Utah State football has 10 players named to Phil Steele’s 2014 Preseason All-Mountain West teams

By Doug Hoffman

For the Deseret News

Published: Tuesday, June 3 2014 4:35 p.m. MDT

Updated: Tuesday, June 3 2014 4:35 p.m. MDT

Utah State Aggies quarterback Chuckie Keeton (16) throws against Utah during NCAA football in Salt Lake City Thursday, Aug. 29, 2013. Utah won 30-26.

Jeffrey D. Allred, Deseret News

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LOGAN — Utah State football had 10 players named to Phil Steele’s 2014 Preseason all-Mountain West Conference teams it was announced Tuesday.

Three offensive players, five defensive players and two specialists were recognized for the Aggies.

Boise State had the most preseason selections with 16, while Colorado State had 12, and Utah State, Fresno State and Wyoming each had 10. Hawaii, Nevada and UNLV all had nine preseason selections, followed by Air Force 8, San Jose State 8, San Diego State 7 and New Mexico 4.

Senior quarterback Chuckie Keeton, senior safety Brian Suite, senior linebacker Zach Vigil, senior offensive tackle Kevin Whimpey and junior linebacker Kyler Fackrell were all named to the preseason all-Mountain West first-team.

Senior defensive end B.J. Larsen and junior punt returner JoJo Natson were both named to the second-team, and third-teamers include senior punter Jaron Bentrude, junior defensive end Jordan Nielsen and sophomore tight end Wyatt Houston.

Keeton, a 6-foot-2, 200-pound quarterback from Houston (Cypress Creek HS) was one of 30 players named to the first edition of the 2013 Heismanpundit/CBSSports.com Heisman Trophy Watch List as a junior a year ago, but played in just six games before suffering a season-ending knee injury in the first quarter against BYU on Oct. 4.

Prior to his injury, Keeton had completed 136-of-196 passes for 1,388 yards (231.3 ypg) with 18 touchdowns and just two interceptions, while rushing for another 241 yards on 55 carries (40.2 ypg/4.4 ypc) with two more scores. Overall, that completion percentage of 69.4 percent broke his own single-season school record set in 2012, while his 18 touchdown passes rank tied for ninth all-time in school history.

Through his first five games of the 2013 season, Keeton ranked second in the nation with 17 touchdown passes, while also ranking first in the Mountain West Conference and second in the nation in points responsible for (22.8 pg), second in the MWC and 22nd in the nation in passing efficiency (161.6), third in the MWC and eighth in the nation in completions (26.4), third in the MWC and 11th in the nation in completion percentage (.710), third in the MWC and 18th in the nation in total offense (317.2 ypg), and fourth in the MWC and 25th in the nation in passing (272.4 ypg).

Keeton also tied the school record with five touchdown passes in a game twice during his junior year, doing so in a 52-20 win at Air Force and again in a 70-6 home win against Weber State.

As a sophomore in 2012, Keeton earned first-team all-Western Athletic Conference honors after ranking 17th nationally in total offense (307.1 ypg), 18th in passing efficiency (154.7) and 29th in passing (259.5 ypg). During the 2012 season, Keeton set single-season school records for touchdown passes (27), passing yards (3,373), completions (275), completion percentage (.676) and total offense (3,992 yards), while tying the single-game record for rushing yards by a quarterback with 121 yards at Louisiana Tech.

Entering his senior season, Keeton is one of 25 college football players named to the first edition of the 2014 Heismanpundit/CBSSports.com Heisman Trophy Watch List and one of 17 players named to the 2014 Bleacher Report's Initial Heisman Trophy Watch List.

Suite, a 6-3, 205-pounder from Honolulu (Punahou HS) earned honorable mention all-MWC honors as a junior as he ranked fourth on the team with 77 total tackles (37 solo, 40 assists) and had six or more tackles in eight games. He finished the season ranking first on the team, fifth in the MWC and 41st in the nation with five total interceptions (0.36 ipg), tied for first on the team in fumbles recovered with two and tied for fourth on the team with six pass breakups.

Suite was also named to both the SI.com and CBS Sports.com All-Bowl Team following Utah State's 21-14 win against No. 24 Northern Illinois in the 2013 San Diego County Credit Union Poinsettia Bowl as he tied his season-high with 11 tackles, to go along with a fumble recovery and interception.

Vigil, a 6-2, 232-pounder from Clearfield, Utah, (Clearfield HS) earned second-team all-MWC honors a year ago as he ranked second on the team, seventh in the conference and 42nd in the nation with 8.9 tackles per game.

Overall, he finished the year with 124 total tackles (47 solo, 77 assists), which was tied for the 17th-most in the nation at the FBS level. In all, his 47 solo tackles led the team, while he was also tied for the team lead with two forced fumbles and two fumble recoveries. He also ranked second on the team with 12.5 tackles for loss and was tied for fifth overall with 2.0 sacks, while adding an interception, a pass breakup and a quarterback hurry.

Whimpey, a 6-5, 295-pounder from Highland, Utah, (Lone Peak HS/Idaho State) started all 14 games at left tackle as a junior and finished the season with an overall performance grade of 83 percent.

