L-R, Matt Araiza, Brady Hoke, Cameron Thomas of San Diego State. Photo credit: goaztecs.com

San Diego State football received three top Mountain West honors this week ahead of Saturday’s conference title game.

Head coach Brady Hoke was named the Coach of the Year, while juniors Cameron Thomas, out of Carlsbad High, and Matt Araiza, a Rancho Bernardo High alum, were selected as the Defensive and Special Teams Players of the Year, respectively.

It was Hoke’s second conference Coach of the Year honor.

He guided the team to an 11-1 record following a 4-4 season in 2020. In addition, SDSU has been included for the first time in the College Football Playoff Rankings this season.

Thomas became the third San Diego State player to be named the Defensive Player of the Year, joining Kirk Morrison (2003-04) and Damontae Kazee (2015-16).

Araiza is the second Aztec to be named Special Teams Player of the Year following a three-year run by Rashaad Penny (2015-17). San Diego State has the most top special teams player awards, four, in league history.

SDSU was also well represented among the all-MW teams.

For a third straight year, the Aztecs had the most first-team selections with eight. Joining Thomas and Araiza, as a punter, on the first team were offensive linemen William Dunkle and Zachary Thomas, linebacker Caden McDonald, safeties Patrick McMorris and Trenton Thompson and kick returner Jordan Byrd.

SDSU also had four second-team picks – running back Greg Bell, defensive lineman Keshawn Banks, defensive back Tayler Hawkins and Araiza, as a kicker.

The three team honorable mentions include offensive lineman Alama Uluave, defensive lineman Jonah Tavai and linebacker Michael Shawcroft. 

San Diego State’s 15 all-league selections match the most since 2001 and only trailed Nevada’s 16 all-conference picks.

The all-conference awards are voted on by MW coaches and various media members who cover the league.

Cameron Thomas, a semifinalist for the Bednarik Award for outstanding defensive player, has 66 tackles, 30 solo, on the season. According to Pro Football Focus, Thomas is tied for the second-highest defensive grade (90.6, min. 600 snaps) in the country.

Araiza, a finalist for the Ray Guy Award for the best college punter, has already set NCAA records in 50-yard punts (38) and 60-yard punts (18) in a season. One of four players in the country handling all three kicking duties, Araiza leads all FBS players in punt average (51.47), total punt yards (3,757) and punt yards per game (313.08).

Dunkle and Zachary Thomas are each on the all-MW first team for the first time in their careers. McDonald made the first team for a second straight season, joining Morrison (2002-04), Miles Burris (2010-11), Calvin Munson (2015-16) and Kyahva Tezino (2018-19) as the only linebackers to achieve the honor multiple times in league history.

McMorris, with a team-high 79 tackles, and Thompson, with 35, picked up their first career postseason MW honors, the first time in league history that the Aztecs have had a pair of first-team safeties.

Byrd improved on his second-team all-league selection at kick returner last year by leading the conference in total punt returns, 23.

Bell made the second team for the second straight season, and Banks made his third all-conference team after earning second-team honors in 2019 and honorable mention in 2020.
Hawkins improved on his honorable mention in 2020 with a second-team selection this year.

Uluave and Shawcroft earned their first all-conference accolades, while Tavai received an honorable mention for a second straight season.

No. 19 SDSU plays host to Utah State for the conference championship at noon Saturday at Dignity Health Sports Park in Carson.

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