Hawaii calls and thanks to a redshirt freshman quarterback, San Diego State answers.
“I dreamed about moments like this,’’ Christian Chapman said.
Chapman, the pride of Carlsbad High, went from being an unknown backup to the big man on campus. His performance in the recent Mountain West Conference title game is why the Aztecs will say “aloha” on Christmas Eve, surrounded by leis and luaus.
SDSU (10-3) goes bowling for the sixth straight year, facing Cincinnati (7-5) in the Hawaii Bowl. The Aztecs head over the water, in part, to a quarterback still wet behind the ears.
“He just exceeded our expectation level, and that’s nice because most athletes don’t exceed your expectation level,’’ SDSU coach Rocky Long said. “Most of them don’t get to your expectation level, but I think he exceeded our expectation level and we might not have won the game unless he did.”
Chapman replaced starter Maxwell Smith and directed SDSU to a 27-24 victory over the Air Force Academy. Despite it being Chapman’s first college start, it was nothing but blue skies for the former Lancer.
“Nothing really comes to mind that was really hard,’’ said Chapman, who completed nine of 14 passes for a touchdown and 203 yards. “I wanted to execute the plays that came in and do my part, whatever they asked me to do.”
His task was simple: don’t mess it up!
Unlike Air Force off the field, the Aztecs don’t shine in the sky. Their offense revolves around a ground attack, and if Donnel Pumphrey and Chase Price are available, you use them.
So Chapman was flipped the keys to SDSU’s jalopy and asked not to plow it into the wall.
“I think he was very confident in what the game plan was, I think he was very confident in his ability, and he performed like he was a well-prepared athlete,’’ Long said. “I don’t think we were worried about that at all, and I think we believed that he was going to play well.’’
Chapman required help and what freshman doesn’t?
Smith had a bum knee but wasn’t too bummed that he didn’t help Chapman. While Chapman earned him the title game’s offensive MVP, Smith’s fingerprints were on the award, too.
“He was a huge mentor to me,’’ Chapman said. “We watched a lot of film together.’’
Their spirited camp battle to be the top gun didn’t compromise their bond. Smith got the call at the beginning of the season and was there near the end of it to aid Chapman.
“Him and I hang out and we’re pretty good friends,’’ Chapman said. “He brought me under his wing, showed me Air Force defense and we talked about it even in the hotel room the night before the game. We talked about certain looks they might give us and what we would do. He’s been a great help to me and I appreciate him for that.”
So that’s it for Chapman? Smith, who tore his ACL in the regular-season finale, will start the Hawaii Bowl, right?
That notion is etched in sand.
“He’s doing exercises and all that and getting treatment five or six times a day in order to get the swelling out of it,’’ Long said. “But before they’ll even let him stand out there or jog around, the swelling has got to go. So after that, I don’t know what the process is. They’ll put him in the brace that he would play in and see how he feels. This is the best part of our team, I think Christian Chapman will treat practice like he’s going to start, but in his heart he’s hoping Maxwell will start.”
Long, as usual, is right on. Smith has no bigger booster than Chapman.
“I think if he can come back and is ready to play, he should play,’’ Chapman said. “It’s his senior year. He got us to where we are. We wouldn’t be here if it wasn’t for him. I played the game for him and just finished what he started. If he can come back and play, I’d be happy that he can.”
The Aztecs eye their quarterback position and wear a smile when peeking at the future.
Smith is applying for another season because of injuries.
Chapman proved the game isn’t too big for him.
Plus Mt. Carmel High star Lucas Johnson is headed to Montezuma Mesa.
Yep, it’s good to be an Aztec, as they pack a nine-game winning streak in the overhead bin for Oahu.
“I’m just enjoying the moment,’’ Chapman said. “It’s a blessing to get to go to Hawaii in the first place and play a team like Cincinnati. It’s going to be fun playing a team outside our conference. I’m excited.”
Chapman is all that and so is SDSU.
Contact Jay Paris at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter at jparis_sports.
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.