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AGGIE VETERANS OPTIMISTIC ABOUT SEASON

The Aggie players call them "double-days." They begin this morning, and the veterans were actually even hankering to get at their first late-summer practices under new Utah State football coach John L. Smith.

"Everyone's looking forward to it. It's scary even, looking forward to double-days and all the work, but just the air around the team is, `Let's get to work, let's get something done, let's get better,' " says defensive end Danilo Robinson, a two-year letterman who is only a quarter or two away from graduation as he goes into just his junior year of eligibility.Robinson calls that academic progress the most impressive thing about his summer - which he spent in Logan as one of about 45 players who stayed on campus to work on school and football.

The fact that so many Aggies stayed reminds veteran players of the summer of 1993, when a similar number stayed on campus, and the ultimate result was a Big West Conference co-championship and the first bowl win in USU history.

The differences between the '93 team and now are obvious - size, big-time defense and a veteran quarterback who's now a star in the Canadian Football League. The Ags were supposed to contend in '93. In '95, Big West polls say they'll be fifth (media) to seventh (coaches), and national magazines rate them fourth to eighth.

But the feeling of togetherness is much the same as '93, and Robinson says veteran players - reporting to camp Friday for pictures and Media Day - who watched the freshmen and newcomers practice Wednesday and Thursday were impressed with the youngsters' enthusiasm.

Today it's the veterans' turn as everyone practices at 9:30 a.m. and 3 p.m. - a routine that will go for the next couple of weeks. Thursday's the first day in pads. The Aggies open the season Sept. 2 at Arkansas State, a Big West game.

Senior running back Abu Wilson - who sat and watched the bowl campaign with a blown-out knee - says he and other vets have discussed this "deja vu. In '93, a bunch of guys stayed," Wilson says. This summer, "We generated a lot of brotherhood," which results in "total confidence" in teammates. "That's just good news," Wilson says.

"We're as close as we were the year we went to the Vegas Bowl," says junior linebacker David Gill, the team's leading tackler last year. "We're more like a family, and that will improve a lot of things," he says, looking back at 1994's injury-plagued 3-8 record and noting the club wasn't as close then.

Smith, who replaced Charlie Weatherbie at USU in January after six years of success at I-AA Idaho, has stressed the "team" word more than any other coach these players can think of.

Receiver/returner Kevin Alexander, a senior who was first-team All-Big West as a specialist last year, says Smith's such a stickler about the team-first concept that he's taken player names off their jerseys. "The players have grasped that. Everyone is together," Alexander says.