When Siaosi Mariner elected to transfer from Utah to Utah State, Aggie wide receivers coach Jason Phillips knew he was getting a talented player.
What Phillips quickly learned is he was also getting an opportunity to mentor an athlete who was humble and ultimately a great teammate.
“Like I said before, coming from where he came from, Siaosi had an opportunity to kind of keep that identity, but he choose this (Aggie) identity, and that was very noticeable,” said Phillips, who is also USU’s passing game coordinator. “I mean, he came in here and he punched a clock, and he worked just as hard as these guys worked. These guys, they work hard every day and he fit right in with these guys.”
Not only did Mariner immediately fit right in, he quickly asserted himself as Jordan Love’s go-to target in the passing game. In USU’s season-opener at Wake Forest, No. 80 was phenomenal as he snared eight receptions for 118 yards.
“It was a good confidence boost and not just for me, but the team,” Mariner said. “Whenever we’re having those games where we’re feeling kind of down, we can always think back to a game like Wake Forest and be like, ‘this is what we’re capable of against a really good team, a Top 25 team.’ And so that was a big stepping stone for us, even though it came in a loss ... just to know what kind of team we are and what kind of team we can be.”
Mariner’s 17-yard touchdown catch against the Demon Deacons was an absolute gem as he high-pointed the ball beautifully and was somehow able to drag his toe in. Making contested catches like that has been something Mariner has excelled at so far during the 2019 campaign.
“Hopefully, that’s one of the things that will be contagious around here because he’s done it, he’s proven that he can do it,” Phillips said. “... And it’s contagious because once somebody does something heroic or somebody makes a play, everybody wants to make a play.”
Those are the kind of plays Mariner expects out of himself and his teammates. Two other examples this season are Mariner’s 35-yard reception against LSU and his season-best 48-yarder against Nevada — both plays he made while laying out.
“It’s not a sense of pride, it’s something you should do, something you’re supposed to do,” Mariner said. “If you play receiver, our job is to make those types of catches, and like I said to make Jordan Love right as much as we can.”
Despite missing most of the LSU game with an injury, Mariner currently leads the Aggies in receptions (26) and receiving yards (403). The son of Anna Mariner has 146 more yards through the air than anybody else on the team.
Mariner is already on track to surpass his career outputs of 52 catches for 712 yards during his three seasons at Utah. During his time in Salt Lake City, the native of Tustin, California, appeared in 36 games and started 22. In his final season with the Utes, Mariner finished with 209 yards and one TD, against Weber State, on 17 receptions.
Of Mariner’s 52 receptions at Utah, 11 went for 20 yards or longer. That trend has continued as USU as he already has hauled in catches of 28, 29, 34, 35 and 48 yards.
It’s fair to say Mariner has relished his extended offensive role as an Aggie, although he did enjoy his time as a Ute.
“You know, the Utah thing, they did what they could during that time period and it worked out every now and again, but I’m here now,” Mariner said. “It’s a blessing to be here. Here, I just have coaches that believe in me, trust me during those tough times, third downs and things like that. That’s what I came here to offer, that’s what they brought me here to do. That’s what we talked about during the recruiting process and that’s what I came here to do.”
Mariner, who graduated from Utah last fall with a bachelor’s degree in sociology, decided to enter into the NCAA transfer portal following his redshirt junior season. And while he knew it was the decision he needed to make, it wasn’t an easy one.
“It was just hard from the point that you get used to guys in the locker room,” said Mariner, who is pursuing a master’s degree in physical education. “You know, I went there for four years and I established a great relationship with coaches and players. That was the hardest part of it all, not necessarily leaving that behind, but moving on from it.”
The 6-foot-2, 195-pound wideout was one of three Utah graduate transfers who ultimately ended up at USU. He was joined by fellow teammates Caleb Repp (tight) and Nick Heninger (defensive end), who have also shined for the Aggies in ’19. Additionally, Utah State has two other graduate transfers on its roster in running back Riley Burt (BYU) and cornerback Terin Adams (Arizona State).
Like Repp, Mariner considered spending his final year at BYU, where he would have been reunited with Aaron Roderick, who is the Cougars’ passing game coordinator and QB coach. The former Utah assistant coach was Mariner’s primary recruiter when he was in high school.
Several other teams were interested in Mariner, but his decision came down to USU and BYU.
“(I considered) BYU because they had a really nice schedule ... and Utah State was kind of like the obvious choice, just because I could come here and kind of be myself a little bit more,” Mariner said. “And Coach (Gary A (Andersen) was easy to follow. Caleb and Nick Heninger, I followed those guys here, too, so it was easy for me to choose Utah State.”
Also making the decision easier for Mariner was USU’s choice to hire Jordan Hicks as the head strength and conditioning coach. Hicks was the assistant director of sports performance for Utah when Mariner was a Ute.
“Everything was a smooth transition for me,” Mariner said. “... It wasn’t too much of a drastic change.”
In Mariner, the Aggies inherited the services of an athletic playmaker — one who was highly sought after during his time at Tustin High School. Mariner was a 4-star recruit by 247sports.com and received scholarship offers from several FBS programs. He narrowed his final three choices to Utah, Washington State and Boise State.
In addition to being an all-state football player, Mariner was a standout on Tustin’s basketball team. As a senior shooting guard for the Tillers, Mariner averaged 14 points and six rebounds an outing, and helped propel his team to a 27-3 record.
Mariner was a two-way star on the football team as he was tabbed his league’s Defensive Player of the Year as a senior after returning four of his six interceptions for touchdowns. He also recovered a pair of fumbles from his cornerback position. Offensively, Mariner contributed with 840 yards receiving, 381 rushing and 450 passing.
For his efforts, Mariner was selected as the Orange County Register Male Athlete of the Year for the 2014-15 academic year.
Mariner also played a little bit of baseball and volleyball as a teenager, but it was basketball that was his first love. In fact, he didn’t really get heavily involved with football until his sophomore year at Tustin.
Indeed, Mariner is a very talented athlete, but his contributions to USU’s football program extends beyond his abilities on the field, Phillips asserted.
“The thing that’s been very enjoyable for me and the thing that’s been great for our guys is just his demeanor, his professional-like attitude about his daily routine and coming in every day and willing to do whatever it takes for this football team,” said Phillips, who also spoke highly of Mariner’s leadership. “... He bought into what was going on here and fit in with the guys, and so that was very encouraging, and I liked that the most about him.”
When asked about his personal goals as an Aggie, Mariner did not even hesitate when he said “a Mountain West championship.” As far as the future is concerned, No. 80 has aspirations of playing in the NFL.
“There’s a reason a lot of us do this and that’s to obviously get to the next level, so yeah I do plan on playing at the next level for as long as God allows me to,” Mariner said. “And after that, I really want to get into fashion ... and reach inside myself. I never really got to put too much time into (that kind of stuff) because I play a Division I sport and it is very demanding, so (my plan is) just kind of doing new things in my life ... and just kind of taking on a new way of life.”
In addition to having a passion for fashion, Mariner is “a big fan of art” and likes to draw. He also enjoys watching boxing and meeting new people.
“I love the young fans and I love being a guy they can look up to and let them know that anything is possible with faith and prayer,” said Mariner, who wants to work with kids and possibly coach in the future.”