From Brian Sipe and Craig Penrose to Todd Santos and Dan McGwire, SDSU Football has seen its fair share of great quarterback play over the years. Gun slingers like David Lowery and Billy Blanton to most recently Kevin O’Connell and Ryan Lindley—the Red & Black attack historically have had studs behind center slinging the pigskin all over the field.
But while the QB1s often receive all the hype and acclaim, it’s those times when a backup quarterback comes in off the bench to provide that much-needed spark that can create lasting memories of Aztec glory.
In recently beating Hawaii on a late field goal, SDSU was led expertly into position to win the game by a backup quarterback who was so far down the depth chart one had to actually look on the defensive side of the roster to find his name.
Jalen Mayden, who switched from QB to safety before the season, returned to his former position five days before the Hawaii game and turned in an amazing performance. In his first collegiate start at quarterback, Mayden threw for 322 yards and one touchdown. The 6’2” senior from Texas showed the unusual calm and poise required of the most impactful position on the field.
Mayden’s efforts against the Rainbow Warriors sparked flashbacks to another SDSU quarterback from the Lone Star state who stepped in mid-season and saved the Aztecs in 2012. That quarterback’s performance for that years squad went on an incredible end-of-the-season run to claim a share of the conference title—San Diego State’s first Mountain West Conference Championship.
Does the name Adam Dingwell ring a bell, Aztec fans?
Some may remember it as the ‘Scared money don’t make no money’ game. For others the ‘I Couldn’t Have Done it Without Myself’ game. No matter which reference is used, SDSU football has now come upon a decade since that amazing night in Reno, Nevada.
It was 10 years ago that as a redshirt sophomore in the program, Adam Dingwell was called upon mid-season to step into a make-or-break road matchup against the Mountain West Conference newcomer Nevada Wolfpack.
He entered mid-game in a hostile Mackay Stadium with the Aztecs down to an explosive Wolfpack team. Starting QB Ryan Katz had suffered a season ending leg injury. But had the Aztecs suffered another loss it could have easily derailed the rest of the season and possibly more for then head coach Rocky Long in just his second year.
The game ended with Dingwell throwing three touchdown passes, including one in overtime and two successful two-point conversions—the latter being for the 39-38 win. It was one of the most thrilling SDSU Aztecs victories in their 100 year history.
For the rest of that season the Aztecs added on four more wins, including dominating UNLV, punching a ranked Boise State team in the mouth on the blue turf, taking down Air Force, and wrapping up the Wyoming Cowboys in Laramie to help complete a seven-game win streak. These victories helped to end the season with earning one of the three shares of that 2012 Conference Championship.
Sons of Montezuma sat down with Adam Dingwell for an exclusive interview. When asked wether that first ever Conference Championship felt like 10 years ago, admittedly the time has flown by for the former quarterback.
“My wife actually brought that up today and she’s like, It’s been 10 years since that time. It’s a really cool memory. I’m so thankful for that and all the guys that were part of that Championship run and the memories we made for a lifetime. So it’s always nice to reflect on those times.“
Dingwell the Texas native, is back in his hometown of Rockwall, just about 25 minutes outside of the Dallas-Fort Worth area.
“It’s the hometown where I went to high school. My wife and I moved back here after college. She actually played volleyball out of Notre Dame, so we did the whole long-distance thing, moved back here, and couldn’t be happier. Coming up on six years now, love it here and love Texas. She had a full-ride scholarship to Notre Dame, and graduated in four years. The same situation as me … we made it work …God had a plan for us. We have two young girls now, a four-year-old and a one-year-old. We are blessed and happy.“
So what is Adam Dingwell up to nowadays?
“First and foremost, I am a husband and father. Just the way I was raised so you know that comes first but I work with a company here in Rockwall doing consulting and I love it, man, it is great. Love being here in my hometown it’s provided stability and aside from that you can catch me watching football or baseball, basketball whatever sport you know it is on in the house.“
The 2012 season was an unbelievably underrated year in all of Aztecs history. Though the championship was a shared title between SDSU, Boise State and Fresno State, it was still the first in SDSU’s history as part of the Mountain West, which they still are a part of til this day. It also marked the first conference championship since the 1986 WAC Champions led by Todd Santos.
Though ten years later, Dingwell is visibly still humbled by the memory of such an accomplishment for the University.
“This far removed, it’s definitely cool to look back and I think not just myself but for my class as well. We take a lot of pride in what we were able to do in our time there. I could run through a lot of that roster and specific memories I had with those guys. It was a hell of a run, we had a lot of fun, it was a great team, and a lot of leadership on that team. I could not have done it without those guys around me, fantastic memories, I love looking back on that.“
One of the few Texas recruits on the team back in those years, Dingwell recalls how he came to SDSU and was sold on the Southern California weather, beach, food and fun that his official hosts Ryan Lindley and others were introducing him to.
But more than all of that, it was the transformational culture the program was undergoing, that really made the opportunity to play at SDSU special.
