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San Diego State players get first look at Snapdragon Stadium

Boise State v San Diego State

CARSON, CA - NOVEMBER 26: Seyddrick Lakalaka #43 of the San Diego State Aztecs celebrates with Caden McDonald #54 of the San Diego State Aztecs against the Boise State Broncos on November 26, 2021 at Dignity Health Sports Park in Carson, California. (Photo by Tom Hauck/Getty Images)

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SAN DIEGO - After playing home games in a Los Angeles suburb the last two seasons, San Diego State’s football players loaded into buses Wednesday afternoon for the 10-minute drive to their new stadium.

They liked what they saw of 35,000-seat Snapdragon Stadium so much that they were already looking forward to what it will be like having a home-field advantage again when it opens Sept. 3 with a game against Arizona.

Linebacker Caden McDonald said getting to open a new stadium in the school’s 100th season of football was a big reason why he came back for his senior season.

“My last two seasons, I’ve been in Carson. I haven’t been able to play San Diego football in San Diego,” McDonald said. “We’ve been in Carson. So, this is truly going to be a blessing to be able to play in front of San Diego fans in San Diego.”

The Aztecs haven’t played in San Diego since 2019. Due to the pandemic affecting the 2020 schedule, the school decided to move up demolition of 70,000-seat SDCCU Stadium earlier than originally planned to help expedite construction of Snapdragon Stadium. The stadium is the first phase of a campus expansion in Mission Valley.

The Aztecs went 12-2 last year for the best season in school history. But because they played 116 miles from campus in Dignity Health Sports Park in Carson, many of their fans didn’t see them in person. SDSU went 6-2 in Carson, including a thrilling three-overtime win over Utah of the Pac-12 and a victory against Boise State that clinched the Mountain West Conference’s West Division title. That meant making one more trip up the freeway for the conference championship game, which the Aztecs lost 46-13 to Utah State.

SDSU bounced back with a Frisco Bowl win over UTSA to finish No. 25 in The Associated Press poll.

“Having the convenience of being 10 minutes from the campus is going to be a game-changer for sure,” McDonald said after the seniors were the first group of players to tour the stadium, which is still under construction. “This is what it’s about. This is how college football is supposed to be, not playing 14 away games a year. Now we actually get a home-field advantage. This will definitely be one of the best home-field advantages in college football this season.”

The Aztecs said the first thing that jumped out at them is how steep the stands are and how close they are to the field.

“I’m not a design guy, but I tell you, the fans are going to be right on top of you and it’s going to be a great atmosphere,” said coach Hoke, who has been to the new stadium a few times. “When it’s your home place, it’s great, believe me. I think it makes a difference, especially if you’re playing well.”

Athletic director J.D. Wicker said all of Snapdragon Stadium, other than the top of the west side upper deck, would have fit inside the field-level seating at SDCCU Stadium. “It’s very intimate and that’s what we were going for,” Wicker said. “We’ve got a great example in a basketball arena on campus of an intimate facility that’s steep and is a lot of excitement and that’s what we’re going to have here.”

Snapdragon Stadium is going up just west of where SDCCU Stadium stood since 1967. After the NFL’s Chargers bolted for Los Angeles following the 2016 season, San Diego State won a ballot measure that gave it the right to buy the majority of the Mission Valley site for a campus expansion and new football stadium.

Senior wide receiver Jesse Matthews, who grew up in San Diego, voted for that ballot measure in November 2018. Now he gets to play in the stadium.

“That’s cool how it all came full circle,” he said. “I wasn’t sure when they were going to get it done. But it’s a perfect storm, our 100th season, my senior year, being back home after being on the road for two years, it’s incredible.”

The Aztecs have sold 11,500 season tickets with a goal of 18,000, Wicker said.

The ground-up concrete from SDCCU Stadium is in a massive pile about 150 yards east of Snapdragon Stadium. It will be used as fill at the campus expansion site.