LOGAN, Utah -
Utah State head football coach Matt Wells is excited and anxious to see more from his team following the completion of his fifth spring camp, which concluded last weekend with its annual Spring Game.
Utah State returns 15 starters (O-8, D-7) as part of 40 letterwinners (O-18, D-20, S-2) from last year's team.
Among those returning in 2017 include senior quarterback Kent Myers, who earned honorable mention all-Mountain West honors as a sophomore in 2015. Overall, Myers has played in 28 games in his Utah State career with 25 starts, and ranks fourth all-time in school history in completion percentage (.605), sixth all-time in total offense (5,963 yards), tied for eighth all-time with 31 career touchdown passes, and ninth all-time in career passing yards (4,848), career completions (411) and career pass attempts (679).
Furthermore, Myers has rushed for 1,115 yards on 257 carries (4.4 ypc) during his career and ranks 25th all-time in school history in career rushing yards, including third all-time among quarterbacks. He also has a career interception percentage of just 0.021, which ranks first all-time in school history, with his 14 interceptions on 679 career attempts.
Highlighting Utah State's defensive returners is senior cornerback Jalen Davis, who has started all 35 games he has played in during his Aggie career. Davis ranks first among all active USU players in tackles (149), tackles for loss (12.0), sacks (4.0), interceptions (6), pass breakups (22) and forced fumbles (3).
Along with the players mentioned above, Utah State returns six other starters on offense in senior OL Preston Brooksby, senior RB Tonny Lindsey, Jr., junior WRs Ron'quavion Tarver and Zach Van Leeuwen, and junior OL KJ Uluave. USU also returns seven other starters on defense in senior CB Wesley Bailey, senior LB Alex Huerta, senior BS Dallin Leavitt, senior DE Ian Togiai, junior BS Gaje Ferguson, junior LB Derek Larsen and junior FS Jontrell Rocquemore. As for its specialists, USU returns two letterwinners here in senior LS Emmett Odegard and junior P Aaron Dalton.
Following the completion of spring camp last week, we sat down with Wells for a brief question and answer session.
What's your takeaway from spring camp?
"The biggest thing that I took away was the competitiveness from both units. We put them in a lot of situations daily to compete. It is basically an offensive unit and a defensive unit, but what it ended up turning out is it absolutely helped competition for some of the individual positions. This is a competitive team, they're hungry to flip the script and they're hungry to be back in a bowl game. It was a lonely December last season. We have to work to be able to earn those wins. I've been impressed by their work ethic and just their thirst. They're hungry for success right now."
Talk about the play of the offense and senior QB Kent Myers during the spring.
"With new installation coming in, a new offensive coordinator in coach (David) Yost and the pace and tempo that we've brought, it's a lot of similar concepts and plays, but done a lot faster. There's a simplistic attitude toward how many plays we're running and all that kind of stuff, so that's been good. Kent, DJ (Nelson) and Jordan (Love) have all adapted to it very well. There are some days that it looks really good and there are some days that it's a little bit of a work in progress, not where we wanted it to be yet, but over the summer and training camp we'll get there. It'll give Aggie fans something to be excited about when they see the way we're going to play."
What pleased you the most about the defense this spring?
"Aggressiveness, a big emphasis on turnovers and improvement on pass rush. A lot of times it's just individual technique, but it's also the different pressures that we bring because we're a very aggressive defense. Turnovers have been a major emphasis. The techniques you're teaching are still the same. Hopefully, the amount of turnovers you're getting to change a game increases, as well. There's been a big emphasis on that, so that's been good."
Talk about both the offensive and defensive lines and how they performed this spring.
