COURTESY UTAH STATE ATHLETICS
LOGAN — The loudspeakers at the indoor practice field were blatting “Rock and Roll All Night,” and it seemed the Utah State Aggies intended to do just that.
And party ev-ery day, too.
How better to describe the mood in Logan these days, other than a 24/7 festival?
Spring practice opened on Tuesday morning — and we do mean morning. Coach Matt Wells has his team working out from 6-8 a.m., three days a week. While Utah and BYU employ more reasonable hours (mid-mornings, afternoons), the Aggies are taking the early-bird approach, as they have for several years.
It’s never too soon to get started on another bowl season.
“I honestly feel excited to get out of bed at 4 in the morning and practice,” said offensive tackle Kevin Whimpey, a senior from Highland. “No. 1, I like being done in the morning and having the rest of my day. But No. 2, it’s my last year. I love the group I’m working with and I feel like we’re about to do some good things this year.”
Already some good things have happened since the Aggies ended the 2013 season. The 2014 schedule has been released and begins with a road game at Tennessee. There are less appealing ways to launch a season than to play in college football’s third-largest stadium.
Also, there is a Sept. 13 date with Wake Forest — USU’s first home game against a big conference opponent, other than Utah, since 2001. Additional home games include Idaho State, Air Force, UNLV, New Mexico State and San Jose State, with Arkansas State, BYU, Colorado State, Hawaii, Wyoming and Boise State on the road.
There is a distinct air of optimism in the Cache Valley, with good reason. In their first year in the Mountain West Conference, the Aggies tied for the league’s best record, before losing in the championship game to Fresno State. While they have been winning since 2011, when Gary Andersen put them back on track, last year’s bowl win over nationally ranked Northern Illinois was a major step. Thanks to three straight bowl games and back-to-back wins, they can safely say they have expectations.
It just took awhile to overcome several decades of mostly losing.
“”When I first got here, we’d get in games and it was more like, ‘Oh, are we good enough?’ There wasn’t anybody saying that, it was just the whole mentality,” said linebacker Zach Vigil. “Now it’s like we expect to win.”
USU fashioned a 9-5 season in 2013, despite losing five offensive starters to injuries. One of them was Heisman candidate Chuckie Keeton, who went down in the season’s sixth game. He’s back, along with his understudy, Darell Garretson, who passed for 1,466 yards, with a 60 percent completion rate.
Meanwhile, USU returns four all-MWC defensive players, including Vigil, Kyler Fackrell, Brian Suite and B.J. Larsen.
Although six starters return, 10 others graduated. Still, Larsen said, the team breaks huddles with a win-the-conference rallying cry.
“That’s really the expectation now,” Larsen said.
What Andersen began, Wells isn’t about to abandon. That includes early-hour workouts.
“When I was with coach Andersen and he offered me (a scholarship), he said, ‘This program is on the rise.’ Every coach says that,” Whimpey said. “When I went to Idaho State as a sophomore, they said the same thing. But there was something about the surety of how (Andersen) said it, and the plan he laid out — it’s still being followed. I knew it was a plan for success.”
That plan included arising at an hour the songbirds couldn’t fathom. Yet thus far there have been no major complaints.
“When you wake up at 4:45-5 o’clock it’s not that easy to get up,” Vigil said. “But this team, for the past few years, has been an early-rising team. We’re now used to it.”
These days the Aggies have so many reasons to get up in the morning.
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