LOGAN — Nine starters return for Utah State's defense.

Two of them, though, are standing out as leaders and getting noticed outside of Logan for their efforts.

Linebackers Jake Hutton and Paul Igboeli have been named to the Butkus Award watch list.

"Both of them have been starting since they were true freshmen and anchor our defense, as well as being part of the heart and soul of our team," USU coach Brent Guy said. "We're extremely honored to have not just one but two players named to this prestigious award watch list."

Hutton, a senior, came to Utah State as a walk-on out of Pocatello's Highland High School. He eventually worked his way into the starting lineup before his first season as an Aggie was over and has been there ever since.

Igboeli, a junior from Texas, has likewise entrenched himself in the starting lineup and has formed one of the Western Athletic Conference's top tackling duos.

While earning all-WAC honors as a junior, Hutton led the Aggies with 102 tackles. Igboeli was next with 95 tackles including eight tackles for loss, a fumble recovery and three pass break-ups.

"I really think we have the experience coming back to be a pretty good defense," Hutton said. "We've been through a lot together. We started to turn the corner last year, and I think we're going to surprise some people."

Joining the two stars in the linebacking corps is Jordan Glass and Kyle Gallagher. The sophomores saw significant playing time as freshmen and will provide depth at the position.

And as good as Guy hopes the linebacker position can be, he's got similarly high hopes for the secondary. With five starters back — including senior De'Von Hall who is moving to safety from linebacker — the secondary is the most experienced position on the roster.

Seniors Caleb Taylor, Joshua Taylor and Marquis Charles are back along with junior James Brindley.

The Taylors, twin brothers, combined for 123 tackles. Caleb — a 6-3, 193 pound safety — and Josh — a 6-foot, 176 pound corner — have been through all of the recent down times at Utah State and hope their senior years will make the suffering worthwhile.

"Last year, when we were trying so hard and finally won two games, that gave us a lot of confidence that what we are doing is starting to work," Caleb Taylor said. "I definitely think we still have that momentum. I think we can go (to UNLV for the season opener) and keep that streak alive."

Doing so, though, will take a big effort from the defensive line. While deeper than in years past, the line returns only senior Ben Calderwood as a starter. Sophomores Jervon Graves and Nathan Royster should see more playing time this year after getting spot duty as freshman.

The defensive line, Guy said, has become a strength after being a weakness for a few seasons.

"Right now we have 12 guys we could take to UNLV if we wanted to and play with. Normally we have had eight or nine but right now we have 12," he said. "We do feel better. We still have to get to a game. Like I've always said, four man pressure is the key to defense. So we think we have enough guys to move them through there and keep them fresh."

The depth so far is good enough that Guy has yet to move junior college all-American Magnum Mauga onto the two-deep. This may be a formality for now as Mauga may in fact be a significant contributor soon, but according to Guy it is a sign that Utah State is making progress in those trenches.

Season opener

Utah State at UNLV Saturday, 8 p.m.

TV: none

Radio: 1320AM

E-mail: [email protected]