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SDSU’s All-Decade Team: Defense

With the 2010’s wrapped up and the 2020 season right around the corner, let’s take a look at the Aztecs best players over the past decade.

San Diego State Damontae Kazee and head coach Rocky Long accept trophy after game against Wyoming at the Mountain West Championship college football game. Troy Babbitt-USA TODAY Sports

As we enter a new decade I figured it was a great time to reflect on some of the stellar football players who have donned black and scarlet during the 2010s. The past 10 years were solid for the Aztecs: 5-5 record in bowl competition, three conference champions, and they were even able to finish the 2016 season ranked 25th.

There were a plethora of exceptional athletes that helped lead San Diego State to an impressive 90-42 record over that span. Without further ado, let’s jump into the all-decade team. To make the list, heavyweight was put on multiple seasons of great play, but there will be a couple of exceptions for truly dominant one year players.

DEFENSIVE TACKLE

First Team: Noble Hall

Hall provided solid play up front year over year for SDSU from 2015 to 2018. He was able to plug holes in the run game and even add some as a pass-rusher. He saw playing time every year at SDSU, totaling 121 tackles, 21.5 for loss, 8 sacks, an interception, 2 pass deflections, and 3 forced fumbles.

He may not go down as the greatest or most talented defensive lineman in San Diego State history, but his consistent productivity speaks for itself. The Aztecs are one of the best at churning out talented players in their front 7 and Hall can be added to the list.

Honorable Mentions: Christian Heyward

DEFENSIVE TACKLE

First Team: Jerome Long

Much like Vincent Brown on the offensive all-decade team, Long makes it due to one truly dominant season. He did play admirably in the 2010 season for the Aztecs, grabbing 29 tackles, 6 for loss, 1.5 sacks, and returning a fumble to the house. However, his 2011 outing was what set him apart from other former SDSU defensive lineman.

Long generated a whopping 73 tackles up front, also adding 5 sacks, and a forced fumble to his stat sheet. He was an elite run-stuffer in his final season at San Diego State but was also able to generate pressure on opposing QBs.

Honorable Mentions: Sergio Phillips

DEFENSIVE END

First Team: Alex Barrett

Barrett was a standout along the Aztecs defensive line from 2013 through 2016, proving his worth in run-defense and as a pass rusher. After redshirting in 2012, he flashed massive potential in just his second year with the team. He played in 7 games, totaling 15 tackles and 3.0 sacks from the defensive line. The very next season Barrett fired on all cylinders, nabbing 39 tackles, 9 for loss, 3 sacks, 1 forced fumble, and even 2 pass deflections. In 2015, Alex would once again take a massive step forward in the black and scarlet, forcing 4.5 sacks, a career high 59 tackles, 12 for loss, 2 forced fumbles, and 2 interceptions, returning 1 for a touchdown.

He effectively solidified himself as one of the best SDSU defensive linemen in just three seasons, but he still had one more to go. In his final season in San Diego, California, he saw time in 14 games, wrapping up 53 tackles, 13 for loss, a career high 7.5 sacks, and 4 pass deflections. Barrett was an uber-productive pass-rusher while with the Aztecs and deserves to be atop this list.

Honorable Mentions: Chibu Onyeukwu

DEFENSIVE END

First Team: Myles Cheatum

Cheatum was not an exceptional talent but he was consistent and played well enough in his last two collegiate years to warrant putting him on the first team. In the 2018 and 2019 seasons, he combined for 67 total tackles, 13 for loss, 7 sacks, 3 pass deflections, and a forced fumble which he recovered himself.

He proved to be solid as both a pass-rusher and run-defender during his time with the Aztecs. Cheatum came on strong late in his career and is one of the most recent players to crack the all-decade team.

Honorable Mentions: Jon Sanchez

LINEBACKER

First Team: Calvin Munson

San Diego State had a stretch from 2014-2019 where they could rely on their linebacker position to lead their defense and torment opposing offenses. Munson took over starting duties in 2014 and did not look back. He delivered quality play each year on the roster, culminating in 301 tackles, 35.5 for loss, 18 sacks, 7 interceptions, 3 returned for touchdowns, and 3 forced fumbles.

He helped lead the Aztecs to back-to-back 11-3 seasons in 2015 and 2016, despite the offense receiving most of the credit. He made an impact in all aspects of the game, rushing the passer, stopping the run, and even dropping into coverage. Munson has yet to do much in the NFL since signing as an undrafted free agent in 2017, but he is one of the best SDSU defensive players of all-time.

