was a hard year for me as my mom went to prison,” he shares. “She was like my backbone. So that was tough without that support system. Every time I looked up in the stands there was no one there for me.”
Tezino learned very early about the leadership he wanted to play under. His high school coaches at Salesian high (Coach Thomas and coach Atkins) helped show just how important having a home atmosphere meant. “My coaches took me under their wing and treated me like one of their own.”
My grandmother obviously took me and my sister in when this all happened. But I had a lot of emotions and didn’t want to be around the family. My coaches took me in. They literally let me stay at their house, cook food for me. I just wanted to get it out of my mind and not be stuck thinking about it in the house.”
“They told me, ‘When you look in the stands, you look for us—you look for your teammates.’ And I can’t even thank them enough. They potentially changed my life in a way they can’t even probably imagine.”
After all that he had overcome in high school with a big senior year, he had positioned himself very well for college and wanted his college recruitment to be special. Already committed to Washington State, he had an agreement in place to have a silent commitment with his decision.
“It had always been my dream to just pick a hat and just put the hat on. And they didn’t respect that. That was strike one. But then my main recruiting coach decided to leave to Oklahoma. The coach left and they brought in a whole different system.”
That instability didn’t sit well and that’s when SDSU’s head coach Rocky Long & staff demonstrated theirs. Tezino took it upon himself to search what other schools were out there, but many had all of their scholarships spots full—SDSU made sure they had one for him.
“It was either go back to Washington State or go to San Diego State. My mom woke me up that morning of my signing and asked where are you going to choose and I didn’t know still.” recalls Tezino. The moment was something he would make sure was special.
“I remember I walked up to the stage and I had a Washington State bag and a San Diego State bag. I just had this feeling in my heart. I didn’t even know which bag it was I rotated them and went off fate. So I threw the bag and all the high school kids rushed it and got all the Washington State gear. I took the hat out of the other bag and it was San Diego State I put it on and said this is fate. This is how it’s gonna be. That experience is something I’ll never forget.”
In 2022, after a COVID-19 affected transition into the NFL that left him on the outside looking in of a few opportunities, Tezino got a taste of professional football. The Aztec great played for the Pittsburgh Maulers of the newly revived USFL. The spring football league saw Tezino once again filling a leadership role and making big plays from the linebacker position.
For the season, Tezino tallied 86 total tackles, 2.5 sacks, and 1 interception in 9 games. According to Tezino, he had several opportunities to collect more interceptions but couldn’t hang on and finish the takeaway.
“The coaches saw that I was one to take control of the huddle and take control of the defense,” he says. “When a play was needed to be made, I was most likely going to be the guy to make it. The next thing for me to improve on is for me to show that I am a complete linebacker.”
After his successful season with the Maulers, Tezino is now eyeing another shot at the NFL. He acknowledges being a smarter, more self-aware athlete now and is anxious for the next opportunity to let his play do the talking.
“The USFL is great,” Tezino says. “It gave me an opportunity to get back to playing football. Hopefully, people at the next level saw it and I can get that next shot. I’m ready for it. I am not going to give up any time soon.”
Tezino has battled and overcame much to get to this point. But the business and future of football is not lost on him. He holds closer relationships with other SDSU players including fellow USFL player Juwan Washington of the Tampa Bay Bandits.
Juwan recently helped out coaching back in his hometown in Texas. Kyahva sees himself following a similar path. When his playing time is said and done, Tezino made an proclamation on the Sons of Montezuma Podcast that he says will speak into existence.
“Seeing how much I love football and the time I had that I was out, it struck me that I just need to be around the game. One day when my career is over, I want to come back and be the head coach at San Diego State.”
There is an amazing coaching tree from SDSU with recent Minnesota Vikings head coach Kevin O’Connell being the newest branch. All the battles, challenges and life experiences Tezino has faced in his life and football career thus far, certainly make him an excellent experienced personality that can relate to the young player of today.
Often times SDSU coaches would call upon the team captain to host new recruits on their official visits to San Diego and the program. They knew he held the tools to reach out and be real with the many young prospects looking to see if the Aztecs football program was the right fit. Notable players he hosted, Caden McDonald, Keshawn Banks on this years SDSU team.
“I hosted almost every recruiting trip. Whenever the coaches had a guy they really wanted, they always told me. And i enjoyed it, even when I got to the point where I was ‘that guy’ at SDSU, I never took it for granted.”
Tezino is a natural leader that commands the respect of his peers almost instantly when you feel his energy among the pack. Now with the professional aspects of the game teaching him valuable lessons, a new level of expertise is on the horizon.
“I believe in myself more than anything now. I’m way more aware and brighter to the situation and the business of the NFL.”
Tezino will continue his aim at playing the highest level of football this summer and into the fall. To hear the full interview with Tezino, watch above or click on the podcast link and take a listen.