“Ryan Lindley, I definitely looked up to him and obviously got to watch him play very closely in playing behind him for two years. I think it even kind of goes back to the year before, with Brady Hoke. They really established a culture … we’re going to out grind, we’re going to outwork you and when it comes game time, you know you’re in for a brawl.“
“They really made that important to ingrain that into us. I really embodied that as a true freshman. Going into that 2011 year, they really instilled that into us young guys. We got to watch a lot of the greats, Ronnie, Ryan, and we were able to continue that.”
Coming from Texas where football is a religion, it was important to have this grind it out culture. The high school scene and the friday night lights certainly prepared him
I used to joke with guys in my class, that Texas has way better recruits than California. We would go back and forth in looking at the recruits in the class or whatever. about Texas vs California football and who was better. We played some of the perennial powerhouses in high school football, I had some good battles with Southlake Carroll when they would be throwing the ball all over the place. …Texas high school football definitely got me prepared and ready to play at the next level.
But similar to Jalen Mayden of today, nothing came quick or as expected for Dingwell. While learning and preparing to be the starter after Lindley’s example, SDSU had brought in graduate transfer Ryan Katz of Oregon State to be the favored starter that 2012 season.
“In 2010 when I redshirted–it was the most important thing for me. Lindley was a great leader and I was able to redshirt under him. Going into 2012 I thought I had a good shot at being the starter. I wasn’t upset, but again my mentality was that it didn’t matter. I’m going to show up and put in the work. I’ve been doing it for two years behind Lindley, if I have to do it one more year behind Ryan then that’s what I’m prepared to do. But I knew when my time was gonna get called I was gonna be ready to go.“
When Adam was called into action that fateful night of October 20 (which happened to be his 21st birthday), the Aztecs were 2-3. Though the team knew they left a lot on the field and weren’t playing well, collectively as a team Adam remembers, “we knew they had the talent and the mentality to right the ship. We just had to make it happen, go out there and do it.”
And that’s exactly what the team did when Katz went down. There was a flood of emotion for the young QB thrust into the moment he had been waiting for. Little did he know how much that game would impact a decade of SDSU football.
Listen below for our full audio interview of Adam Dingwell, ten years since that Championship 2012 team.
What Would’ve Happened If …
What would’ve happened the Aztecs don’t get that stellar performance by the backup quarterback? Do the Aztecs even make a bowl game that season? Does the good momentum carry over for the next decade of success? Are Rocky Long & staff able to continue their recruitment of Texas where they have found such a pipeline of Aztec leaders?
Dingwell believes they do. The pride he speaks about when mentioning his fellow Aztecs that he played with is inspiring. And all the guys that were able to make it to the NFL ranks from that class and beyond is something he definitely takes note of.
“I Couldn’t Have Done it Without Myself”
“There really wasn’t any question when we came to the sidelines were going home with a W today. Let’s figure out what play we’re gonna call and get ‘er done.“
The kind of mentality needed to make that gutsy 2 point conversion call to win the game. Such an iconic play, game and post game interview. Though Adam gets a good laugh when he thinks about all the craziness that ensued after the program changing events. But aren’t the best thing’s in life often the most unexpected?
For Adam, the 2012 Championship team is one he will never forget wether he wants to or not. In the game of football, the God’s give and take away. Adam who returned for his Junior season the next year was never the same. Although he began the year as the starter, two losses in a row where he admittedly did not perform well, led to QB Quinn Kaehler being the next man up to lead the offense where he made his own mark on the program.
For Dingwell his back was not right. Having suffered injuries to his spine he watched the rest of the year from the sidelines and eventually had off season surgery. The conclusion was that his football days were over and the wise decision was to medically retire from the program and the game. A decision that he is very at peace with thanks to his faith in God and his family by his side.
Coming from where I was to hardly being able to put socks on my feet, everything just hurt … to where I am now, you know God definitely had a plan for me. I probably needed to get that surgery. Who know’s what could’ve happened. Every now and then when the weather changes or it gets a little cold that you wake up a little stiff or feeling older than you are, but I wouldn’t trade it for the world. I wouldn’t change anything from those times. If I had to go back and do it the same way—I definitely would.
Though Adam’s time at SDSU didn’t end the way he imagined, his impact and legacy on San Diego State program will live on forever. Embodying the all or nothing spirit that Aztecs have come to love, his rallying of that 2012 team goes to show just what can happen when a team is united together and hungry for the same goal.
Much has changed on the Montezuma Mesa since those days, but the same culture remains. Will this years team dig deep and rally around their leaders the same way that 2012 team did around Adam and others? Only time will tell. But while Adam and all of the Sons of Montezuma are watching, we will celebrate that one season in 2012, where in Reno the Aztecs couldn’t have done it, without themselves. And that’s all that is needed.
The Aztecs are set once again to travel to Reno, Nevada to take on the Wolfpack this Saturday night on CBS Sports network at 7:30pm.
WATCH, like and subscribe to the Sons of Montezuma YouTube channel for the full Adam Dingwell interview today.