A year ago at this time, avid Utah State football fans were focused on the 2020 NFL Draft and where former Aggie quarterback Jordan Love would land.
Those same fans are now busy trying to keep track of their team's activity on the recruiting front. It's no mystery USU's coaching staff has been very active recruiting in 2021 and it's definitely paid dividends this week.
A current high school junior (Saco Alofipo) and a junior college safety (Kobe Hylton) pledged their commitment to the Aggies on Wednesday, and class of 2022 cornerback Ken Moore Jr. followed suit one day later. Alofipo and Moore Jr. are the sixth and seventh prep juniors who have already declared they are coming to USU.
The Aggies will receive some immediate help from Hylton, who is a sophomore at Northeastern Oklahoma A&M (NEO), which is the same junior college program that helped produce former USU standout and current NFL running back Darwin Thompson. Hylton, who has three seasons of eligibility remaining but no redshirt year left, plans on being in Logan next month and will be on the team this fall.
Hylton and the Norsemen still have three games remaining on their spring schedule. The 2020 junior college football season was moved to this spring due to COVID-19. The native of Trenton, New Jersey, was offered a scholarship by the Aggies on April 21, so it didn't take long for him to feel like USU was the right fit.
"The coaches here (at USU instill) a family-like environment and that’s all I ever wanted from a team, a family-like environment and a real, genuine relationship with the coaches," Hylton said in an interview with the Herald Journal.
Hylton also had scholarship offers from seven other teams, mostly FCS programs in the Great Lakes areas. It's fair to say USU's coaching staff left a very positive impression on the 6-foot-2, 205-pounder.
"I feel as if this is the perfect staff to play for," he said. "They intentionally make it feel like a home-like environment for us, and when coaches are willing to go to war for their player, you best believe the players are willing to do the same."
Hylton has helped NEO become very stingy on the defensive side of the ball this spring. After all, the Norseman only allowed 238.0 yards an outing, including an average of 107.4 through the air, during their first five games. In those five games, No. 3 contributed with 16 tackles, including 12 of the solo variety, seven passes broken up, 1.0 sack and one interception.
Hylton shined as a senior at South Gwinnett (Georgia) High School in the fall of 2018. South Gwinnett only had statistics from seven of its games recorded on maxpreps, but Hylton was credited with 40 tackles, including 28 solo stops, 9.0 tackles for loss, three interceptions and three more passes defended.
How does Hylton feel he can best benefit the Aggies?
"My biggest strength I bring on the field is me being able to play any and everywhere in the secondary, and also being able to bring the boom," he said. "My biggest strength off the field is that I’m laid back and all about handling business. That goes for in the classroom and in the dorms."
Like Hylton, Alofipo and Moore Jr. are out-of-state recruits for the Aggies, although Alofipo is a former resident of the Beehive State and attended Woods Cross before his family moved to Henderson, Nevada, in March of last year. Ironically enough, the Alofipos arrived in the Las Vegas area the very same day COVID-19 shut down everything.
As a sophomore at Woods Cross, the strong safety contributed with 35 tackles, including 2.0 for a loss, two interceptions and five PBUs in nine games. Alofipo finished with six tackles and broke up a pass in the Wildcats' 35-21 win over Green Canyon.
Alofipo was also a standout wrestler for the Wildcats as he was the first freshman in program history to earn a spot on the podium at the state tournament as he placed fourth in 5A’s 138-pound division.
The 5-11, 180-pounder is currently a student at Liberty High. The Patriots did not have a 2020 season due to the pandemic, but are traditionally a contender in Nevada's 5A division. Liberty did hold its annual spring game on Thursday.
Alofipo, whose father, Selu, played college football at Louisiana Tech, was also offered a scholarship by Northern Arizona.
“What made me feel like Utah state is the right fit for me is knowing how much effort they put in me and how much love and loyalty they have shown,” Alofipo said in an interview with the Herald Journal. “Like I told the Utah State coaching staff, I don’t care about how big the school is or the name of the school, I care about how the coaches treat me and keep in touch constantly, caring not only about my football life, but also how I’m doing in school and how my family is.”
The versatile Alofipo will take his unofficial visit to USU in June and plans on taking his official visit in December “with my close boys Aise Moa and lofa.”
“The Aggies are recruiting me as a safety,” Alofipo said. “I know coach Banda talked to me about putting me at nickel back also. This year at Liberty I will be starting (at) safety and I’ll also be playing running back and playing some slot on offense.”
What areas of his game does Alofipo feel like he needs to shore up?
“One thing I need to improve on most at in my game is learning more how to pre read and study what route receivers are going to run before reacting too late,” he said.
Unlike Alofipo, Moore Jr. was able to compete this past fall as Florida had an abbreviated high school season from late October until late December. As a junior at Christopher Columbus High, Moore Jr. helped propel the Miami-based school to an 8-0 record and an 8A tri-county championship.
"I’m grateful my state was able to play this season because it helped me and a lot of my teammates with our film, which helped us get the attention of schools and be able to earn offers," Moore Jr. said in an interview with the Herald Journal. "And I love the sport, so I was just happy we were able to play."
As a junior, the 5-9, 155-pound cornerback made 18 tackles, intercepted a pass, broke up five others and scored a touchdown en route to garnering first-team All-Dade (County) honors from the Miami Herald. As a sophomore for the Explorers, No. 2 contributed with 42 tackles, including 33 solo stops, and one INT, plus he returned a kickoff 80 yards.
Moore Jr., who was offered a scholarship by the Aggies at the beginning of March, is looking forward to being a part of Utah State's defensive scheme.
"Utah State is a perfect fit for me because of the type of defense they run and coverages, and I think I can dominate in their defensive scheme," he said.
Moore Jr. has breakaway speed as he recently clocked in at 10.82 seconds in the 100-meter dash for the Explorers' track & field program. Moore Jr. said he is hoping to run a 10.6 or 10.7, which is an elite high school time, by the end of the season.
The Miami native would ideally prefer to enroll at USU for the 2022 spring semester, "but due to me attending a private school, I am required to graduate and finish in May."
Moore Jr. was recruited by USU defensive coordinator Ephraim Banda, who spent the previous five seasons as a coach at the University of Miami. Another current high school junior from the Miami area has committed to the Aggies, and having some familiar faces join Moore Jr. in Cache Valley will certainly make the transition easier.
Additionally, Cornelius Wright, a junior defensive back at Christopher Columbus, also has an offer from the Aggies. Like Moore Jr., Wright was a first-team all-Dade (County) selection this past season.
"Me moving all the way from Miami to Utah will be a big change in my surroundings and environment, but I think it would be a good change for me to get out of Miami, and I know some players and coaches up there, so I think it will still feel like home," Moore Jr. said.
In addition to Moore Jr. and Alofipo, other class of 2022 athletes who have committed to the Aggies are Green Canyon High offensive lineman Bryce Radford, Orem High quarterback/tight end Chase Tuatagaloa, Desert Pines (Nevada) High cornerback Jett Solomon, Chaminade-Madonna Prep (Florida) High defensive tackle Cahlede Jackson and Northridge High linebacker Maximus Fonoti-Maikui. Tuatagaloa was recruited by USU as an athlete.