It was one of the most tumultuous weeks in SDSU football history. Following the Aztecs recent blowout loss to Boise State, Aztec Nation was turned upside down. Social media was ablaze with calls of change, while loyal season ticket holders flooded the athletic directors e-mail inbox to voice their displeasure.
A talented offense was given opportunity after opportunity to put scores on the board. Game after game, they couldn’t. A traditionally dominant rushing attack was reduced to satisfactory. A traditionally subpar passing attack was non existent.
Against Boise, the breaking point had been reached and the foundations floor was in danger of cracking wide open. The time had come to cut ties with a flailing offensive coordinator and quarterbacks coach. It was the only option left. To add complications to the situation—both jobs were held by the same individual. A mighty big void to fill just four games into a season—A season that started with so much promise.
But this was just the half the despair felt on the Montezuma Mesa. Starting quarterback Braxton Burmeister and backup quarterback Kyle Crum were unavailable due to injury. Burmeister, in concussion protocol from a hit suffered in the Boise State debacle. Crum fresh out of surgery after suffering a broken collarbone in the same game.
This was a team frustrated and a program in mourning.
Just days before the loss in Boise, news surfaced of recent Aztecs standout and former NFL Tight End, Gavin Escobar’s passing. He had passed suddenly during a rock climbing incident in California and the beloved SDSU tight end left behind a wife, two daughters and many friends, family, staff members, former teammates and certainly many fans.
Athletics aside, all those within SDSU academic realms were also feeling the hurt. Former SDSU President, Sally Roush, had succumbed to her battle with cancer and passed away Friday. Roush not only served as President Emerita but was a crucial leader in bringing about the success of SDSU Mission Valley and the eventual Snapdragon Stadium. Her loss was felt by the SDSU community and we honor Sally, a true Daughter of Montezuma.
There was a light in the distance however. A dim possibility that gave some hope to Aztecs Nation. Two familiar characters in the success of SDSU football were stepping in once again to face this challenge head on. Associate head coach and running backs coach, Jeff Horton and all-time Aztecs quarterback, Ryan Lindley.
Horton was to take over offensive coordinator duties, while Lindley fresh off a plane from his analyst role at Mississippi State, was to handle the quarterback position room. The quarterback room with the concussed hometown hero, surgery rehabilitating true freshman, and one lone true freshman left—yeah that quarterback room.
With redshirt freshman Will Haskell Jr. out of the program the rest of this season and potentially in the upcoming transfer portal, the Aztecs were in need bad.
That’s when a shot in the dark came about. Senior safety Jalen Mayden analyzing the situation approached coach Hoke and told him exactly what he had just a few months ago in the start of the off year—that he was available to help the team in whatever way he could.
The Mississippi State transfer came to San Diego State last season as a quarterback hoping to earn a starting spot with his fellow teammate WR Tyrell Shavers. Except the Texas native couldn’t crack the top 3 deep on the depth chart.
Mayden, who was earning playing time this season at safety and improving with each snap, suddenly appeared to be a viable option. The news release was made and Mayden was officially making the switch back to the offense to help in this critical time and need.
Necessity is said to bring about many things—opportunity, innovation, leadership to name a few. But often times necessity can cause leaders to cave under the pressure. And there was pressure this week to win and win convincingly against a seemingly inferior opponent. The Hawaii Warriors team sitting with just one victory this season were over 20 point under dogs to the home team Aztecs. Clearly Las Vegas had not been watching this Red & Black attack.
All week long were reports of Braxton Burmeister’s availability as “in the concussion protocol”. But the expectation was that he would clear the necessary tests and suit up in time for Saturday.
Braxton Burmeister will never be questioned about his toughness. The La Jolla Country Day product has impressed from day one with his workout regimen. He’s been known to play through injuries. His physical nature on the field refuses to play soft or slide. His future after football has potential in the MMA ranks.
