LOGAN — There are players to recondition for game play and talent to replace in the offensive backfield for Utah State in 2014, but the Aggies are no stranger to these challenges — and excelling under these circumstances.
The major storyline revolves around the return of Chuckie Keeton, Utah State’s dual-threat quarterback who is back for his senior season after missing the final eight games of 2013 with a knee injury. He was recently named the Mountain West Preseason Offensive Player of the Year.
For the third year in a row, Utah State must replace its top rusher: Joey DeMartino led the Aggies with 1,221 rushing yards in 2013 and Robert Marshall was next with 415 yards. Both are gone. But there is enough returning talent at running back to fuel hopes that the Aggie rushing attack will keep moving along smoothly.
At quarterback, the Aggies are full of experience. Chuckie Keeton (6-foot-2, 200 pounds) is back on the field after being cleared for action three months ago. He is already being pumped as a Heisman Trophy candidate, and his numbers prior to his injury in 2013 validate the hype: Keeton threw for 1,388 yards, 18 touchdowns and two interceptions in just over five games.
The only question with Keeton is, will he have any trouble being able to return to his pre-injury form? If not, Keeton is in line for a special season.
Darell Garretson (6-0, 200) led the Aggies to a 6-1 record — and the MW Mountain Division title — down the stretch in 2013. The sophomore will now have the chance to further develop as Keeton retakes the offensive reins. Behind Garretson is senior Craig Harrison (6-2, 203).
Like Keeton, senior running back Joe Hill (5-11, 190) had his 2013 season cut short by a knee injury; he started five games before being sidelined and rushed for 252 yards and a touchdown last season. Keeton told the Mountain West Network during the league's media day he is looking forward to what Hill, who has eight career starts, can do coming off his injury. Also back at running back is sophomore Kennedy Williams (5-8, 160), the younger brother of former Aggie Kerwynn Williams who rushed for 68 yards on 12 carries last year.
Junior Rashad Hall (6-1, 200) is listed as co-backup at running back heading into fall camp. The junior college transfer redshirted last year; he originally signed with Colorado out of high school before playing two years at Contra Costa College. During the spring game, Hall rushed for a game-high 124 yards on 15 carries.
Karris Johnson (5-11, 208) also redshirted last season in his first year at Utah State. He ripped off a 62-yard run in the spring game.
Three true freshmen will join the Aggie backfield this fall, though they aren’t expected to be immediate contributors. They include quarterback Kent Myers (6-0, 185) and running backs Justen Hervey (5-9, 180) and LaJuan Hunt (5-8, 185).
The diminutive Williams is a versatile back could see more touches this season. His brother, Kerwynn Williams, became more involved in the Utah State attack, both on offense and as returner, during his sophomore and junior seasons before a breakout senior year. Perhaps the same fate is in store for the younger brother, who showed flashes in spring ball, including 95 rushing yards and a touchdown in the spring game.
When it comes to fall camp, the quarterbacks are set; it’s all about getting back in game-ready mode for Keeton and developing his backups. The bigger position battle will be at running back. Who among the team’s ball carriers will emerge and earn more playing time?
With upperclassmen dotting the depth chart, Utah State has the tools in place to expect another strong season from both the quarterback and running back positions this season.
Email: [email protected]; Twitter: @brandonljudd