Whether the Aggies will be significantly better on offense during the 2021 college football season remains to be seen, but they are certainly not lacking in experience on that side of the ball.
After all, Utah State returns four starters on the offensive line, has five super seniors back at wide receivers and has plenty of depth at running back, plus the Aggies brought in a veteran quarterback at the FBS level in Arkansas State transfer Logan Bonner. The one offensive position the Aggies lack experience at is tight end, especially now that Broc Lane is out for the season with a knee injury.
Of the six tight ends currently on USU's roster --- Lane, who action action in all six games a year ago, included --- five of them are sophomores or freshmen. Fortunately for the Aggies, their lone upperclassman at the position is a proven performer in super senior Carson Terrell. Terrell, who was highly recruited coming out of Lehi High School, played in 41 games during his first four seasons at USU and was in the starting lineup 16 times.
"I think Carson brings a lot to the table just because of his experience," USU tight ends coach DJ Tialavea said. "He can do a lot of different things. He's super tough in the box, can pass protect, can be in the run game and dominate defensive ends, so he's a super reliable guy and leads by example. So he's a guy we're going to really count on this year."
The 6-foot-5, 240-pound Terrell has developed more of a reputation as a blocker than a target in the passing game during his time in Logan, although he did finish with 57 receptions for 837 yards and eight touchdowns as a prep senior. No. 88 contributed with 37 catches for 403 yards and a pair of TDs during his previous four seasons at Utah State.
"A lot of tight ends grow up idolizing guys like (currently Kansas City Chiefs Pro Bowler) Travis Kelce and wanting to score touchdowns, but Carson has a old school mentality where he just wants to run power and put his face mask on D-linemen," said Tialavea, who was a very good blocker as a tight end for the Aggies from 2010-13. "So he's definitely our most experienced guy in the run game and the pass protection game, and he's kind of teaching these young bucks how to get physical, which is a good thing."
Lane (6-4, 235) is USU's only other tight end who has played in more than two games at the collegiate level, and his presence as a receiving threat will be missed this season. Lane is still inexperienced, though, as he was a true freshman a year ago.
Sophomore Josh Sterzer (6-3, 230) is the only other tight end who has seen action in a game for the Aggies. No. 83 saw limited playing time against New Mexico last season and started against Air Force. Sterzer was a standout linebacker in high school as he racked up 72 tackles, including 22.0 for a loss, and 11.0 sacks as a senior at Taylorsville.
Sterzer (basketball, club volleyball) is one of six Aggie tight ends who played three sports in high school, joining Terrell (basketball, wrestling), Lane (soccer, track & field) and Parker Buchanan (basketball, baseball). Tialavea is excited he has several well-rounded athletes in his room.
"Everybody in this group has really good athletic ability," Tialevea said. "They were all multiple sport athletes in high school. ... A lot of them were basketball players, so (we have) a lot of length, really good feet and real good ball skills too. So I think they're all really good athletes. I'm impressed with our group."
Jack Drews (6-3, 240) is USU's other sophomore tight end and has been with the program since the 2019 campaign. Like fellow sophomore Sterzer, Drews was an elite defensive player in high school as he accumulated 88 tackles, including 15.0 for a loss, as a senior linebacker at Ramona (California).
Buchanan (6-6, 215) and Jackson Rigby (6-4, 230) are USU's two freshmen tight ends and, like Terrell and Sterzer, are from the Beehive State. Buchanan, a true freshman, was Box Elder's starting quarterback as a junior and senior, while Rigby was a second-team all-state tight end at Davis. Rigby, who caught 35 passes for 620 yards and six TDs as a prep senior, served a mission for The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints before enrolling at USU.
Buchanan snared a nice touchdown pass in traffic from Bonner during the Aggies' second and final scrimmage of fall camp.
Tialavea has been pleased with how well his tight ends have bonded, and said they all have a blue collar, "chip-on-your-shoulder type of mentality."
"Only one guy plays, (but) the camaraderie and the brotherhood that we have just in our unit is really special," Tialavea said. "All of the (tight ends) are really good friends, so I just think the support and the work ethic that we have in our group is the best."
Tialavea is looking forward to when the Aggies will use two tight end sets under new offensive coordinator Anthony Tucker, although it likely won't be very often.
"If you ask me, I hope it's a lot," Tialavea said while laughing. "But I think we will. I think there's special situations during games during the season that you have to, and I think we have guys that we can count on. So hopefully we use 12 personnel quite a bit."
The former NFL tight end is also confident his tight ends are athletic and versatile enough to line up as H-backs when the opportunity presents itself.
"Yeah, you'll see tight ends off the ball quite a bit, trying to move them around and get them into space, so you'll see that a lot too," Tialavea said.