Prior to beginning fall camp on Friday, Aug. 3, Utah State football players and coaches met with the media as the Aggies held their annual media day Thursday. USU, who is picked to finish second in the Western Athletic Conference this season, returns 19 starters (8-offense; 6-defense; 5-special teams) and 45 lettermen (19-offense; 20-defense; 6-special teams) from last year's team that finished with a 7-6 record and tied for second place in the WAC with a 5-2 mark as it participated in the Famous Idaho Potato Bowl (L, 23-24 vs. Ohio), its first bowl game since 1997.
For the first time since 1996, the Aggies will open a season with back-to-back home games, hosting a pair of in-state foes in Southern Utah on Thursday, Aug. 30 and Utah on Friday, Sept. 7. Both games are slated for 6 p.m. (MT). The Aggies' game against Utah will be on ESPN2.
Season tickets and two-game packages can be purchased in person at the Dee Glen Smith Spectrum weekdays between 10 a.m. and 5 p.m. Fans can also buy tickets over the phone by calling 1-888-USTATE-1, or online at www.utahstateaggies.com/tickets.
Fans can follow the Aggie football program at twitter.com/USUFootball or on the USU football blog at usufootball.wordpress.com. Aggie fans can also follow the Utah State athletic program at twitter.com/USUAthletics or on facebook at Utah State University Athletics.
Utah State Football Media Day Quotes From Head Coach Gary Andersen:
“It's great to be back. The kids are rolling in and we're getting organized a bit, but they're excited. It's been a positive summer. We'll see how they look and find out a lot more about that as we move through today and tomorrow. It's an exciting time of year. You go through summer, the kids go through a hard off-season and summer school and it becomes a time when it's time to get ready to play football.”
“The expectations for camp is to make it difficult physically and mentally for the young men, but yet keep them fresh mentally and physically. It's a delicate balance, but I think we're ready for that as a team. Summer conditioning was designed to be really aggressive so we want to continue that through camp, but we also want to stay healthy. Secondly, camp is designed to give the players that have not been in the program and haven't played an opportunity to show us that they can or they can't and that they're ready or they're not ready. That's a major part of these first two weeks. We'll get the best 70 players and get ready to have them on an airplane. The first two games are here, and we plan to have about 100 guys there for those.”
Who isn't here that we expected to see?
"When we signed Bill Vavau he was very much like Paul Piukala in that they both had a lot of work to do academically. Bill still has the opportunity to get here, but he'll be late. He's very close, but if he can't get that done he'll join us in January. He has a redshirt [year], we knew that when we recruited him, just like we did with Paul when we recruited him a couple years ago. So Bill won't be here to begin camp.”
“B.J. Larsen will be back in another three or four days, but he's been sick and isn't quite ready to walk back into camp. Eric Berntson is going to need surgery. I don't know exactly what the injury is, but it is going to require some time so he won't be in camp at all. We do expect him to be back at some point during the season. He'll redshirt and get as big and strong as he can to get ready for spring ball and be a scout team guy. Bryce Walker has a broken leg and will be out for about another month. It's been fixed but just getting back where he needs to be. He'll be around camp, just not participating.”
"Other than that, we've got 26 new kids. There are a lot of faces you don't know that we'll talk about more as we move through camp. Our recruiting classes are always going to be aggressive. When I say that I mean they may be kids somebody else may not believe can make it, but we can get them through it. We can help them move themselves in the right direction to get graduated if they're a junior college player or a player that has a long ways to go through the clearinghouse. We pride ourselves as a football staff to wrap our arms around those kids and outwork everybody, and allow those kids an opportunity to make it. Because of that aggressive style at times they don't make it, but that's just who we are. A lot of our main hitters now were those kind of kids at some point.”
With Bobby Wagner and Robert Turbin gone, leader-wise who will step up and fill those roles?
“As we've gone through this summer I hope it's built up. We had a leadership meeting a couple days ago, talking about life in general, not a football meeting. It was probably our best leadership meeting overall. We had 26 kids there. If I looked at it on defense, you've got to look at the kids who have played the most. I look high to Bojay (Filimoeatu) to be a leader on the defensive side of the football and on the front seven, he needs to be that guy. I would expect Al (Lapuaho) to be a leader on the defensive line, as well as Connor Williams in the back end. Nevin Lawson has grown into his own in that area, he's going into his third year starting, so he should be prepared to be that leader; he's become much more vocal and more confident. McKade Brady is in there on the defense as well”
“Then on the offense you obviously look at both quarterbacks. A lot of people will ask how two quarterbacks can lead when they're both fighting for the job, but they will and they do. Matt Austin is the best leader on this football team, hands down. He's very vocal and a tremendous mentor for the young kids off the field when they walk in here. He's a very good player. He already has his degree and is working on his master's program. He has validation for wanting to be here as a college football player so the kids listen to him. And then Kerwynn (Williams) and Tyler Larsen. Tyler is a very quiet leader but does a nice job.”
"One thing we did this summer to help our kids develop these skills was to have a weekly leadership meeting. Different coaches handled it and had different topics. We hadn't done it before, but it was something the kids really loved so hopefully we can help them wrap their arms around leadership a little bit.”
The depth over the lines was a concern this spring, where does that stand now?
“As we sit back and look at it, I feel better about the defensive line than I did just from looking at them from a competition standpoint. I think even the addition of Sini (Tauauve'a), who has made it now, he's a 330-pound kid who has worked his tail off this summer. He'll be with us and Paul (Piukala) is big for us on the defensive line. You add two bodies to the defensive front and that has progressed us from spring. But you know I'm going to be hard on these kids and I expect them to be great. The depth of the defensive line is not really concerning to me right now. What I want to see is separation and know who our three best guys. I want to see them rise to the top.”
“On the offensive line there is some depth issues that we look at. We've got Joe Summers who has three years left. It was great to get him from Snow College. He's done a great job since he's been here. He's married and older and a hard worker. We're getting Taani (Fisilau) back and looking like he's ready to go. Jake Simonich and then Daquan Vandross who you guys don't know yet. He's an offensive lineman from New York and we expect him to come in and compete. We've added some bodies there, which is good. I feel better about the depth there, but it's still mildly concerning and we'll see as we go through camp.”
Doug Hoffman is the assistant athletic director for Utah State University Athletic Media Relations.