Utah State's football team had 13 players named to the Athlon Sports 2018 preseason all-Mountain West teams, it was announced Wednesday by the publication. The Aggies had five players recognized on offense, four players on defense and four specialists.
Boise State had the most preseason selections with 16, followed by Utah State (13), Fresno State (12), San Diego State (11), Wyoming (11) and UNLV (nine). Colorado State and Nevada had eight selections apiece, while New Mexico had six. Air Force and Hawai’i each had five selections, and San José State had four.
Senior offensive center Quin Ficklin, junior placekicker Dominik Eberle and junior tight end Dax Raymond were all named to the preseason all-Mountain West first team, while senior punter Aaron Dalton, senior wide receiver Ron’quavion Tarver and junior nose guard Christopher ‘Unga were all named to the second team. Aggies named to the preseason third team include senior offensive lineman Roman Andrus, senior safety Gaje Ferguson, senior linebacker Suli Tamaivena and sophomore punt returner Jordan Nathan, while senior offensive lineman Rob Castaneda, senior linebacker Chase Christiansen and sophomore kick returner Savon Scarver were tabbed to the Athlon Sports preseason all-Mountain West fourth team.
Ficklin, a 6-foot-2, 290-pounder from Mesa, Arizona (Red Mountain HS/BYU), earned third-team all-Mountain West honors from Phil Steele’s Magazine and honorable mention all-MW honors from the league’s coaches after starting all 13 games at center last season. In 2017, he had an overall performance grade of 93 percent, which ranked first on the team and played 911 snaps, which also ranked first on the team among offensive linemen. For the season, he graded out at 96 percent in effort, 89 percent in assignment and 82 percent in technique as he allowed just one sack on the season. He also recorded a team-best 56 knockdowns during the year, including a season-high 11 against Wyoming.
Eberle, a 6-2, 190-pounder from Nuremberg, Germany (Redondo Union (Calif.) HS), earned third-team All-America honors from Phil Steele’s Magazine and honorable mention All-America honors from SB Nation as he served as the team’s placekicker in all 13 games as a sophomore. He was also named a finalist for the Lou Groza Award, which is awarded annually to the top placekicker in college football, and garnered first-team all-Mountain West honors as he finished the season scoring a team-best 101 points as he was a perfect 47-of-47 on extra points and 18-of-24 (.750) on field goals. During the 2017 season, he set a single-game school record for points scored by a kicker with 19 at San José State as he was 4-for-4 (23, 52, 20, 27) on field goals and 7-for-7 on extra points. Those 19 points scored are the second-most by a kicker in Mountain West history and the most by a non-senior. Additionally, he kicked off 73 times for 4,405 yards (60.3 ypk) with 38 touchbacks during the year.
Raymond, a 6-5, 245-pounder from Provo, Utah (Timpview HS), earned third-team all-Mountain West honors from Phil Steele’s Magazine and honorable mention all-MW honors from the league’s coaches after starting 12 games at tight end and catching 41 passes for 456 yards and one touchdown. He finished the 2017 season ranked second among all tight ends in the conference in both receptions and receiving yards and ranked second on the team in both categories as well. Of his 41 receptions, 28 resulted in a first down, with seven of those receptions being on third down. He also finished the season catching at least one pass in all 12 games he played in, including multiple receptions in 10 contests and had a streak of five or more receptions in four-straight games. He led the Aggies in receptions five times during the year, including a career-high six catches against Colorado State.
Dalton, a 6-4, 220-pounder from Bountiful, Utah (Viewmont HS), punted in all 13 games in 2017 and finished the season averaging 42.0 yards as he punted 76 times for 3,193 yards. On the season, he had 10 punts of at least 50 yards with 26 of his punts being downed inside the 20-yard line, while 34 of his punts were fair caught and only nine of his punts resulted in a touchback. In all, he had at least one 50-yard punt in six different games during the year.
Tarver, a 6-3, 215-pounder from Belle Glade, Florida (Glades Central HS/Fort Scott CC), earned third-team all-Mountain West honors from Phil Steele’s Magazine as he started all 13 games in 2017 and finished the season by leading the team in every receiving category. On the year, he caught 48 passes for 569 yards (11.9 ypr) and seven touchdowns, logging at least one reception in all 13 games. Overall, he ranked tied for fourth in the conference and tied for 60th nationally with his seven receiving touchdowns (0.6 pg), as well as ninth in the conference in receptions (3.7 pg). In all, his seven total touchdowns ranked second on the team.
‘Unga, a 6-0, 300-pounder from Rochester, California (Rancho Cucamonga HS), played in nine games as a sophomore, starting seven. Overall, he finished the 2017 season with 32 tackles (16-solo, 16-assist), including 4.5 tackles for loss, to rank third on the team, while adding two quarterback hurries. In all, he recorded at least two tackles in every game he played in, including a season-high five stops against both Colorado State and Hawai’i, while adding a career-best 1.5 tackles for loss against the Rams.
