Utah State’s football team held its third practice of the 2018 season Saturday afternoon, and the specialists have been focusing on fundamentals, both individually and collectively, in preparation for the season opener, which is less than four weeks away.
“Our expectations for special teams is to build off what we did last year,” said assistant coach Stacy Collins. “We have a lot of starters back on our special team units, and we’ve got to find a way to get that hidden yardage and make plays.
“As we look at our specials teams, unit by unit, we are going to continue to work on our goals. As a punt unit, we want to continue to have a great net punt average. On kickoff return, we want to get that starting field position. We had a lot of success last year with our punt blocks, and we would like to do that again this year, but we also need to continue to improve our return game, which was solid last year. We also need to continue to do a great job of covering kicks. We have a great group of guys that are hungry to do it and are ready to prove themselves again.”
Utah State returns four of the top specialist in the Mountain West from a year ago in senior P Aaron Dalton, junior PK Dominik Eberle, sophomore PR Jordan Nathan and sophomore KR Savon Scarver.
Eberle had one of the best seasons in school history for a placekicker last year, as he earned third-team All-America honors from Phil Steele’s Magazine and honorable mention All-America honors from SB Nation. He was named a finalist for the Lou Groza Award, which is given annually to the top placekicker in college football. He also garnered first-team all-Mountain West honors after finishing the 2017 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. He also 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.
“It’s nice to have a guy like Dominik back, and he is a weapon for us in a lot of different ways. The impressive thing about Dominik is that he is bigger and stronger then he was a year ago. He had a great offseason, and we are excited to see how he progresses this year,” said Collins.
Dalton is the most experienced player in this group, as he has punted in all 38 games he has appeared in the past three seasons and has career numbers of 210 punts for an average of 40.5 yards, including 72 punts downed inside the 20-yard line, with a career long of 69 yards.
Dalton finished his junior season averaging 42.0 yards per punt as he punted 76 times for 3,193 yards. Overall, he had 10 punts of at least 50 yards with 26 of his punts being downed inside the 20-yard line last year, while 34 of his punts were fair caught and only nine of his punts resulted in a touchback.
“There is a lot to be said for experience and for having a player back that has been in critical situations and in critical games, and we are excited to have Aaron back as our punter going into his senior season,” added Collins.
Nathan 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). Overall, he ranked third in the Mountain West and 24th in the nation with his average of 8.5 yards per return.
Scarver returned 26 kickoffs for 625 yards (24.0 ypr) and one touchdown last season, as those 625 kickoff return yards are the most by an Aggie since 2011. Furthermore, he 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 is tied for the sixth-longest kickoff return in school history and the first in a bowl game.
Additionally, USU welcomes back two other specialists who were members of the team last season in sophomore PK Connor Coles and sophomore LS Brandon Pada.
Utah State added three newcomers here in junior LS Chance Nelson, sophomore PK Taylor Hintze, who participated in spring drills, and freshman LS Noah Howell.Comment on this story
Saturday was the third of 24 practices for the Aggies leading up to their season-opening game at Michigan State on Friday, Aug. 31, at 5 p.m. MT, in a game that will be nationally televised on the Big Ten Network. Utah State then begins its home season the following weekend against New Mexico State on Saturday, Sept. 8, at 6 p.m., in a game that will be streamed live on Facebook. Mountain West play begins two weeks later as USU hosts Air Force on Saturday, Sept. 22, in a game that will be televised nationally on one of the ESPN Networks.
As part of the NCAA’s five-day acclimation period, Utah State will again be in shoulder pads and helmets on Monday before practicing in full pads on Tuesday, Aug. 7.
Utah State’s first two scrimmages are closed to the public, but fans are invited to its last scrimmage as part of Family Football Fun Day at Merlin Olsen Field at Maverik Stadium on Saturday, Aug. 18, at 2 p.m.