The kid just oozes guts. And sometimes it’s not pretty and sometimes it’s not highlight reel, but you look up and the kid’s got another hundred yards and he’s pounding it, down after down. —USU coach Matt Wells, on Joey DeMartino

Pardon Utah State’s Joey DeMartino if he yawned when the Aggies stepped aboard the U.S.S. Midway. Forgive him if he thought “Sea Lions Live” at Sea World was lame. And please, do not judge him if he ignores the giant panda during Wednesday’s team visit to the San Diego Zoo.

There’s no doubt that Utah State’s trip to the Poinsettia Bowl this year is an upgrade. The Idaho Potato Bowl is OK, but it’s not a warm-weather venue. So the team earned a respite from the cold by finishing second in the Mountain West Conference. Meanwhile, DeMartino is back in his hometown.

“Yeah, it’s going to be 40 degrees for a low at Qualcomm Stadium,” he says. “I love warm weather.”

As for all that touristy stuff, he’s done that.

That the Aggies are even playing now is a head-scratcher. A year ago they were coming off a Potato Bowl win and things seemed orderly and bright. Then-coach Gary Andersen had assured he wouldn’t be taking any of the high-profile jobs being dangled.

But Wisconsin unexpectedly called and Andersen answered.

With running back Kerwynn Williams gone, this year’s workhorse was supposed to be Joe Hill. But he went down with an injury in September, leaving the Aggies to go to the second string. DeMartino suddenly became DeMan. He rushed for a team-high 1,078 yards, including one 60-yarder, and 12 touchdowns, plus one TD catch. Though he endured a series of minor injuries this year, the honorable mention all-MWC back is set for Wednesday’s kickoff against Northern Illinois.

“The kid just oozes guts,” USU coach Matt Wells said after the regular-season finale. “And sometimes it’s not pretty and sometimes it’s not highlight reel, but you look up and the kid’s got another hundred yards and he’s pounding it, down after down.”

The son of a pair of engineers — his father electrical, his mother computer — DeMartino did what anyone does when young and living in Southern California. He took it all in. Yes, he saw all the tourist stops. He knows the territory like a second-down sweep.

But his favorite stop is trusty Del Mar Beach.

“Twenty-First Street access,” he says dreamily.

In the case of the Aggies, it’s a good thing they found him coming out of Grossmont College in (where else?) San Diego. Hill replaced Williams, who replaced Robert Turbin in the long line of talented USU running backs. But when an injury ended Hill’s season, the responsibility fell on DeMartino, who has his own story of pain.

After playing one game in 2010 at USU, he redshirted a season. In 2012 the problems began. He fractured his forearm early that season. The previous January he was struck after a party by teammate Maurice Alexander, who was later sentenced to 45 days in jail for his involvement. DeMartino’s cheekbone and eye socket required surgery.

So when 2013 rolled around, DeMartino wasn’t all that experienced. Until this year he had rushed for just 157 yards at USU.He gained nearly that many in the New Mexico game (144) alone this year.

Now he’s back home in San Diego, as a starter. He expects numerous teachers, high school and junior college coaches, family and friends to be there for the game.

“I’m antsy, man,” he says. “I always wanted to play, but just the whole process. It’s just not an easy road to be able to show up for the people who have been with me. But it will be a blessing. I can’t disappoint them …”

A journalism major, DeMartino says he hasn’t decided what sort of reporting he’ll pursue but he expects it will be “something in sports.”

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He certainly has a knack for words. Asked about the nationally ranked Huskies, he carefully says, “I see this as an opportunity to showcase our team. We’re out competing with the best teams right now. It’s not the opponent (that’s important) for us. But I don’t see it as an easy game at all.”

Being in San Diego instead of Boise?

Easy.

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