Andrus, a 6-4, 300-pounder from El Dorado Hills, California (Oakridge HS/Snow College), earned honorable mention all-Mountain West honors after starting all 13 games at left tackle during his junior season. In 2017, he had an overall performance grade of 91 percent, which ranked second on the team and played 880 snaps, which also ranked second on the team among offensive linemen. In all, he graded out at 94 percent in effort, 92 percent in assignment and 84 percent in technique, and he recorded 33 knockdowns, which included a season-high seven against Wyoming.
Ferguson, a 6-0, 205-pounder from Mendon, Utah (Mountain Crest HS/Snow College), played in all 13 games as a junior, making 12 starts, and finished the season third on the team with 90 tackles (40-solo, 50-assist), which included 1.0 sacks and 2.0 tackles for loss. For the season, he ranked 19th in the Mountain West with an average of 6.9 tackles per game. He also added one forced fumble and one pass breakup during the year and had two double-digit tackle outings, recording a career-high 13 stops against Colorado State and 10 tackles at Wake Forest. In all, he finished the season by recording at least four tackles in 12 of the 13 games he played in and had eight or more stops in five games.
Tamaivena, a 6-0, 230-pounder from Kirkland, Washington (Juanita HS/Mt. San Antonio JC), earned third-team all-Mountain West honors from Phil Steele’s Magazine after starting all 13 games and leading the team with 111 tackles (43-solo, 68-assist) as a junior. He also led the team with 6.5 tackles for loss, tied for second with his 3.0 sacks, led the team with four quarterback hurries and tied for the team lead with two fumble recoveries, while adding two pass breakups. Overall, he ranked eighth in the conference and 46th in the nation in tackles per game (8.5), and he was tied for fourth in the conference and tied for 26th in the nation in fumble recoveries per game (0.15). On the season, he was one of five Aggies to record at least one tackle in every game and finished the year with six double-digit outings, which were the most by an Aggie since 2015. He also recorded double-digit tackles in five-straight games, which was the longest streak by a USU player since 2011, including a season-high 14 tackles in back-to-back games against Colorado State and Wyoming.
Nathan, a 5-8, 180-pounder from Monrovia, California (Monrovia HS), earned third-team all-Mountain West honors from Phil Steele’s Magazine as a punt returner in 2017, as he returned 23 punts for 196 yards (8.5 ypr) to rank third in the Mountain West and 24th in the nation with his average of 8.5 yards per return. He also started 12 games at wide receiver as a redshirt freshman and finished the year third on the team with 324 receiving yards and fourth in receptions with 25, averaging 13.0 yards per catch.
Castaneda, a 6-4, 300-pounder from Round Rock, Texas (Round Rock HS/Ellsworth CC), started all 13 games as a junior, including 11 at right guard and two at right tackle. In all, he played 837 snaps, which ranked third on the team among offensive linemen, and had an overall performance grade of 90 percent, which also ranked third on the team. Overall, he graded out at 94 percent in effort, 90 percent in assignment and 81 percent in technique, and he recorded 51 knockdowns during the year, including a season-high seven against both San José State and Hawai’i.
Christiansen, a 6-1, 230-pounder from Stansbury, Utah (Stansbury HS), started all 12 games he played in as a junior and finished the season fourth on the team with 71 tackles (32-solo, 39-assist). He was also tied for fourth on the team with 4.0 tackles for loss, while adding 1.0 sacks, as he ranked 32nd in the Mountain West in tackles per game (5.9), and was fifth in the conference and 32nd nationally in forced fumbles per game (0.25). His best game of his junior season was against BYU as he had a career-high 10 tackles for his first-career double-digit tackle outing, to go along with a forced fumble, a quarterback hurry and tackle for loss. In all, he finished the season by recording at least one tackle in all 12 games he played in and had at least five stops in nine different games.
Scarver, a 5-11, 185-pounder from Las Vegas, Nevada (Centennial HS), played in all 13 games as a true freshman as he returned 26 kickoffs for 625 yards (24.0 ypr) and one touchdown, which is the most return yards by an Aggie since 2011. He also scored his first career kickoff return for a touchdown against New Mexico State in the NOVA Home Loans Arizona Bowl on a 96-yard return, which ranks tied for the sixth-longest kickoff return in school history and the first-ever in a bowl game. As a wide receiver, he caught 11 passes for 240 yards (21.8 ypr) and one touchdown and carried the ball five times for 14 yards (2.8 ypc).
Utah State, which returns 18 starters and 50 letterwinners from last year's NOVA Home Loans Arizona Bowl team, will open the 2018 season on Friday, Aug. 31, at Michigan State and begins its home season the following weekend against New Mexico State on Saturday, Sept. 8. Mountain West play begins for USU two weekends later as it hosts Air Force on Saturday, Sept. 22.
Doug Hoffman is the associate athletic director for Utah State University Athletic Media Relations.