LOGAN — Utah State coach Gary Andersen believes his football program is Utah's best-kept secret. Yet, through his efforts as the head coach, he's made tremendous strides in getting that secret out.
A quick overview of where many of the state's top football players are committed to sign this coming February gives a strong indication that prospects are not just aware of Utah State, but consider it their best option. Twelve prospects have already agreed to sign with the Aggies in 2013, with 11 of those 12 residing in-state.
Indeed, a big goal of Andersen and his staff since he took the head-coaching job in 2009 has been to fill the majority of USU's roster with in-state players.
"With the 55 guys we have on our roster that are from the state, I think the word gets around that kids are coming up here and having success," Andersen said. "Players and coaches can see that we're very interested in taking the top athletes in the state into our program and developing them. Utah (prep) football is very good and it's getting better every single year. The coaches are improving and the quality of athletes the state produces is improving every single year, so we'll definitely focus in on getting the state's top players and that won't change."
A big key in committing top in-state athletes — and out-of-state athletes — is to simply get them on campus. Doing so goes far beyond simply sending out invitations, and Andersen and his staff have put in the time and are reaping the benefits.
"We've worked very hard in building relationships with local coaches and encouraging them to bring their players up to the camps up here," Andersen said. "Getting those coaches and then the players to see up close our new facilities and everything else we're doing up here was our No. 1 priority with recruiting and I think we did better with that than we've ever done before this offseason."
According to Andersen, they hosted about twice as many prospects during the critical June camps than they did last season.
Getting the athletes to show up and see the university and the football program firsthand is key, but only part of securing commits. Coaches need to put on a good show — making sure to effectively sell everything Utah State has to offer.
Apparently, the selling is going quite well.
Take top in-state linebacker Braden Harris from Gunnison, for example. Harris wasn't short of interest when he made the trip up to Logan this summer. Schools such as BYU and Stanford were sending a lot of interest his way — indicating that an offer from them was a strong possibility.
Following his camp visit to Utah State, however, Harris short-circuited the process, committing to become an Aggie.
"After my last trip up there I just knew that I didn't have to keep looking because Utah State had everything I needed," Harris said. "I love the coaches and the direction of the program, but more than anything it's the atmosphere of the place and the surroundings. The people, the facilities, the campus — it's all perfect for me."
"We have a true college campus up here that I think is different than the other in-state institutions and recruits respond to that," Andersen added. "It's a diverse community and it's a very close-knit community that really supports what we're doing here. It's a lot more than the product we're putting on the field — it's the combination of all those things that players can see and know that this is the best place for them."
Harris is hardly alone in committing to the Aggies early in the process. Players such as East's John Fakahafua and Zach Swenson, Pine View's Cody Boyer, Hunter's Ian Togiai, Logan's Jacoby Wildman, Layton's Tyler Fox, and Jordan's Tyshon Mosely are just some of the in-state names verbally agreed to sign with the Aggies in 2013.
For years, many of these type of players would have waited until the bitter end for an offer from either BYU or from Utah before settling on the Aggies. Through Andersen's efforts, these same recruits no longer look at Utah State as a fallback option should other offers not materialize.
"For a long time we were a third choice for recruits in-state and we don't want that, but we think it's changing," Andersen said. "Kids are able to see the product we're putting on the field and the improvement of that product along with being able to speak with players and their experiences up here both on and off the field and they're responding."
All the surroundings and off-the-field experiences count for a lot, but unless you put a winning program on the field, recruits won't sign up. Fortunately for Andersen and his staff, the Aggies are a program considered to be on the rise and are coming off a successful 7-6 season and bowl berth.
"If you take care of your kids socially and academically, I'm a big believer that the football thing will take care of itself and I think you're seeing that with what we've been able to do over the past three years," Andersen said. "My mindset is that I'm going to be at Utah State for a long time because I get to coach the kids that I want to coach. I love coaching in the state of Utah and I'm committed to help make our athletes' lives better in every way possible."
Copyright 2017, Deseret News Publishing Company