Honorable Mentions: Ronley Lakalaka

LINEBACKER

First Team: Kyahva Tezino

If Munson was not an Aztec, Tezino would go down as the best linebacker in school history. Kyahva did not start until midway through his redshirt sophomore season in 2017, but in his limited playing time, he flashed his potential. He racked up 58 tackles and 1 sack in 7 games played, but it was nothing like the player we would come to see over the next two years.

Across both 2018 and 2019, he had 225 tackles, 24.5 for loss, 12 sacks, 2 interceptions, 3 passes deflected, and 2 forced fumbles. He shined as a pass-rusher off the edge, as well as proving to be valuable in the run game. Tezino was even strong against the pass, not allowing anything downfield and holding his own against tight ends and running backs. Tezino will look to showcase his talent in the NFL as he was signed as a UDFA with the New England Patriots in this year’s draft.

Honorable Mentions: Miles Burris

CORNERBACK

First Team: Damontae Kazee

The Aztecs have been stellar at producing exceptional linebackers over the past decade but they have been even better at producing secondary players. Kazee currently plays free safety in the NFL for the Atlanta Falcons but before taking his talents to the pro, he played outside corner for San Diego State. He was the definition of a playmaker in the backend of the defense, snatching 17 interceptions, 29 deflected passes, and 6 forced fumbles in his four -year career at SDSU.

He was not only outstanding in coverage, but he was also a key contributor on run-defense. He had 240 tackles in 53 games played, including 14.5 for loss. Kazee possessed the speed and strength it took to throw off receiver blocks and make the tackle on rival running backs.

Honorable Mentions: Darren Hall

CORNERBACK

First Team: Luq Barcoo

Barcoo played just two seasons for the Aztecs and only really contributed in his final season on the roster. That final season, however, was good enough to land him as a first-teamer. As a senior, he recorded 9 interceptions which tied for the most in the entire FBS while also nabbing another 16 deflected passes. He would simply make opposing quarterbacks pay if they were to look in his direction. He was a dependable tackler and was no slouch in the run game either, grabbing 55 tackles, 5 of which were for a loss.

Hovering around 165 pounds it should have been easy for bigger receivers to have their way with Barcoo, but his blend of technique and speed allowed him to stay right in their hip pocket and make a play on the ball. He signed as a UDFA with the Jacksonville Jaguars this year and will look to compete for a place in their secondary rotation in 2020.

Honorable Mentions: Ron Smith

SAFETY

First Team: Malik Smith

Smith was a bit of a swiss army knife for the Aztecs secondary as he saw time in the box, at deep safety, but mainly as a slot corner. Playing from the slot requires a different skill set that the common fan believes. You have to have the ability to match a receiver move for move as you do not have a sideline to help limit what the receiver can do. Smith not only had the speed and quickness to stay with whoever was opposite him, but also had the fluidity to shift his hips and make hard cuts when necessary.

In his four-year career at SDSU he totaled 208 tackles, 9 interceptions, 21 deflected passes, 2 fumble recoveries, and 1 forced fumble. His junior season was by far his best statistically as he had 77 tackles, 5 interceptions, and 9 deflected passes. He was a bit inconsistent wrapping up but was a steady run-defender and improved in coverage every season.

Honorable Mentions: Parker Baldwin

SAFETY

First Team: Tariq Thompson

The only player on either the offensive or defensive all-decade teams to still be on the current roster, Thompson has been incredible since the first day he stepped on campus. He has started every single game since his true freshman season in 2017, seeing time as an outside corner as well as a safety. Much like Smith, Thompson’s true position is being lined up in the slot. Thus far in his career, he has gathered 169 total tackles, 10 interceptions, 20 pass deflections, 4 recovered fumbles, and 4 forced fumbles.

He is stellar in coverage and stable against the run, although he needs to improve on his tackling as he has missed quite a few over the past three years. Despite his tackling woes, Thompson has already proven he is among the best SDSU defenders of all-time and should continue to enhance his case next season.

Honorable Mentions: Dwyane Johnson Jr.

FLEX DEFENSE

First Team: Leon McFadden

The oldest defensive back on the list, McFadden was with the Aztecs from 2009 to 2012 before being drafted in the third round by the Cleveland Browns in the 2013 NFL Draft. He had an interception with 26 tackles in 2009 but since that was a part of the previous decade it was not considered. Even without taking it into account, he pieced together three straight years of reliable play from the outside corner position.

He rattled off 45+ total tackles, 2+ interceptions, and 10+ pass deflections from 2010-2012, proving to be a model of consistency no matter who lined up against him. He was not known as a run-defender or an immense tackler, but he was more than serviceable at both throughout his career.

Honorable Mention: J.J. Whittaker

That is my SDSU all-decade defensive team based on research and my own opinion. Who got snubbed? Who should not have made the list? I want to know your opinions in the comment section below!