It was maybe the best three-week window of recruiting that we’ve had since I’ve been here. —Matt Wells
For the Deseret News
LOGAN — Like an anxious little kid at Christmastime, Utah State head coach Matt Wells just couldn’t wait and immediately opened up the biggest presents he could find Wednesday morning.
“We got big really quick,” Wells proclaimed at a press conference announcing that the Aggies have signed a half dozen offensive linemen and 12 total recruits at the start of the NCAA’s new early signing period.
“A big focus was on our offensive line. The young men that we were able to target, and to really try to sink our teeth into and recruit, committed and then they stayed very, very loyal to us.”
Among the O-linemen signed by the Aggies are three in-state products: Jordan High’s Heneli Avendano, Syracuse High’s Wyatt Bowles and Layton High’s Wade Meacham.
The 6-foot-6, 260-pound Meacham just returned from an LDS mission to Malaysia, while the 6-foot-3, 305-pound Avendano originally signed with the Aggies last February but ended up not going on a mission. The 6-foot-4, 270-pound Bowles originally committed to Nevada in June, but then announced on Twitter in early December that he had decided to head north to Utah State instead.
The Aggies also signed 6-4, 300-pound Kyler Hack out of Orange Coast Community College, who will enroll this spring as a sophomore, as well as two more freshmen offensive linemen: Andy Koch (6-5, 250 pounds from Eastvale, California) and Jacob South (6-6, 275 pounds from Anacortes, Washington).
“It was maybe the best three-week window of recruiting that we’ve had since I’ve been here,” declared Wells, who is also preparing his team to play New Mexico State in the NOVA Home Loans Arizona Bowl on Dec. 29.
“When you look at it, you have the four O-linemen and then you have some immediate guys at skill positions that I truly believe will come in and compete for immediate playing time.”
Wells was particularly excited about the signing of running back Darwin Thompson out of Northeast Oklahoma A&M. The 5-9, 195-pound junior hails from Jenks, Oklahoma — a 90-minute drive from Wells’ hometown of Sallisaw, Oklahoma.
“Darwin Thompson at running back will be absolutely in the mix when gets here (in the spring),” Wells said of Thompson, who rushed for 1,1391 yards and eight touchdowns on 185 carries in 2017. “ He is a really explosive running back. He has good vision, good speed and tremendous explosiveness. He’s a strong, lean-muscle kind of guy.
“ (Thompson) has come a long way since his senior year. I’ve known his high school coach 20 years. After talking to several guys on that staff at his high school he played at, Jenks High School, his development has been late, I would say, later in his career. He’s a self-made man. He’s made himself into the young man and the running back that he is right now based on sheer will-power and tremendous work ethic.”
Former Jordan High quarterback Crew Wakley was the only other Utah State signee out of the state of Utah. Listed as an “athlete” by the Aggies, Wakley is headed on an LDS Church mission after throwing for 2,998 yards and 22 touchdowns and rushing for 1,407 yards and 22 more touchdowns during his senior season with the Beetdiggers.
“He is a player that we think can play safety, he can play inside receiver, he can play outside receiver and maybe even moonlight as a quarterback,” Wells said of Wakley. “He’s an athletic young man.”
On offense, the Aggies also received commitments from 6-3, 180-pound quarterback Andrew Peasley, who was injured for part of his senior season but threw for 4,318 yards and 45 touchdowns as a three-year starter, and 6-0, 180-pound wide receiver Tim Patrick Jr. out of San Diego, California. Patrick Jr. played multiple positions at Morse High School and did most of his damage at running back, where he rushed for 963 yards and 13 TDs on just 90 carries as a senior.
Defensively, Wells and his staff signed 5-10, 185-pound junior defensive back DJ Williams out of Independence Community College in Missouri, and 6-2, 290-pound Hale Motu’apuaka, a freshman defensive lineman out of Punahou High School in Honolulu.
“One other thing of note with this class is that it’s a very athletic, multi-sport class. Again, goes with exactly how I feel that I put a lot of stock in recruiting,” Wells noted. “There are four of them that are three-sport athletes. All of the rest are two-sport athletes except one (Hale Motu’apuaka), who is a six-time world champion fire knife thrower, twirler, everything with fire knives.
“It’s impressive. If you haven’t seen the YouTube (video), I would encourage you to flip it on, it’s pretty cool stuff.”
Wells said that USU still has “a few scholarships” remaining for the February signing period and that he expects to announce a couple more signees that are going to leave on LDS missions at that time.
The fifth-year head coach also made it clear that he is happy that with the new early signing period, and he was grateful that the Aggies were selected to play a bowl game later in the month rather than in mid-December like Mountain West rivals Boise State and Colorado State.
“With a later game, you get more practices, and we’ve also had more time to really sink our teeth into recruiting more than some of those other teams did,” Wells said. “Some of them are at a major disadvantage with an early, early bowl game. You just don’t get as many practices, and you don’t get as many days to go out and recruit.”