By Jeff Hunter
For the Deseret News
LOGAN — After securing a couple of coveted, last-minute targets out of Utah County, the smoke surrounding Utah State head football Gary Andersen’s return to Cache Valley finally dissipated enough to reveal 30 total recruits between the early signing period and National Signing Day on Wednesday.
“We had a lot of success in this class, we believe, and the evaluation process was very clean,” said Andersen, who is back at the helm of the Aggies after previously coaching Utah State from 2009-12.
“We started with our core, the way we recruit, and we want to recruit the state of Utah. We stuck to that plan and had some success.”
After signing 14 players in December, Andersen and his new staff inked commitments from 16 more athletes on Wednesday, the first day of the regular signing period that ends on April 1.
A dozen of USU’s signees hail from in-state schools, followed by seven players from California, four from Washington, two each from Oregon and Texas, and one player each from Idaho, Maryland and Ohio.
Among the recruits, Andersen signed five defensive backs, five linebackers and five offensive linemen, while also securing three quarterbacks and three wide receivers.
Six of the 30 players are already enrolled in school at Utah State, while three others will serve missions for The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints before suiting up for the Aggies.
All in all, Utah State’s recruiting class was ranked third in the Mountain West by 247Sports behind Boise State and Colorado State. “This staff worked their tails off,” Andersen declared. “They were grinders for a very quick period of time to turn around and get the amount of young men we have is impressive from a coaching staff.
“They did a great job of team recruiting. You don’t area recruit at this time of the year, you simply get yourselves to where kids are available and you recruit individuals wherever they are.”
One area that was particularly productive for Utah State was Utah County, with the Aggies securing the talents of Timpview linebacker Kaleo Neves and offensive lineman Sonny Makasini, as well as a pair of Orem High standouts who are coming off winning back-to-back state titles with the Tigers.
Andersen was already very familiar with offensive lineman Hunter Hill and dual-threat quarterback Cooper Legas while serving as an assistant at Utah under Kyle Whittingham, and he didn’t waste any time recruiting them to come a bit north after being hired by the Aggies on Dec. 9.
“The first phone call I made was to Hunter to be able to say, ‘Hunter, get here.’ Cooper Legas was the same way,” Andersen recalled. “Those are two of the first phone calls that I sat back and said, ‘These are guys that right now, I want to make sure they know that what I’ve been talking to them about for the last six to eight months is a fact.’”
The 6-foot-5, 285-pound Hill is the son of Jeremy Hill, a former Aggie player who has been the head coach at Orem the past three seasons.
“We’re really excited about getting Hunter here,” USU offensive line coach TJ Woods said. “He’s a winner who’s won multiple state championships. Hopefully he can bring that attitude and that pedigree to the Aggies.”
Hill, who went on a visit to USC just last weekend, was the final athlete to sign with Andersen, choosing the Aggies over the Trojans, as well as Washington State, Vanderbilt and Virginia.
Hill and Legas teamed up for state titles in 2017 and ’18, with Legas being named the Deseret News 4A Most Valuable Player after accounting for 5,415 total yards of offense and 63 touchdowns — 48 through the air and 15 on the ground.
“Cooper’s a quarterback that we love for his versatility, his toughness and the fact that he gives you everything you’re looking for on the ground and in the air,” said USU offensive coordinator and quarterbacks coach Mike Sanford.
In need of some help in the backfield following Darwin Thompson’s decision to forgo his senior season and enter the NFL Draft, the Aggies picked up Jaylen Warren as a junior college transfer. A former East High and Snow College star, the 5-8, 225-pound Warren was named the 2018 NJCAA National Offensive Player of the Year after leading the nation with 159.4 yards per game during his sophomore season with the Badgers.
“He’s a back that’s going to give us a combo of both speed and power, who certainly fits into the Poly Pipeline we have here,” USU running backs coach Stacy Collins said of Warren. “He has a tremendous personality, and will be a great step forward at the running back position.”
The Aggies are also expected to benefit from the addition of three graduate transfers.
