LOGAN — The names of those expected to make big contributions are well-known before fall camp opens for most football teams. What isn't known is who'll step from the shadows and make those critical unexpected contributions that can turn a team from a middle-of-the-pack squad to a contender.
After just one practice, Utah State coach Gary Andersen already had his eye on a few such characters.
Specifically, Andersen loves what three late signees are bringing to the field. Matt Ah You, a former starting linebacker at BYU, is now an Aggie. Freshman running back Robert Marshall provides a bruising back USU needs, and junior-college transfer Maxwell Lacy is eager to make an impact in the defensive backfield after sitting out a season to finish up his associates degree at Compton College.
"Let me tell you," Andersen said, "those three guys are working hard and giving us a real lift."
Ah You, who left BYU two years ago and spent last season at Central Washington, has stepped in and is giving the Aggie defense an immediate boost in veteran leadership.
"He started what, 25 games or something at BYU?" Andersen said. "He can flat out play, and he is a leader out there. He's going to be a big factor for us."
Lacy is a one-time Utah signee who, after not qualifying immediately, has now found his way to Logan.
"Max is a great kid, and coach Gerke has known his family for a number of years. As he went through the process, Max got himself in a position to be eligible, and he's a quality football player. He was a highly recruited young man a year ago," Andersen said. "He got his AA degree, and he got himself to where he needed to be. He's just been here a couple days, so he's a little behind as far as the time frame goes with being with us, but he's a big tall corner that runs very well. We're very excited to have him in our program."
Marshall, likewise, fell through the cracks a little bit after a injury-shortened senior season in Texas. At 235 pounds, he is a tailback in a fullback body but may end up redshirting.
"He's a big, powerful, strong running back. Can he do that as a freshman as he walks in here? I don't know," Andersen said. "I think he's adapted to the system very well. I think he's adapted to Logan, and Cache Valley — the young man absolutely loves it here. I think he's a great talent. We'll see what the time frame is on him."
PROTECTING BOREL: Diondre Borel is Utah State's starting quarterback. That much is not up for debate.
But with precious little experience behind him — senior Jeff Fischer played in one game, attempting no passes — keeping Borel healthy is a huge priority for the Aggies. As badly as running back Robert Turbin's injury hurt the team, losing Borel would be disastrous.
So it should come as no surprise that the next four weeks will not be especially challenging for Borel on the physical side of things.
"We'll do everything we can to put a big bubble around Diondre to protect him — obviously that is a priority," Andersen said. "We won't hit him just like we never do, but when we walk into a second team situation, Diondre has still got to get the reps. He is still the starter, so he needs a bunch of reps and by no means do we feel Diondre's arrived and neither does Diondre."
Monday's practice was split into two sessions. The first had most of the starters and selected backups practicing while the rest of the team did conditioning and lifted weights. The second session saw the units flip those roles. Joining Borel with the 'A' squad was freshman Jeremy Higgins — younger brother of Weber State's four-year starting quarterback. The 'B' squad had Fischer as well as Alta High's Alex Hart and former Northridge star T.J. Canales.
Andersen said there is nothing, at this point, to read into the practice assignments.
"We have got to get those second guys and the third guys the reps," he said. "The challenge is two, three, and four are kind of stacked up, there needs to be some separation there. Hopefully that happens in the next couple of days."
HIGHER EXPECTATIONS: After years near the bottom of the WAC, the Aggies are beginning to inch their way toward contending for the top half of the league standings. Expectations are understandably high as the season is still weeks from kicking off.
But while a WAC title may not be reachable this year, a bowl game is. And it was a recurring goal mentioned by several players.
"Expectation is high, from all of you (media) and from us," said junior linebacker Bobby Wagner. "Probably higher from us just because we are trying to get to a bowl game, so I think we are ready for this year."