Utah State football held its 11th spring practice Tuesday afternoon on Merlin Olsen Field at Maverik Stadium, and the secondary is using its depth to create experience at multiple positions.
“Spring ball is a process and I have seen tremendous growth from our first practice until practice 11,” said first-year defensive coordinator and safeties coach Keith Patterson. “Our defense is the same, but it’s different and we are trying to lay the foundation this spring. We are still an odd-front and an aggressive, attacking-style defense. We are just trying to get everybody to understand the broad general concepts of what we are trying to teach.”
Utah State welcomes back nine returning letterwinners in the secondary from last season, a group that has combined to play in 166 games with 45 starts during their careers.
In all, Utah State returns 14 defensive backs who were members of the program during the 2017 season, including three starters in senior S Gaje Ferguson, junior CB Cameron Haney and sophomore CB Ja’Marcus Ingram. USU also welcomes back six other letterwinners in senior CB Deante Fortenberry, senior S Jontrell Rocquemore, senior S Aaron Wade, junior S Chance Parker, sophomore S Baron Gajkowski and sophomore S Braxton Gunther. The Aggies also return four redshirts from last season in freshman CB Andre Grayson, freshman CB Jarrod Green, freshman CB Zahodri Jackson and freshman S Chase Nelson, in addition to one more returner in sophomore S Zach Swenson.
Furthermore, Utah State added two new players to the secondary this spring in junior CB DJ Williams (Smyrna, Tennessee/Smyrna HS/Independence CC) and freshman S Kinkade Wildman (Logan, Utah/Logan HS). Williams earned first-team All-America honors this past season at the junior college ranks.
Rocquemore and Wade have both played in 30 games during their Utah State careers, starting six and two games, respectively, while Haney has played in 24 games with nine starts and Ferguson has played in 21 games with 16 starts. Ingram played in all 13 games and started 10 as a true freshman last season, while Gajkowski started two games and played in all 13. Fortenberry and Gunther both appeared in 12 games last season, while Parker appeared in 11.
Ferguson is Utah State’s top defensive returner from the secondary with 130 career tackles, which includes 2.0 tackles for loss, while adding two career pass breakups and one career forced fumble.
“I think the secondary has come a long way and improved a lot this spring,” said Ferguson. “We have quite a bit of depth and we are trying guys out at a lot of different positions to see where everyone fits best with this defense.”
Furthermore, Rocquemore has 79 career tackles, which includes 3.0 tackles for loss, to go along with two career interceptions, two career forced fumbles and one fumble recovery, and Haney has 47 career tackles, to go along with nine career pass breakups, including six last season to rank second on the team. Ingram had 42 tackles last season, to go along with five pass breakups, one fumble recovery and one interception, and Gajkowski posted 50 tackles last season, while adding an interception, fumble recovery and forced fumble. And finally, Fortenberry posted 20 tackles last season, which included 3.0 sacks and 4.0 tackles for loss, to go along with one fumble recovery.
“I’ve watched this program over the years and nothing has surprised me this spring. I expected the kids to be tough and hard-nosed, and they have met every expectation I have put in front of them to this point. Their willingness to learn the system and what we are trying to get done has been very pleasing,” added Patterson.
Utah State will conclude its fourth week of spring practice with its third scrimmage on Thursday from 3:15-5:15 p.m.
During the five-week period, the Aggies will participate in 15 spring practice sessions, including their annual Blue vs. White Spring Game on Saturday, April 7, on Merlin Olsen Field at Maverik Stadium at 2 p.m.
Doug Hoffman is the associate athletic director for Utah State University Athletic Media Relations.