From a competitive standpoint and an athletic standpoint, that is important to us. —USU head coach Matt Wells
LOGAN — Although Matt Wells’ excitement level was just as high as it usually is on the first Wednesday of February, Utah State’s head football coach admitted that the 2018 version of National Signing Day seemed “really uneventful” due to the addition of an early-signing period in December.
“There didn’t seem to be as much drama playing out over the last few days in terms of guys flipping or us flipping anybody. That was kind of happening more in December for us,” Wells noted during a press conference Wednesday morning.
“I don’t know if it’ll change next year. It’s hard to predict it. We didn’t have as many scholarships to give and to go out and find in January, so it was a little bit of a different January for us as coaches.”
Wells announced the signing of 10 more athletes on Wednesday, bringing USU’s total class count to 22 players. Ten future Aggies signed back in December, and this week Utah State also officially announced the addition of a pair of fourth-year transfers who will be eligible to play in 2018 after sitting out last season.
Junior defensive lineman Fua Leilua comes to Utah State via Spanish Fork High School (111 tackles, 9.5 sacks as a senior), Weber State (14 tackles in 2015), Snow College (32 tackles in 2016) and Oklahoma State. And junior linebacker Tipa Galea'i spent two seasons at TCU, totaling 24 tackles and 3.5 sacks as a sophomore, and is “also a very talented deep snapper,” according to Wells.
“Those were two guys that we had really tried to recruit on the front end, and then for whatever reason it didn’t work out and now they’re with us,” Wells said of Galea’i and Leilua. “They do fill some needs. Those two guys will absolutely be in the mix this spring for starting spots, as well as a rotational basis with Fua on the D-line.”
After focusing on signing offensive linemen and skill position players in December, the Aggies’ 10 all-freshman signings on Wednesday come mostly from the defensive side of the ball and all but two come from the state of Utah.
East High defensive linemen Johnson Hansen and Seni Tuiaki and Timpview linebacker Karene Reid are all “sign and send” athletes who are expected to serve two-year LDS missions before playing for the Aggies. The signing of East High safety Christian Nash leaves Utah State with three total Leopards in this year’s class.
“(East head coach) Brandon Matich does a phenomenal job in this state. They’re always a very tough team, they’re well-disciplined and that translates to these guys,” Wells said. “ We’ve had a good relationship with East, we continue to have a great relationship with East and those guys are always good players coming out of that program.”
Alta teammates Will Dana (quarterback) and Mitch Medina (linebacker) are also headed to USU, along with 6-foot-3, 285-pound Herriman High offensive lineman Karter Shaw and Highland High linebacker Elijah Shelton, who totaled 68 tackles and 7.0 sacks for the Rams last year.
But the Aggies also went to coast-to-coast in their search for athletes, officially signing Covina, California cornerback Michael Anyanwu and Fort Myers, Florida wide receiver/cornerback Deven Thompkins on Wednesday after receiving verbal commitments from the pair last fall. Anyanwu racked up 10 interceptions, 11 pass breakups and 32 tackles during his senior year at Charter Oak High School, while Thompkins caught 23 passes for 398 yards and six touchdowns and added three interceptions and 32 tackles on defense.
“Deven has really good hands and is very elusive in the open field,” Wells said of the 5-7, 160-pound Thompkins. “He plays much bigger than his size and can high-point a football. He should compete for playing time early on.”
“And Michael is a very good athletic football player that possesses good feet and lower body strength, which allows him to get in and out of breaks quickly.”
Overall, Wells said he was excited with the athleticism of the 22 players signed by the Aggies this year, noting that 17 of them at least two sports in high school.
“From a competitive standpoint and an athletic standpoint, that is important to us. It is not always the most important thing on recruiting a player, but the competitiveness in players playing multi-sports is very important,” Wells declared.
The Aggies, who went 6-7 and went to a bowl game after winning just three games in 2016, begin spring football practices on Feb. 24. Utah State will open the 2018 season — the sixth under Wells as the head coach at his alma mater — on Saturday, Sept. 1, at Michigan State.