When you look at the 2012 Utah State football team, you see a lot of things. You see success and motivation. You see a love of the game. You see record breakers and one of the winningest classes in Utah State history. You see the 2012 Western Athletic Conference champions.
For the first time since 1961, Utah State has won nine football games, and for the first time since then, the Aggies have claimed a spot in the Associated Press Top 25. One more win and this team will have accomplished something no other Aggie team has – a 10-win season.
This year's team is being led by a group of 18 seniors in CB Terrence Alston, WR Matt Austin, TE Kellen Bartlett, P Tyler Bennett, S McKade Brady, CB Quinton Byrd, LB Forrest Dabb, CB Will Davis, LB Bojay Filimoeatu, WR Chuck Jacobs, CB Isaiah Jones, QB Adam Kennedy, DE Al Lapuaho, NG Havea Lasike, OT Oscar Molina-Sanchez, CB Jumanne Robertson, WR Cameron Webb and RB Kerwynn Williams.
“First and foremost, they’ve done countless things that a senior class hasn’t done in a long time. If you put them all together they’ve probably done some things a senior class has never done at Utah State,” head coach Gary Andersen said. “They’re going to leave a legacy that’s going to be hard to follow.”
This group of seniors has changed the face of Utah State football. On the field and off, they have developed the program to be seen on a national level.
With both a regular season and bowl game remaining, the class of 2012 has won 24 games to rank as the third-winningest senior class in school history. And with two more games to play, this group could tie the school record for wins by a senior class.
Some of these seniors are among the last to have played under the previous coaching staff. Others came in as the transition began, completely buying into the vision and plan Andersen and his assistants had.
“I appreciate them because they believed in us, they believed in the system and the direction we were trying to head,” Andersen said. “There were some good days; there were some bad days, but they kept fighting. That’s how they did it.”
These student-athletes came to Logan in the days of three and four wins. Each of them have contributed in some way or another to feed and develop the program, getting it to where it is today.
“We’ve watched this program grow. We’ve watched each side of the line grow, the special teams, the little guys grow. Outside of football we’ve watched the fans grow,” Austin said.
Each of these players came in knowing what they were getting themselves into. However, they saw something in the program they knew they wanted to be a part of.
“I came in with the old coaching staff, but my goal from when I signed my National Letter of Intent was to help change this program,” Bartlett said. “I won a state championship in high school. We only lost one game in two years. I know what winning is about. It’s a belief. You can’t learn it. Everyone here has been a winner, whether it was in football or basketball or track or rugby. It’s phenomenal to actually see us take these steps and strides to get to this point.”
As they have worked through their collegiate careers, the Aggies have been through a lot. There have been tough, disappointing losses. There have been unexpected wins. There have been injuries that have ended players’ seasons and even careers. Through each trial, the team has been able to bounce back and become stronger because of it.
“We’ve just learned to battle through. We’ve been in tons of situations where it could have gone either way. I think we’ve proved that if you stick with it and battle through it, that’s when things can turn around,” Brady said. “We turned this program around by persevering through the hard times.”
Some of the seniors came to Utah State in the midst of the transition from a losing program to a winning one, not entirely experiencing the down years before seeing the success of the last two seasons. However, that doesn’t mean they don’t understand and appreciate the difference.
“I wasn’t here for the really rough seasons, but I love seeing the faces of the fans,” Davis said. “You can tell by how they look at us now that there’s something big here."
No matter what they’ve been through, the Aggies have found a way to make it work and come out ahead.
“They were never phased, and they were always working together. They built themselves physically. They built themselves mentally to be better on and off the field,” Andersen said. “That’s what football is, but that’s what life is.”
While so much of what the team has done and accomplished is visible, a lot of the behind-the-scenes efforts are what have made the difference. The confidence that exudes on the field comes from countless hours spent breaking down film and sitting in team meetings, not to mention all the lifting and early morning conditioning.
As a whole though, the biggest difference that's been made is the camaraderie among the members of the team, according to the seniors.
“This year is just different. We came together as one. There were a lot of single guys last year, but this year was a lot different,” Jacobs said. “We’re a team, and we all believe in each other. Everyone is getting their shot. It’s a different mentality.”
Bartlett agreed with Jacobs about the camaraderie.
“It makes it the best. Everyone finally believes in one another,” he said. “Whether or not its first or second string, you know they’re going to come in and fill their gap well.”
As they look back on their final season as Aggies, so many of the athletes will point to the evening of Sept. 7. For the first time in 15 years, Utah State had beaten in-state rival Utah, 27-20, in overtime. For so many people, that game solidified the changes the team has been working toward.
“I think that was a defining moment for our season,” Bartlett said. “That was a legendary game. For us to do that helped propel where our season headed, and is heading. Losing that game could have made for a very different season.”
Looking again to the fans, the seniors are grateful for the support of the Aggie Nation.
“To see people rushing the field and look up to see the stands empty, is something I’ve always wanted to experience,” Davis said.
The seniors cite consistency as one of the huge keys to finally seeing a truly successful season.
“At the end of the season last year we couldn’t really finish things off, there was always something off,” Davis said. “We’re way more consistent this year. We aren’t perfect, but we’ve tried to come out the same way every game and that’s changed a lot.”
As the season begins to wind down, the team realizes the things they have accomplished. From the very first day of spring ball, the goal of becoming the Western Athletic Conference Champions was set.
As of last week’s win over nationally ranked Louisiana Tech, the Aggies have at least a share of the final WAC title. A win over Idaho will clinch the status for Utah State, making it the first title to be completely theirs since 1936.
“Our team goals are to win the WAC Championship and win a bowl game. Those are both still on the table,” Brady said.
Unlike the recent past, Utah State has established themselves as a solid football program. These are the new expectations.
“They’ve created an environment of winning, an environment of being solid young men on the field and off the field,” Andersen said. “They have created an environment of expectations in the community to hold themselves accountable to a high level and be involved.”
As they prepare to move on from college and build careers, football or otherwise, outside of Utah State, these seniors leave the blueprints for a new sense of normalcy. Next year’s senior class is a large one, all of whom have learned from this year’s seniors and are looking to step up and fill their shoes.
“They’re a great class. If I hadn’t redshirted I would be with these guys right now. They’re my brothers. They bring a huge mentality to this team. They’re up here working as hard as they can every week,” junior center Tyler Larsen said. “You couldn’t ask for a better class. They’re one of the best we’ve had here in a long time. We’re grateful to have them here with all the leadership and support they give to this team. They have a big impact on our team.”
As their coach, Andersen is proud of the things he has seen from the class of 2012.
“I’ve told them from the very first day I recruited them that I expect them to be good people and turn young men into men,” Andersen said. “Just like every senior class that has come through here, it’s gone fast. They’ve done some special things. I’m sure 30 years from now, they’ll get to together and remember these special times and remember what they really started.”
However, Andersen is sure to remind these men what really matters.
“The wins are great, the bowl games are great, the chance to play for championships is great, but them walking away from here as men with a degree is way more important to me than any wins or losses,” he said.
With two games remaining in their college careers, the seniors are ready to keep their legacy going.
“This feels so sweet now. It’s everything we’ve been working for,” Bartlett said. “It’s left undone still. Our legacy is still approaching us.”
This team has done something they can be proud of. They have reached their goals and made a name for Utah State football. They are visible and are thrilled to exit on such a high note.
“I didn’t think I was going to feel the way I feel now about being an Aggie. When I came here I was just trying to play football,” Austin said. “I’m going to stay an Aggie for the rest of my life.”
Megan Allen writes for Utah State University Athletic Media Relations.
Copyright 2015, Deseret News Publishing Company