Finkel preparing for final season with Aztecs |

Finkel preparing for final season with Aztecs

Steve Yingling / Tahoe Daily Tribune

Completing a college athletic career for a NCAA Division I program isn’t something that a South Shore high school graduate accomplishes that often.

Bryan Finkel has experienced the highs and lows in college sports since graduating from South Tahoe High in 2005, and he expects to be a better man because of those experiences.

On Monday, Finkel opened the first day of practice for his senior football season at San Diego State University uncertain what his role will be for new head coach Brady Hoke, the 2008 Mid-American Conference Coach of the Year at Ball State.

“I’m very excited to play for them,” said Finkel, whose coaching staff also includes former New Mexico coach Rocky Long, ex-NFL quarterback Brian Sipe and former Auburn offensive coordinator Al Borges . “All of the new coaches are great guys, very knowledgable and are here to win. They joke around, but when it comes down to it, they mean business.”

Finkel came into the preseason camp as a reserve linebacker, but the 6-foot-2, 225-pounder expects to, at the very least, receive playing time on special teams.

“I should get a lot of time on special teams and get in on defense, too,” he said. “We have a lot of talented players, so I’ll just work hard in camp and see where it goes.”

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Hoke knows what his seniors are going through. As a linebacker at Ball State in the late 1970s, he had three different coaches in four years.

“Our players have done a great job. It’s always hard (to be) in transition,” Hoke commented during the school’s media day. “There are some guys on this team who have stepped up leadership-wise. The seniors have done a tremendous job. Sometimes it’s the hardest for them, because it’s their last year of football. With getting new direction, a new philosophy and a new staff, they have done a great job.”

Last year, Finkel made his San Diego State debut in the cauldron of college football – Notre Dame. He’ll never forget that September day.

“My best memory is running down the field in South Bend, playing against Notre Dame,” Finkel said.

Since arriving at San Diego State in 2007, Finkel has seen a side of football that is all new to him. The Aztecs posted a 2-10 win-loss record last year and were 4-8 in 2007. Those seasons didn’t jive with Finkel’s junior and senior years at South Tahoe High – the Vikings’ last two playoff teams – and his two years in one of the most successful programs in college football history, Linfield College in McMinnville, Ore. Finkel was part of Linfield’s 50th and 51st consecutive winning seasons.

“Even through we weren’t having winning seasons, I never felt like I was on a losing team,” Finkel said of the past two seasons. “We took losses hard, and no one really quit.

“You don’t win in life all of the time. You have to learn to deal with adversity. I’ve learned a lot about myself, not only on the field, but things that will help me in life, too.”

Measuring Finkel’s success at San Diego State goes much deeper than the football field. In the classroom, Finkel is only six units shy of realizing a bachelor of science degree in business management. At last year’s team banquet, Finkel received the President’s Award for Highest Standards of Academic and Athletic Excellence.

“It’s a tough balancing school, work and football,” Finkel said. “Football is a job, with all of the film-watching and working out. That’s the toughest thing, balancing everything out and making sure I do as well in school as well as on the field. I’ve learned that great success comes along with great preparation and hard work.”