The 2018 college football season was shaping up to be a memorable one for Utah State’s Jacoby Wildman.
After all, the former Logan High star was coming off a breakout season in 2017 as he led all Aggie defensive linemen with 45 tackles. Unfortunately for Wildman, he broke his right foot shortly before USU’s season opener against Michigan State and was limited throughout most of the fall.
“We each have our own trials in our life and I feel like that was one of mine,” said Wildman, who recorded 15 tackles and 2.0 sacks a year ago. “You learn a lot, you learn patience and it’s definitely a humbling experience. But yeah, it was an eye-opener. It’s hard going from playing so much as a sophomore to having that happen the day before you leave to Michigan State. I learned a lot, though ... I wouldn’t trade that experience for anything.”
Instead of bemoaning his bad luck, Wildman worked hard to get ready for his senior season, and he was rewarded for his diligence last weekend. No. 93 gave the Aggies a huge boost off the bench as he made five solo tackles, including 2.0 for a loss, against Wake Forest. Wildman stoned Wake Forest stellar running back Cade Carney on a fourth-and-goal run in the third quarter, and also made a pair of third-down tackles to prevent the hosts from picking up first downs throughout the course of the game.
“It meant a lot to me as a player to kind of go out there and prove to myself that I can do it and that I do belong,” Wildman said. “The injury was hard to get over. I played all last year on a broken foot. It’s nice to not have that pain and to be able to fly around like I love doing.”
USU defensive ends coach Bojay Filimoeatu was ecstatic with Wildman’s performance against the Demon Deacons.
“In my entire coaching career, which is about four years, he’s probably the highest-graded player I’ve ever had,” Filimoeatu said. “He made one mistake, one. He graded out at 97 percent and he knew he messed up, and he came and talked to me. He was like, ‘yeah coach, I know.’ He already knew, and those players that know their mistakes already are the great ones.”
Watching Wildman excel was very gratifying for Filimoeatu because he’s the type of player the former USU linebacker thoroughly enjoys coaching. On more than one occasion, Filimoeatu raved about Wildman’s “pure effort” and “leadership.”
“I love that kid; I love him to death,” Filimoeatu said. “Obviously he’s a player that I hold close to my heart because he’s the type of kid that will work hard for you on and off the field. ... It’s good for these underclassmen to see Jacoby do that because I want them to be just like him.”
Not only does Filimoeatu want other athletes to emulate Wildman’s work ethic, but also his character and dedication as a student-athlete. The son of Mike and Stephanie Wildman has also sparkled in the classroom as he earned Academic All-Mountain West accolades as a freshman, sophomore and junior.
Wildman finished off his bachelor’s degree in sociology in December of last year and is on track to receive his MBA next spring. The Logan native minored in criminal justice and also earned a law certificate in political science.
Filimoeatu referred to Wildman as “our blueprint” in regards to being a model student-athlete.
“He’s a blue-collar kid,” Filimoeatu said. “He’s a hard worker on and off the field, and he handles himself well. ... I don’t ever have to worry about him and I know he’s going to outwork everybody every single play. When I throw him in (the game), I know he’s going to be going 100 miles per hour, 100 percent of the time. That’s who he is.”
The affable Wildman praised Filimoeatu for helping him improve on his craft throughout spring and fall camp. No. 93 also made it a point to credit fellow defensive ends Tipa Galeai, Justus Te’i, Dalton Baker and Jake Pitcher by name for his development.
“Guys like that have really been good examples to me of working hard every day, and learning off one another,” Wildman said. “We’re a really tight-knit group and we’re not afraid to give each other pointers and coach each other up, and that’s something I’ve really appreciated about being around those guys.”
Wildman is also psyched about playing for Aggie head coach Gary Andersen, who offered him a scholarship during his first stint at USU. Wildman also had a scholarship offer from Weber State and was being recruited by Utah and BYU, but the decision to become an Aggie was an easy one.
“Going into my senior year (coach Andersen) offered me a scholarship and immediately I pulled the trigger in the meeting,” said Wildman, whose uncle, Dennis Wildman, played linebacker at USU in 1987. “I was like, ‘yep, this is where I want to be, this is what I want to do.’”
Wildman was in Texas serving a mission for The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints when he received an email from Andersen informing his former recruit he was accepting the head coaching position at Wisconsin. No. 93 said “that was one of (my) saddest days,” although it was a decision by Andersen he fully respected.
The 6-foot-2, 250-pound defensive end was very happy Matt Wells, Andersen’s replacement, honored his scholarship. And Wildman was thrilled to be reunited with Andersen and his high school coach, Mike Favero, who joined Andersen’s staff at USU earlier this year as an offensive analyst.
“It’s like I’m in the movie Groundhog Day,” Wildman quipped. “... I love those two guys. They’re great examples to me, great mentors.”
Favero and Wildman helped propel the Grizzlies to a 4A state championship in 2011. Wildman was a junior on that team and garnered second-team all-state honors after recording 82 tackles and 6.5 sacks. Wildman was also an all-state selection as a senior as he finished with 85 tackles, 7.5 sacks, four forced fumbles, one interception and a blocked field goal.
Wildman was even more dominant as a senior wrestler for Logan as he captured the 4A title at heavyweight and only lost one match all season. Developing into a standout wrestler helped prepare Wildman, who also played lacrosse in high school, to be a Division I athlete.
“Wrestling’s a sport where it’s just you,” said Wildman, who was a state placer as a junior. “You’re out there by yourself and you’ve got no one to lean back on, you don’t have a team, and when you lose it’s on you. And I feel like it cultivates that accountability in a young man. I would encourage everybody to wrestle. It’s a great sport. You learn balance, you learn how to use your body and how to leverage people, especially when you’re a little bit smaller like me.”
When he’s not on the gridiron, Wildman enjoys playing other sports — “I’m too competitive” — playing Pokémon GO — “I’m kind of a nerd” — camping and spending time with his family and wife of 16 months, Mariah (Hansen). Mariah Wildman, a math major, is a member of USU’s spirit squad (Aggiette).
Wildman first came in contact with his future spouse when she was a receptionist at the Logan Recreation Center. Former Aggie wide receiver Connor McGuire also worked there, and Wildman convinced McGuire to give him Hansen’s cell phone number “because I was too scared to go up and talk to her.” Wildman texted Hansen, she texted him back and the rest is history.
“Definitely I don’t know how I swung that one, but I got really lucky,” Wildman said with a chuckle.
When asked about his future goals, Wildman said he wants to make the most out of his final year of eligibility and “work hard every day. Don’t let a day go by where you’re not taking steps forward, and I feel like that’s a goal in my professional career as well.” Wildman aspires to eventually hold a management position in a company.
Regardless of what happens in the future, Wildman’s current primary focus is relishing playing college football in his hometown.
“You know, it’s an amazing experience, especially when you hear people in the crowd just kind of yell your name,” said Wildman, whose cousin, Caden Andersen, is a junior D-lineman for the Aggies. “It’s the most surreal feeling and I wouldn’t have traded it for anything. I’m so glad that I am playing for Utah State and I’m thankful for these coaches that have given me the opportunity. ... I’m grateful for my teammates around me that have put me in the position I’m in.”