SAN DIEGO — There will be no cheerleaders yelling, no band marching, no television cameras whirring, and yet . . .
Al Luginbill, San Diego State football coach, is calling today the most important day of the Aztec football season. And practice hasn't even started yet, let alone games.
No matter. Luginbill is serious. Today is reporting day, a day on which the Aztecs check into their dormitory rooms, take physicals and get set to open two-a-day practices Thursday morning. Luginbill will be there to greet them, giving them the once-over to see how hard they worked during the summer.
"Our whole progress will depend on how well our veterans report in shape," Luginbill said. "That's the key to us. Wednesday will be the biggest day we'll have in 1990.
"If we have to spend so much time on conditioning, that's going to take away from the football part, and that will hurt us."
Freshmen and newcomers have been working out since Friday. But Thursday will be the first day the entire team practices together, and Sunday is the first in pads. A total of 31 lettermen return from last year's 6-5-1 team, including six offensive starters and eight defensive.
Not much has changed since spring practice. Aside from the freshmen and transfers who join the team this fall, there have been no significant additions or subtractions, and Luginbill will continue to focus on strengthening the Aztec defense and improving an already potent offense.
"We take the first two weeks of fall practice, and we're preparing for a whole season--11 games," Luginbill said. "We have the same goals we talked about during the spring. On defense, we've got to keep the football in front of us and make plays in space. On offense, we've got to become a consistent football team that consistently moves the chains.
"Those goals will remain the same for the entire season. Then, in the last week-and-a-half, we'll zero in on Oregon and be ready to play on Sept. 8."
The Aztecs open in Eugene that day and then return for their home opener Sept. 15 against Cal State Long Beach. The following week, they begin Western Athletic Conference play at Brigham Young.
By then, Luginbill hopes the Aztec defense will be tighter than it was last season, when it gave up 65 plays on which the opponent gained 20 or more yards.
"That is what made us the defensive football team we were," Luginbill said. "We didn't keep the football in front of us. And yet, there were times when we were extremely successful. We know we can do it. We just have to prove it."
Two areas that will get Luginbill's attention during the next three weeks are linebacker and cornerback. He said that "99%" of the freshmen class will likely redshirt. One who may not is Jamal Duff, a 6-foot-7 linebacker from Tustin who has stood out during freshman drills this week.
"If we have a place for a freshman, we would not redshirt him," Luginbill said. "But he would have to make a contribution. We don't want to waste a year with a freshman who is playing three or four plays in a ballgame."
Community college transfers Lou Foster (5-11, 230 pounds, DeAnza Community College) and Andy Coviello (6-0, 215, Sacramento City College) should make an impact during the next three weeks, Foster at inside linebacker and Coviello at outside linebacker. Both had earned starting jobs by the time spring practice ended.
As for the secondary, the Aztecs will work on making up for the loss of All-WAC nickelback John Wesselman.
Offensively, Luginbill would like SDSU to be more consistent, starting with quarterback Dan McGwire, who, despite impressive numbers, was sometimes more a thrower than a passer last season according to Luginbill. Still, he threw for 3,651 yards, the second-most in a single season in SDSU history.
Things are also more stable off the field as Luginbill begins his second season at SDSU. Most of the players are familiar with the coaching staff's demands, making for a smoother and more productive environment.
"Anytime you have continuity . . . " Luginbill said, smiling. "The same staff, you know each other, you've been around the kids day in and day out, you know strengths and weaknesses . . . "
He left unspoken the two most obvious words: It helps. "This football team going into the season is a better football team than in 1989," he said. "Physically we're better, and we're better in the intangibles--discipline and doing things right consistently. All of those things are better than a year ago--comparing at this time.
"How much better will be proven in each game as we go along. That's the measuring stick. We've got 11 of them, and we're looking very forward to every one of them."
Sophomore defensive end Mark Hyatt quit Tuesday, notifying Coach Al Luginbill that he no longer wishes to play football. Hyatt, from Fountain Valley, redshirted last year. He apparently still intends to enroll in school. . . . Aside from linebacker Jamal Duff, SDSU Coach Al Luginbill said three other newcomers have stood out during drills the past week: freshman tight end Mark Ziegler (Mira Mesa High School), freshman safety Steve Rudisill (Thousand Oaks) and sophomore cornerback Damon Pieri (Phoenix Community College). . . . Luginbill has moved freshman Michael Wynn (San Fernando) from quarterback to safety and freshman Chad Provensal (Bakersfield) from inside linebacker to outside linebacker.