If San Diego State shines, Christian Chapman will be a big man on campus.
The Aztecs’ quarterback already earned that distinction in the huddle.
“We took the reins off,’’ coach Rocky Long said.
Chapman, the former Carlsbad High standout, used the playbook’s Cliff Notes version last season. SDSU, which leaned on its running game and rowdy defense, let Chapman proceed on training wheels.
“When he got thrown in there, you’re always concerned about a redshirt freshman being your starting quarterback,’’ Long said. “And he performed much better than we anticipated he would and he just took off from there.’’
Chapman is free of the restrictions that rode with him during the Aztecs’ 11-3 season, one that ended with a 10-game winning streak.
Long has let Chapman loose and the fun begins in Saturday’s opener against visiting New Hampshire.
“I feel like I’m more comfortable with the offense, so I know where to go with the ball when I see a certain coverage instead of thinking for an extra second,’’ Chapman said. “I know if it’s not there to check down or run.”
SDSU, the defending Mountain West Conference champion, has quite a check-off list.
There’s talk of being ranked, being undefeated and being the lone bunch not hailing from a Power Five Conference to snag a top-shelf bowl game.
But first arrives plucky New Hampshire, an FCS school that should get the Aztecs’ attention. Just mention Eastern Illinois and Cal Poly San Luis Obispo.
“You think those New Hampshire guys are coming out here and are going to just let us win?’’ Long growled. “That’s a joke. They’re coming out here to shock the world and beat us. Anybody that presents that deal that the game is easy has never played and has never coached.”
The 6-foot, 200-pound Chapman is coached up and it shows.
“I think it’s his maturity level,’’ Long said. “Last year, we protected him pretty good with the things we knew he could do well and made sure he didn’t do anything he wasn’t comfortable doing. That’s not the case anymore.’’
“He understands the whole offense. There’s no restrictions on what we can or want to do with him. He seems to embrace it. He never seems nervous or uptight. He seems confident in his ability.’’
DJ Pumphrey and the ground attack, behind an experienced front line, still butters SDSU’s offensive bread. But Chapman and his targets are jamming in workouts.
“I feel like I know most of the receivers now and what their speeds are,’’ Chapman said. “It’s helped a lot coming into this season.”
Chapman entered last season working the scout team.
Then starter Maxwell Smith got hurt and Chapman, who played in nine games, started two. That pair was the most important on the Aztecs’ schedule: MW title contest and the Hawaii Bowl.
Chapman went 2-0 and was the offensive player of the game in the conference championship.
Those wins gave Chapman, a two-time All-Avocado League selection, confidence. But hard work helped, too. Blane Morgan, SDSU’s quarterbacks coach, is in Chapman’s ear about his presence when eyeing receivers.
“That’s something that coach Morgan kind of preaches,’’ Chapman said. “Just be composed in the pocket. We know our line is going to hold up for us. When you do have a chance to make a play on your feet to just go ahead and take it. Just be confident and stay in there.’’
Stay tuned. This could be a special season for SDSU, with Chapman at the controls.
Follow Jay Paris on Twitter at jparis_sports. Read his new book, “Game of My Life San Diego Chargers.”
Sportswriter Jay Paris has written his “Sports Talk” column since joining the Coast News in 2013.
Paris, a Cardiff resident, is a longtime Southern California writer, getting his start with the Orange County Register before coming to San Diego in 1992 to cover the Chargers.
He had the Chargers beat for more than two decades with Oceanside Blade-Citizen, the North County Times and the San Diego Union-Tribune, before being named a sports columnist with the San Diego Union-Tribune.
Paris has won numerous awards voted on by his peers in the Pro Football Writers of America. He has also been a staple on countless media platforms, everything from the KPBS to MLB Network and various radio outlets.
Paris is also the author of three books, with his latest one being, “Shohei Ohtani: The Amazing Story Of Baseball’s Two-Way Japanese Superstar.” He has also written “Game Of My Life Chargers” and “Game Of My Life Rams.”
He currently covers the NFL in Los Angeles for Forbes. com and is a contributor to USA Today Sports Weekly. Follow Jay on Twitter @jparis_sports