Media reports just the week before showed all the sports world the harsh realities of concussions and mismanagement of concussions in the NFL. The Miami Dolphins star QB Tua Tagovailoa suffered what appeared to be one in a game on Sunday.
But by Thursday Tua was back at it for the Dolphins vs the defending AFC Champion Cincinnati Bengals. Playing on the big stage as the only game on that night, the decision and end result for him to rushing back to game action within a week’s time was incomprehensible. And we all saw it live.
The toughest on the gridiron often times need to be the toughest on themselves. Knowing when to let the body heal so they can return to their toughest ability is no small ask. And for Brady Hoke and the Aztecs, the stakes were at their highest. His team and alumni base needed a win.
What was supposed to be a celebrated 100th season of Aztecs football, was quickly showing to be nothing short of a disaster. From pending rape allegations, to a record setting heat wave wrecking Snapdragon’s opening day, to dysfunctional offensive leadership souring team morale and chemistry. Surely Brady needed his QB1 to suit it up and tough it out if the Aztecs were to win—right?
Wrong. Coach Hoke listened to the medical professionals, trusted the correct process and put his quarterbacks safety ahead of all the pressure to notch another game in the win column. This cannot be looked over lightly.
The decision was made to start the quarterback that hadn’t started an FBS game in his life—ever. Rather than risk potential public uproar, had another injury take place with Braxton, the ball coach played it safe and we are glad he did.
“They told me they had some injuries and I was going to have a try at quarterback. They came in asked me things I was comfortable with.” Recounts Jalen Mayden as he was told he would get the start. “I felt the shift in the momentum of the offense. The whole week was pretty chill. It wasn’t as stressful as you would think coming straight from safety.”
The risk to play Mayden and trust Ryan Lindley, Jeff Horton and that the rest of the team would rally behind him, paid off huge for coach Hoke. Mayden displayed the kind of quarterback awareness not seen in quite some time—throwing for over 300 yards and leading the Aztecs narrowly passed Hawaii 16-14. The satisfying factor being the game’s final drive with just over a minute left to get the Aztecs well within Kicker Jack Browning’s range for a go ahead field goal. Mayden was able to do exactly that as he guided the offense on a perfect 6 of 6 passes and Browning nailed the game-winning field goal.
The win that coach Hoke needed so badly came to pass. But can you imagine the alternative had Burmeister somehow suffered yet another concussion behind a struggling O-line and new offensive scheme? We prefer not.
“The Texas swagger that I carry , I never really get rattled in any type of way. That along with the confidence the team shows in me through out the week of practice.” Mayden detailed about his game winning heroics.
“Coach Lindley got me situated because I did have a couple bad throws that I had hung my head on. He told me the next play is the best play because that’s the play you get to make. I really thank him for keeping me level-headed.“
Quotes that sound a whole lot like a potential leader. When asked on AM760’s post game show, the reflective Mayden detailed his decisions at SDSU that led him to this all important opportunity.
“Well it started out I was talking to my family. I didn’t feel the situation was going in my favor. I knew I was athletic and I always dreamed of playing other positions. So I went to coach and asked if he saw anything in me … maybe I could make a switch to receiver, tight-end, linebacker—wherever. I told him I have 100% faith in his decision whatever it may be. We came to terms with it and I got to safety. I told him you’ll get 100% out of me wherever you put me. And that’s where we took off from.“
When Coach Hoke was asked about his decision to play Mayden, he seemingly diffused any decision based solely on injury and pointed towards competition.
“There’s always decisions. We make decisions weekly who’s going to start and who’s going to play. That’s the beautiful thing about competition, what you put out there in your body of work in practice and in the game … At the same time we’ve got to make sure Braxton is ready to come back. Right now he’s not. So we’re going through the concussion protocols and I really appreciate our doctors and what they’re doing to make sure he’s going to be fine.“
The decision to make sure these Sons of Montezuma are ready to come back—at the right time—is one Aztecs Nation should really appreciate as well. And certainly not forget any time soon.