He is a tough guy. Mentally he’s tough, physically he’s tough. He’s changed his body, he has a tremendous work ethic, and he’s no maintenance. Great kid. Deserves everything that comes his way. —Utah State head football coach Matt Wells
LOGAN — Among the many awards Utah State linebacker Kyler Fackrell is up for this season are those named after Bronko Nagurski, Chuck Bednarik, Dick Butkus and Vince Lombardi — some of history’s toughest guys.
Nagurski allegedly ran over an entire team, then crashed into the wall beyond the end zone, saying, “That last guy hit awfully hard.” Bednarik, among the last of the true two-way players, tackled Frank Gifford so violently the New York pretty boy was unconscious before being carted off on a stretcher. Butkus inspired former Green Bay Packer MacArthur Lane — a Utah State alumnus — to tell ESPN.com, "If I had a choice, I'd sooner go one-on-one with a grizzly bear. I prayed that I could get up every time Butkus hit me."
The gap in Lombardi’s teeth scared people all by itself.
Then there’s Fackrell, an outside linebacker for Utah State. He too is tough. He had 87 tackles last year, 82 as a freshman.
“He is a tough guy,” said Utah State coach Matt Wells as the Aggies wrapped up Day 1 of fall camp Tuesday. “Mentally he’s tough, physically he’s tough. He’s changed his body, he has a tremendous work ethic, and he’s no maintenance. Great kid. Deserves everything that comes his way.”
Coming his way in 2014 is an Aug. 31 date at Tennessee.
“I like to think of myself as being a tough guy,” Fackrell modestly said. “I don’t know if anybody else does, but ”
Unlike the aforementioned legends, Fackrell has physical tools his famous football predecessors would envy. He is 2 inches taller than any of them, but 9 pounds heavier than Bednarik and 20 more than Nagurski. He’s roughly the same weight as Butkus (250), but nobody ever said Butkus could outrun everyone to the end zone on a 99-yard interception.
Two-way players are nowadays the equivalent of woodland fairies. It’s fun to believe. Still, Fackrell might do it if needed. Sinatra sang about being “a puppet, a pauper, a pirate, a poet, a pawn and a king.” Big deal. Fackrell has been a quarterback, a wide receiver, a linebacker, a safety, and an all-region basketball and volleyball player.
That covers pretty much everything except carnival barker.
Which qualifies him for emergency backup duty at every position, right?
“He could,” Wells said, before adding, “Maybe not quarterback.”
Otherwise, name the position.
“If they needed me, yeah, I’d give it a shot,” Fackrell said.
He’s good enough at linebacker, his chosen position, to have earned the nickname “The Freak.” At least that’s how one commentator described him on the television broadcast of USU’s win over Hawaii last year. That was when Fackrell made his field-length return.
“I had not heard that (nickname),” Fackrell said. “Somebody told me they heard that on TV, but I had never heard that.”
There was certainly something freakish about the afternoon of Nov. 2 last year in the Aggies’ win over Hawaii. Warriors quarterback Sean Schroeder drifted right, expecting to find Steven Lakalaka coming out of the backfield. Instead he found Fackrell, who leaned in and backhanded the pass into his body before sprinting 99 yards to score. This was no lumbering oaf, hoping to run out of grass before he ran out of gas. He was still at high speed when he crossed the goal line.
“Yeah, it was little flashback to my high school days. I was just where I was supposed to be. He threw it and I just ran,” he said. “But to be honest, I was a little tired.”
Fackrell was just a 200-pound flagpole at Mesa (Arizona) High School in 2011, playing almost every sport and every position, though he had no Division I offers. But then-Aggie coach Gary Andersen and his recruiters saw something else. The kid had height, long arms, good speed and, to their fortune, ties to the Cache Valley. Fackrell’s parents are from Hyrum.
What Wells now sees is a full-on NFL prospect.
“He has tremendous range, vision, everything,” said Wells, his voice as flat and matter-of-fact as doctor’s. “He will play on Sundays.”
On some team.
In some position.
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