In all, he graded out at 88 percent in effort, including seven games over 90 percent, while also grading out at 87 percent in assignment, including six games over 90 percent, and 80 percent in technique, including seven games above 80 percent. He finished the season with 35 knockdowns, including a season-high eight against BYU.

Fackrell, a 6-5, 245-pounder from Mesa, Arizona, (Mesa HS) was named a honorable mention Sophomore All-American by College Football News and earned second-team all-MWC honors a year ago as he finished the season ranking first on the team with 13 tackles for loss, tied for first with two forced fumbles and second with his five sacks, while ranking fourth on the team with 82 total tackles (37 solo, 45 assists). Overall, he averaged 5.9 tackles per game to rank 35th in the MWC.

During the season, he recorded three quarterback hurries, recovered one fumble, intercepted one pass and registered one pass breakup. He was named the Mountain West Conference's Defensive Player of the Week and College Football Performance Awards National Linebacker of the Week following USU's 47-10 home win against Hawaii when he recorded nine tackles, including 0.5 for loss, to go along with an interception return of 99 yards for his first career defensive touchdown, which ranks as the third-longest interception return in Utah State and MWC history.

Larsen, a 6-5, 275-pounder from Logan, Utah, (Logan HS) earned second-team all-MWC honors as a junior as he finished the season ranking second on the team with four sacks and three quarterback hurries, to go along with eight tackles for loss and 31 total tackles (14 solo, 17 assists). He was also named a College Football Performance Awards Honorable Mention National Defensive Lineman of the Week following his performance against No. 24 Fresno State in the inaugural Mountain West Championship game where he had a career-high two tackles for loss, to go along with a sack, as part of his five total tackles.

Natson, a 5-7, 151-pounder from Fort Lauderdale, Florida, (Boyd Anderson HS) earned honorable mention all-MWC honors as a punt returner as a sophomore. He ranked fourth in the conference and 22nd in the nation with his punt return average of 11.3 yards as he returned 31 punts for 351 yards during the season. He also ranked first in the MWC and second in the nation with two punt returns for touchdown, and was the only player in the country with multiple touchdowns rushing (3), receiving (2) and returning (2).

He was also named the Mountain West Conference Special Teams Player of the Week and the College Football Performance Awards National Punt Returner of the Week following USU's 45-10 win at New Mexico where he returned a career-high five punts for a career-best 102 yards, including his first career punt return for touchdown of 65 yards.

Bentrude, a 6-1, 209-pounder from Draper, Utah, (Juan Diego HS) served as Utah State’s punter in 14 games a year ago and finished the season ranking ninth in the MWC and 80th in the nation with an average of 39.8 yards per punt as he punted 73 times for 2,903 yards. Overall, he had 31 punts downed inside the 20-yard line to rank 11th in the nation, while his 11 punts downed inside the 10-yard line ranked 16th nationally. He finished the year with six punts of 50-plus yards, including a career-long 64-yard punt against BYU. In all, he had just six touchbacks on the season, while 39 of his punts were fair caught.

Houston, a 6-5, 245-pounder from Tualatin, Oregon, (Horizon Christian HS) played the final seven games of the season and made three starts as a freshman after beginning the year as a potential redshirt, and finished the season with seven receptions for 118 yards (16.9 ypr) with two touchdowns.

Nielsen, a 6-5, 270-pounder from Lewiston, Utah, (Sky View HS) played in 14 games as a sophomore with one start and finished the season with 35 total tackles (9 solo, 26 assists) to go along with 3.5 tackles for loss and 1.5 sacks.

As a redshirt freshman in 2012, Nielsen earned second-team all-WAC honors after ranking tied for third on the team and tied for ninth in the conference with five sacks (0.38 pg), and fifth on the team and 20th in the WAC with 6.5 tackles for loss (0.50). He finished the season tied for first on the team among defensive linemen with 35 tackles and led the team with two blocked kicks, while recording three quarterback hurries and one pass breakup on the year.

Utah State returns 14 starters (offense 6, defense 5, Special teams 3) as part of 40 letterwinners (offense 18, defense 19, special teams 3) from last year's 9-5 team that won the Mountain Division of the Mountain West Conference, played in the inaugural Mountain West Championship game, and defeated No. 24 Northern Illinois, 21-14, in the 2013 San Diego County Credit Union Poinsettia Bowl.

Utah State concluded the 2013 season by winning six of its final seven games to tie the 1960 and 1961 teams for the second-most wins in school history. With its win against Northern Illinois, Utah State posted back-to-back bowl wins for the first time in school history as it played in its third-straight bowl game, also a first at USU. Utah State also set the school record for conference wins as it posted a 7-1 league mark in its first season in the Mountain West Conference.

Utah State ended the year ranking tied for 37th nationally in both The Associated Press and ESPN/USA Today Coaches' polls with two votes each, marking the second time in as many years that USU has concluded the season ranked among the top teams in the nation as the 2012 team was ranked 16th in the final AP poll, 17th in the final coaches' poll and 22nd in the final Bowl Championship Series (BCS) standings.

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.

Doug Hoffman is the assistant athletic director for Utah State University Athletic Media Relations.

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