The 2018 college football season was a banner one for the Aggies, who are anxious to build off of that success.
Utah State officially kicked off spring camp with the first of 15 practices on a sunny and warm Tuesday afternoon at Maverik Stadium. More than 90 players suited up for the first workout, which lasted nearly two hours. Only 13 of these student-athletes will be seniors.
“Good effort, good energy, which you would expect on Day 1,” USU head coach Gary Andersen said. “... Overall, I’m proud of these kids. There hasn’t been one day where we haven’t had effort, and you always have a long way to go. I don’t care how experienced of a team you have or inexperienced of a team you have, Day 1 of spring ball there’s a lot of new faces doing a lot of new things.”
There are also a few familiar faces lining up at different positions for the Aggies. Two of the biggest changes are former Logan High star Chase Nelson moving from safety to running back, and defensive end/linebacker Logan Lee making the transition to tight end. Lee was a standout wide receiver at Madison (Idaho) High School.
Nelson is one of six local athletes returning to the squad for the 2019 campaign, joining fellow Logan alumni Taylor Compton, Jacoby Wildman and Caden Andersen, and Sky View graduates Bryce Mortenson and Jake Pitcher. Mountain Crest product Emosi Damuni is new to the Aggie roster this spring, although he has been working out with the team.
Another familiar face on the sidelines is Gary Andersen, who is beginning his second stint as USU’s head coach. All-American linebacker David Woodward, one of seven returning defensive starters for the Aggies, said it’s been a relatively smooth transition to the new coaching staff.
“I was a little worried with the transition, like everyone kind of is when you get new coaches,” said Woodwood, who led the Mountain West in tackles (134) a year ago. “... But it’s been smooth and they have a little bit different philosophies, but the transition’s been really nice.”
On the flip side, veterans like Woodward have helped make the transition a pretty seamless one for coach Andersen and his staff.
“We have very grounded kids,” coach Andersen said. “... They’ve adjusted to the transition I think very, very well. Obviously, what they’ve done on the football field speaks for itself, but they’re not satisfied; they’re not even close to satisfied as far as (claiming), ‘I’ve arrived’. There’s none of that in their demeanor, there’s none of that in the way they train and the way they work. And that’s infectious, that contagious to the football team as a whole, when (the younger players) see men that have had success and they’re working harder than they ever have.”
That leadership is extra important because USU must replace nine offensive starters from the 2018 team that matched the program record with 11 wins and finished the season ranked 21st and 22nd in the two respective national polls. The Aggies capped off the season with a 52-13 beatdown of North Texas in the New Mexico Bowl.
Fortunately for the Aggies, they do welcome back all-conference quarterback Jordan Love, who broke a wealth of program records a year ago. Although most of Love’s primary targets in the passing game have graduated, he will have the luxury of not having to learn a new offense.
“With us keeping the same offense, I feel really confident in it,” Love said. “I’ve just got to keep gelling with the guys we’ve got. I mean, we’ve got different guys out there (from last year), so it’s a little bit different. But we’ve just got to keep getting better.”
Not only are the Aggies looking for replacements for dangerous targets Ron’quavion Tarver, Jalen Greene and Dax Raymond, they will be breaking in four new starters on the offensive line. Sophomore Alfred Edwards is the only returning starter in the offensive trenches, and 2017 starter Moroni Iniguez graduated and elected to forego his final year of eligibility.
Indeed, the offensive line and wide receiver positional battles will be arguably the two most important ones during spring camp. Coach Andersen is also looking forward to seeing how the battle for playing time at tight end unfolds.
Andersen is grateful to once again have the services of three-year starting punter Aaron Dalton, who missed all of last season and was granted a medical redshirt by the NCAA.
“It’s awesome and he’s done a great job of taking care of himself,” Andersen said. “... It’s great to see him out here and he looked good today.”
USU’s next practice will take place Thursday, but will be closed to the public. However, Friday’s practice from 3:15-5:30 p.m. will be open, as will Saturdays from 10:45 a.m. to 1 p.m. All practices will be held at Maverik Stadium or the Stan Laub Indoor Football Complex.