Editor’s note: This is the third in an eight-part series profiling Utah State’s football team by position. Next: Offensive line.
The 2018 college football season was a memorable one for Utah State wide receivers Ron’quavion Tarver, Jalen Greene and Aaren Vaughns, who combined to catch 143 passes for 1,979 yards and 19 touchdowns.
All three of those players have graduated, giving the Aggies a formidable hole to fill. Speedy junior Jordan Nathan is the only returning wideout who hauled in more than 10 receptions a year ago, although graduate transfer Siaosi Mariner did catch 17 passes for 209 yards for the University of Utah last season.
USU’s 2019 receiving corps features a lot of unproven commodities, but it is a talented and motivated group.
“The hunger is there every day when we come out and practice,” said Nathan, who gained 621 yards and scored five TDs on 53 receptions during his first two seasons in Logan. “We have to maintain consistency and make sure that we do our job for the team, make sure that every one of the receivers knows every part of the playbook, from outside receiver to inside receiver. And if we do that, everything will take care of itself.”
Nathan has certainly done his part in getting USU’s receivers ready for the 2019 campaign. The Monrovia, California, native has taken on much more of a leadership role and that was evident during the fall camp practices open to the public.
“When my coach very first got here, he said, ‘you know what, you need to be a leader,’” Nathan said. “I’m like, ‘you know what coach, I’m not too much of a talkative person. I try to show by my actions.’ And he just kept on getting on me about that stuff, and it finally opened me up to being the person that I was supposed to be when I came to Utah State. It feels good because my teammates, they trust me because I try to back it up, and they see that. ... I think that’s what being a leader’s about is you tell them what to do, and you go show them that you can do that as well.”
Nathan started 18 games during his first two seasons in the program and is primed for a big season at the slot position. However, it will not be a one-man show at that spot. As far as Aggie wide receivers coach Jason Phillips is concerned, he has a trio of starters in Nathan, junior Taylor Compton and sophomore Deven Thompkins.
Compton, a former Logan High standout who earned a scholarship last season, and Thompkins combined for 17 receptions a year ago, but their production could skyrocket this fall. Like Nathan, Thompkins is one of the fastest guys on the team and could also make an impact as a kickoff and punt returner.
“Those guys have pushed the entire unit,” Phillips said of the aforementioned trio. “The slot position is the most solid position in (our) receiving corps right now. ... I mean, those guys have solidified themselves as the guy inside, as they’ve also solidified themselves as guys that can be versatile, that can move outside and play outside because they’ve demonstrated that.”
The battle for playing time is still ongoing at the outside receiver position, but four players have seemingly separated themselves from the pack. Those athletes are Mariner, All-American kickoff returner Savon Scarver and junior college transfers Sean Carter and Derek Wright. Scarver, Carter and Wright are all juniors.
Mariner, a former four-star recruit by 247sports.com, has the potential to be one of the breakout players in the Mountain West. The 6-foot-2, 190-pounder played in 36 games, with 22 starts, during his time with the Utes. Mariner caught 52 passes for 785 yards and four TDs during that timespan, but could approach those numbers this season alone.
“It’s not about how I feel, it’s really about how he feels,” Phillips said of Mariner. “I mean, I think he’s got an opportunity now to obviously be the guy and have that type of season that I’m sure he’s been wanting to have since he started playing college football. And he’s done everything in his power and I’m very pleased with where he is right now.”
Scarver, one of the fastest players in the Mountain West, is also primed to have a breakout season. No. 11 has showcased a greater ability to high-point the football and make contested catches during spring and fall camp.
“He’s demonstrated that’s he’s willing to do the work, so a special season is ahead for him if he continues to work,” said Phillips of Scarver, who caught 20 passes for 396 yards during his first two seasons. “I mean, you have to do that, you have to put the time in, you have to study it when you’re not here, you have to bring football home with you instead of those video games. So far I’ve been very pleased with Savon, and hopefully it carries over to the season and he continues to work as hard as he’s been working.”
Carter, USU’s tallest receiver at 6-4, and Wright, a walk-on from Manti, have impressed so far during fall camp. Nathan singled out Wright.
“He comes out here and he works his tail off every single day,” Nathan said.
Other receivers who could make an impact this season are redshirt freshman Tim Patrick Jr. and true freshman Ajana Carter, who snared a stunning game-winning Hail Mary pass in the Texas 6A state championship game as a prep senior.
Adding depth at receiver are newcomers Kyle Van Leeuwen, Kanen Eaton and Sawyer Merrill.
Meanwhile, USU is talented and deep at tight end this season. Junior Carson Terrell has been the primary backup the past two seasons, where he recorded 20 receptions for 257 yards. Terrell, a highly sought after prep recruit, and Utah graduate transfer Caleb Repp appear to be battling it out to be the Game 1 starter.
Aggie tight ends coach Frank Maile has been pleased with both Terrell and Repp during fall camp.
“Obviously, Caleb’s not as big as you would like him to be, as heavy, but he brings a different skill set as far as stretching the field vertically,” Maile said. “And not that Carson can’t, but Carson’s a bigger body that’s a better blocker, just because he’s physically built to do so right now. And so they bring different stuff to the table, so I think by committee we’re going to be pretty good.”
Repp played tight end and defensive end during his time in Salt Lake City, but appears to have found his niche at USU. The 6-5, 230-pounder was a good high school sprinter and will provide the Aggies with some mismatches in the passing game.
“He’s going to cause people problems because it’s not only his athleticism, but he is long,” Maile said. “He’s a tall kid, he’s about 6-5, and his catch radius is enormous, so that’s huge for us as far as matching him up on linebackers or smaller DBs. He brings a lot to the table.”
Junior Travis Boman, USU’s third-string tight end a year ago, is also back and is currently battling it out with converted defensive end Logan Lee for that spot this season. Maile gushed about the strides Lee, a junior, has made after “knocking some of the dust off.” No. 47 was a stellar high school wideout at Madison (Idaho), where he finished with 1,240 receiving yards and 13 TDs as senior.
“He’s taken a huge step forward as far as catching again, blocking and running routes, so it’s been good,” Maile said. “Logan’s doing a good job.”
Another tight end who could carve a role for himself this season is former Sky View football and basketball star Bryce Mortenson, who is a redshirt freshman. Adding depth at the position are true freshman Jack Drews and JUCO transfer Mosese Manu, who has two years of eligibility remaining.
Maile spoke highly of the character of his tight ends and said “they’re really good guys off the field.”