The excitement level for the 122nd season of Aggie football continues to intensify.
A pretty large group of fans were on hand for the scrimmage portion of the 14th annual Aggie Football Family Fun Day, which took place early Saturday evening at Maverik Stadium. That fan support did not go unnoticed by standout quarterback Jordan Love and junior safety Shaq Bond, who shined during the final scrimmage of fall camp.
“It’s great to see this many fans here,” Bond said. “You know, last year I had just gotten here, so seeing those fans and just coming into last year, we had a decent amount of fans. And then coming out this year, I looked in the stands and it was way more (fans) than last. And so their energy that they brought really helped us out today. I really made us bring a little extra energy today.”
“It’s amazing to see that,” Love said. “I mean, it just shows us what the season’s going to be like having all of these fans here, so it’s just really great to see.”
As for the actual scrimmage, it was pretty low key. The only tackling that took place was when those players lower on the depth chart took the field. The veterans and guys higher up on the depth chart competed in a spirited 60-or-so-play scrimmage on Friday, Utah State head coach Gary Andersen said.
“There was good fight on both sides,” Andersen said of Friday’s scrimmage. “It was highly competitive. You know, I think we were able to solidify some spots that were a little bit up in the air, and the kids knew that, that was the opportunity for them to step up and make some plays.”
Although he didn’t share any specifics from Friday’s scrimmage, Andersen did say “I thought we tackled reasonably well, which is always a concern going into the first game.”
A lack of contact didn’t prevent some veterans from making some nice plays during Saturday’s situational scrimmage. Bond, who started the first eight games last year before suffering a season-ending knee injury against New Mexico, flat-out came to play Saturday.
For starters, No. 4 stepped in front of a Copper Legas pass and returned it for touchdown. Later on, Bond, who said his knee feels “100 percent,” climbed the ladder to made an acrobatic interception in the end zone during a scripted red zone series.
“I had a gruesome injury last year, but that’s behind us now,” Bond said. “So, I just think about every day, just coming back and getting ready to work for a new goal, work to finish the season this year, rehab every day still. It’s going to be a great year. I feel great this year.”
Bond is currently in a battle with fellow junior Braxton Gunther for the second starting safety position. The other starting spot has been “locked down” by junior college transfer Troy Lefeged Jr., Andersen asserted. Andersen raved about the strides made by Lefeged Jr., called him “extremely intelligent” and said “he loves Utah State and he loves Cache Valley, and I’m proud of the way he’s adjusted. He’s going to be a really good player for us.”
In addition to Bond, Dominic Tatum picked off a pass during 11-on-11 action. Fellow freshman cornerback Cam Lampkin, who was recruited by the Aggies as a wide receiver, also had an impressive INT during a skelly (7-on-7) drill.
Indeed, USU looked pretty sharp defensively Saturday. Andersen has been pleased with the defensive leadership exhibited by of a handful of his players during fall camp.
“(Defensive tackles) Fua (Leilua) and Devon (Anderson) do a nice job and Tipa (Galeai) does an excellent job,” Andersen said. “Tipa is a captain and he's expected to do that. David Woodward is always going to lead in his own way. Kevin Meitzenheimer is starting to have a voice and really understand what his role is on the defense. Those are a few of those kids that have stepped up in a good way.”
Woodward, an All-American linebacker, was one Aggie who was noticeably absent from Saturday’s festivities. The junior missed the final open practice of fall camp last Friday. When asked if fans should be worried about Woodward, Andersen said, “he’ll be good, he’ll be fine.”
As well as the defense performed Saturday, the offense still made some nice plays, highlighted by an impressive touchdown catch in tight coverage by former Logan High star Taylor Compton on a pass from Love. True freshman wideout Ajana Carter snared a rocket of a pass by back-up signal caller Henry Colombi for a TD in a red zone scenario.
Compton and fellow slot targets Deven Thompkins and Jordan Nathan combined to make 10 receptions during Saturday’s controlled scrimmage.
“I’m really just building that chemistry,” Love said. “We’ve already built it a lot. We’re just going out there and just having fun on the field. I mean, that’s what it’s all about, so that’s that I’m looking forward to.”
USU will have nine more practices before its season opener at Wake Forest on Friday, Aug. 30. The Aggies will start preparing for the Demon Deacons on Monday.
What have been Andersen’s biggest takeaways after the first two full weeks of fall camp?
“I think we’ve got a football team that has really grown together, so from January until now,” Andersen said. “They like playing football, they like being around each other. You don’t have to get them up for practice. I think they know that we’ve got their best interest in mind and we’re going to push them, and push them hard at a high level. But they expect nothing different than that.
“... I drive down the hill every day and I just think I’m very lucky to be around this group of kids, and I think they feel the same way about us and this whole football team. So, they’re going to compete like crazy, they’re going to give you all they’ve got. I promise they give us that every single day, and I think this coaching staff does the same.”