Sept. 10, 2010
LOGAN, Utah -
by Couper Sorenson & Adam Nettina / USU Athletic Media Relations
Casey Davis never imagined that he'd be blazing a trail for a friend and teammate when he graduated from Riverton High School in 2006. Nor did he realize that his experiences at Snow Junior College would inspire another former Riverton star to take his game to the perennial junior college power. And while Davis was more than happy to reunite with that friend and teammate for a second time, never in his wildest dreams would he and Joey Schrader be entering their senior seasons at Utah State together.
Yet that's exactly what happened, and as the Aggies begin a season in which seeing is believing, Davis and Schrader have come to believe that their long but similar roads to Logan have happened for a reason. And that reason is to win.
It all started in the fall of 2007, when Davis, a 6-foot-3, 270-pound tackle, helped lead Snow Junior College to an 11-1 record. A first-team all-conference selection that season, Davis' experience on and off the field at Snow was nothing but positive, and proved to be a major factor for a then-Riverton senior mulling his options with high school coming to a close.
Like Davis, Schrader wasn't without his share of accolades coming out of high school. And like Davis, the 6-foot-1, 195-pound Schrader wasn't sure where his path would lead following high school. Fortunately for Schrader, he had a friend in whom to look to as an example.
"He is a year younger than I am and after his senior year of high school he asked me how it was playing at Snow," Davis said. "I told him I loved it. He decided to try-out and walked onto our team and even got on scholarship."
According to Schrader, playing for Snow College wasn't something he and Davis had ever previously talked about, and wasn't something they planned while in high school.
"We really didn't plan to go to Snow College together. Casey, being a year older than me, went there before I did and liked playing there. So I went and walked on to the team," said Schrader, who recently moved from linebacker to safety on the USU roster.
Davis and Schrader's paths never crossed while at Snow College, but their contributions to the junior college team mirrored each others' closely. Snow went to the NJCAA National Championship behind the defensive efforts of Davis in 2007, falling just short of winning a title when the team lost to Butler County in the championship game. A year later Schrader, then a safety, would lead the Badgers to an almost identical 11-1 season which also included a loss in the championship game.
While Schrader was busy racking up tackles for the Badgers during the 2008 season, Davis had since moved on to the Division I ranks. Success came almost instantly for Davis, who started the first six games of the year for the Aggies and notched five tackles and a sack in the team's loss to Oregon. Davis' season was cut short, however, when he suffered a season ending knee injury. Despite missing the second half of the year, Davis was still providing an example for his old friend and teammate in Schrader, whose success at Snow had alerted him to the chance to play Division I football.
For Schrader, Utah State University seemed to offer the perfect option. The school had just hired a new defensive minded coach in Gary Andersen, who was fresh off guiding the University of Utah's defense to a Sugar Bowl victory of Alabama. The opportunity to play for a winning coach intrigued Schrader, who knew just who to talk to when considering if Utah State was really as good an option as advertised.
"I wanted to be part of Coach Andersen's team," Schrader said. "Coach Andersen is a Sugar Bowl winner and a Fiesta Bowl winner, so I (thought): `you really can't get better than that.'"
Davis recalls getting Schrader's call about the possibility of joining the USU program. With only positive experiences as an Aggie, the injured lineman was only happy to talk Schrader into following his lead once again.
"(Joey) asked me how I liked it up here and I told him I loved it and that he should try to get on the team up here," said Davis, recalling a conversation he had with Schrader in 2008. "He came and walked on again, up here."
Schrader wasn't able to come into Logan and start immediately like Davis was able to do, but the safety's efforts during the 2009 season didn't go unnoticed. While serving in spot duty as a backup defensive back, Schrader recorded 11 tackles, and established himself as one of the hardest workers on the team.
According to USU defensive coordinator Bill Busch, it's Schrader's relentless effort and can-do mentality which have allowed the former Riverton safety to show flashes of brilliance, and which should allow Schrader to contribute even more in 2010.
"Talk about your true Aggie guy, that's Joey Schrader," said Busch. "He will do anything and everything, above and beyond what we ask him to do"
Schrader's attitude was on display when USU's coaching staff came to Schrader during the summer and asked him to switch positions. While he has played defensive back for most of his career, Schrader was asked to move to linebacker during August when teammate Matt Ah You suffered a career-ending shoulder injury. While undersized for the position, Schrader has proven to be a tenacious hitter and competitor in lead-up to the season, and has given Busch no reason to doubt his worth on the team.
"He is the kind of guy who spends all day working on his position and getting better. I like what I've seen from him in practice," Busch said.
Despite traveling remarkably similar paths, Davis and Schrader have still yet to see the field together. While Schrader was breaking into the lineup in 2009, Davis was still rehabbing his knee injury suffered in 2008. According to the defensive tackle, he's not only fully healed, but back and better than ever.
"I've been able to get a lot stronger," Davis said. "I am faster now that my knee is healed and I am running much faster now. I am focused on my pass rush and getting to the quarterback."
And he's not the only one who thinks so. According to Busch, Davis should help USU's defense - which was amongst the worst in the country against the run last season - post a dramatic turnaround this year.
"Casey has battled through and now he is 100% ready to go," Busch said. "I expect a lot of great things out of Casey. He is one of those guys who can step in and do a lot of great things for us."
While Davis and Schrader have taken roundabout paths to their senior year in Logan, they will finally be united on the field and in their outlook for 2010. They recognize the importance of turning the program around, and both hope to capture some of the former Snow magic in helping the Aggies reach a new summit in the months to come.
"Expectations are high," said Schrader. "I want to go out of my senior year knowing that I made a difference on this football team and helped accomplish our goals for the season."
Davis, who also said he wants to leave "on a good note" in his senior season, made it perfectly clear what those goals were.
"I want to have our team go to a bowl game," he said. "I want to have a winning season."