"Both O-line and D-line, just with graduation in terms of losing bodies of guys that've played there, those are reloaded a little bit in both of those spots. We have some talented young men. We have a few guys that are back who have played a significant amount of snaps: Ian Togiai on defense, Gasetoto Schuster, a little bit -- he's now into a full-time role there at nose guard -- and then Preston Brooksby and KJ Uluave. Those are the guys that have really played the most snaps. But, we brought in some junior college guys and we have some young freshmen who have stepped up on both sides. It's still not there yet, but those guys are tough and they care. You look at it from an offensive line perspective, so much of their production is based off how well five of them play as unit. So, that chemistry and that unity with the O-line will be an important focus at training camp."
Who impressed you during camp?
"A lot of guys made strides in a lot of areas. Aaron Dalton had a really good camp from a punter's standpoint. When you say that, you usually start thinking of young guys that are coming off redshirts. Impressed is a tough word sometimes because there are a lot of guys. Gaje Ferguson had a really good spring, but I kind of expected him to, now that's he into that role with (Jontrell) Rocquemore being limited with his injuries, so that's one. Baron Gajkowski and Braxton Gunther are two young men coming off redshirt years and they impressed all of us. They can run, they can hit, they're smart players and those guys are going to have a role to play for us this fall. Ty Shaw is a young offensive lineman that came off a redshirt year and has worked himself up into where he's going to be in contention for a starting job as a redshirt freshman. Those guys, they've impressed, and they did a nice job for young guys and they had good springs."
What are some of the biggest question marks facing the team moving forward?
"You just have to solidify some individual battles at certain positions. Where's that running back rotation going to be? And that was kind of a daily you earned it, you went with the ones that day. Between LaJuan Hunt, Tonny Lindsey, Jr., Justen Hervey, they've all had their time, they've all played on Saturdays and played well. And then we're going to add a young junior college player, Eltoro Allen, to that mix. So, where does that come? Where are we? I talked about the chemistry with the O-line and exactly who those five are going to be and then the first few backups. Where's that front seven going to be linebacker-wise? We have a few linebackers that can play inside and out, we've got some junior college guys coming in that we expect to be in that mix. Then what's the D-line rotation exactly going to be? I know who's going to play on that D-line, but who's going to earn those rotations? So, those are some of the things that are going to be earned over the summer and then start to get solidified during August training camp."
How will you define success in 2017?
"It'll always be what's in the left-hand side of the column: the wins and losses. We all know that and we signed up for it as players and as coaches. It's obvious that we want to be in the month of November with a chance to compete for the Mountain West championship, and then you're playing for bowl games. You know you're in bowl games, which is what we should be in here at Utah State. What it's going to come down to is us winning close games. We didn't do that last year and we missed a bowl game for the first time in six years. So, that's what it's going to come down to because you're going to have close games in this league and there's a lot of parody in this league and there are a lot of good teams. We have to learn to win close games and we need to win some of those early in the season and get that confidence and that mojo as the season goes on. So, that's what'll end up defining success, the ability to win close games."
What's next for the players between now and fall camp?
"First of all, in the immediate is the next couple of weeks of finishing up school strong. They're lifting with coach (Dave) Scholz and his staff three days a week, just having some meetings with us, we've got team meetings, we've got some speakers coming in. Those kind of things. Then they get a little bit of time off and then we're right back at it June and July in preparing for the season in terms of running, lifting and meetings that they will hold and do on their own.
What's next for you and the rest of your staff between now and fall camp?
"As coaches, we kind of go into spring recruiting mode and start recruiting for next year's class. Then, we have camps and time with our players, and we'll vacation this summer."
Season ticket renewals are currently being accepted in advance of the March 31 deadline. To renew, fans should visit www.utahstateaggies.com or do so in person or by phone through the USU Ticket Office during regular business hours (435-797-0305). New season ticket orders can also be made at this time.
Fans can follow the Aggie football program at twitter.com/USUFootball or on Facebook at Utah State Football, as well as on Instagram at instagram.com/USUFootball. Aggie fans can also follow the Utah State athletic program at twitter.com/USUAthletics or on Facebook at Utah State University Athletics.
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