Former BYU running back Riley Burt, a native of nearby Mantua, announced on Wednesday that he is heading to Utah State after rushing for 323 yards and two touchdowns on 59 carries during his junior season with the Cougars.
In addition, former Utah wide receiver Siaosi Mariner and tight end Caleb Repp declared on Twitter that they are “Headed North for 2019.” Mariner totaled 52 catches for 785 yards and four touchdowns during his three seasons at Utah, while the 6-5, 230-pound Repp played both tight end and defensive end for the Utes in 2018.
Utah State went 11-2 and finished No. 22 in the AP Top 25 last season, the sixth and last under Matt Wells. The former Aggie quarterback, who took over the program following Andersen’s departure for Wisconsin, was hired as the head coach at Texas Tech on Nov. 29, opening the way for Andersen’s return to Logan.
With the first recruiting class of his second stint at Utah State now secured, Andersen noted that a lot of work went into, first, putting together a new staff, and then securing as many of those prized recruits as possible.
“It was a fantastic job by this staff, and they’re an experienced staff. They worked extremely well together on both sides of the ball and that’s not always the case,” Andersen noted.
“To their families, it can’t go without saying that the families of these coaches, when you’re uprooted and you get a new job, you’re in a new position to leave your families behind, which has happened many times. A lot of these guys are getting on planes tomorrow and going back to see their families for the first time. I appreciate the moms and the kids that are involved with that.”
COMPLETE SIGNING DAY LIST
Ashton Adams OL 6-4 300 Salem, Oregon (South Salem HS)
Aaron Bredsguard DL 6-3 225 Bountiful, Utah (Viewmont HS)
Pierce Callister K/P 6-0 170 Ogden, Utah (Weber HS)
Josh Calvin QB 6-3 190 Bellflower, California (Mayfair HS)
Ajani Carter WR 6-1 185 Houston, Texas (North Shore HS)
Aric Davison OL 6-2 283 Richland, Washington (Richland HS)
Jack Drews TE/LB 6-3 230 Ramona, California (Ramona HS)
Kanen Eaton WR 6-4 180 Vancouver, Washington (Columbia River HS)
Cash Gilliam DB 6-0 195 Dayton, Ohio (Wayne HS/Arizona Western JC)
Keith Harris DB 5-11 170 Lawndale, California (Leuzinger HS)
Hunter Hill OL 6-5 285 Orem, Utah (Orem HS)
Oakley Hussey ATH 6-3 200 Idaho Falls, Idaho (Hillcrest HS)
Cam Lampkin WR 5-11 165 Mesquite, Texas (Poteet HS)
Garrett Larson QB 6-4 185 Kaysville, Utah (Davis HS)
Christian LaValle ILB 6-0 230 Mission Viejo, California (Mission Viejo HS)
Troy Lefeged DB 6-0 185 Montgomery Village, Maryland (Avalon HS/Fullerton JC)
Cooper Legas QB 6-2 210 Orem, Utah (Orem HS)
Sonny Makasini Jr. OL 6-3 315 Provo, Utah (Timpview HS)
Mosese Manu TE 6-4 260 West Bountiful, Utah (Bountiful HS/Mt. San Antonio JC)
Sione Moa WR 6-1 175 Ogden, Utah (Weber HS)
Kaleo Neves LB 6-2 215 Provo, Utah (Timpview HS)
Bronson Olevao DB 6-1 185 Salt Lake City, Utah (Highland HS)2 comments on this story
Jackson Owens OT 6-5 290 Salt Lake City, Utah (East HS)
Dean Rice OT 6-4 280 Yuba City, California (River Valley HS)
Dominic Tatum DB 6-2 180 Culver City, California (Culver City, HS)
Simon Thompson ATH 6-3 190 Salem, Oregon (West Salem HS)
Jesse James Vasquez LS 6-1 225 Thousand Oaks, California (Oaks Christian School)
AJ Vongphachanh DL 6-3 230 Pasco, Washington (Chiawana HS)
Jaylen Warren RB 5-8 225 Salt Lake City, Utah (East HS/Snow College)
Jaymason Willingham ILB 6-3 215 Steilacoom, Washington (Steilacoom HS)