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USU football: 13 players named to Athlon Sports 2015 Preseason all-Mountain West teams

Utah State’s football team had 13 players named to 14 different positions on the Athlon Sports 2015 Preseason all-Mountain West teams, it was announced Tuesday by the publication. The Aggies had six players recognized on offense, six players on defense and two specialists.

Boise State had the most preseason selections with 17, followed by Utah State (13), Colorado State (13), San Diego State (12) and Nevada (11). Air Force, Fresno State and San José State had eight selections apiece, while Hawai’i and New Mexico each had five. Wyoming had four selections and UNLV had three.

Senior quarterback Chuckie Keeton, senior wide receiver/punt returner JoJo Natson, senior defensive lineman Jordan Nielsen, senior linebacker Kyler Fackrell and junior linebacker Nick Vigil were named to the preseason all-Mountain West first team. Natson made the first team as an all-purpose player on offense and punt returner on special teams.

Senior wide receiver Hunter Sharp, junior center Austin Stephens, junior offensive tackle Jake Simonich and senior nose guard Travis Seefeldt were named to the second team, while sophomore cornerback Jalen Davis and junior free safety Devin Centers made the preseason third team. Sophomore running back LaJuan Hunt and junior kicker Jake Thompson were tabbed to the Athlon Sports Preseason all-Mountain West fourth team.

Keeton, a 6-foot-2, 210 pounder from Houston, Texas (Cypress Creek HS), has played in just nine games during his last two seasons, including the first three games of the 2014 campaign before reinjuring his surgically repaired knee that he originally hurt in the sixth game of the 2013 season. A year ago, Keeton was 51-of-92 passing for 426 yards (142.0 ypg) with two touchdowns and four interceptions, while he also rushed the ball 20 times for 81 yards (4.1 ypc) and one touchdown.

As a sophomore in 2012, Keeton earned first-team all-Western Athletic Conference honors after ranking 17th nationally in total offense (307.1 ypg), 18th in passing efficiency (154.7) and 29th in passing (259.5 ypg). During the 2012 season, Keeton set single-season school records for touchdown passes (27), passing yards (3,373), completions (275), completion percentage (.676) and total offense (3,992 yards), while he tied the single-game record for rushing yards by a quarterback with 121 yards at Louisiana Tech.

Keeton is also a preseason third-team all-Mountain West selection by Phil Steele heading into the 2015 season.

Natson, a 5-foot-7, 160 pounder from Fort Lauderdale, Florida (Boyd Anderson HS), earned first-team all-Mountain West honors as a punt returner as a junior as he ranked first in the conference and 10th in the nation with his punt return average of 11.7 yards as he returned 25 punts for 292 yards with two touchdowns. He also ranked first in the MW and tied for third in the nation with two punt returns for a touchdown a year ago, and he was the only player in the country with multiple touchdowns rushing (three), receiving (two) and returning (two).

As a junior, Natson was named the College Football Performance Awards National Punt Returner of the Week twice following performances against Idaho State and Wyoming as he returned punts for touchdowns of 52 and 80 yards, respectively.

For his career, Natson has returned four punts for touchdowns to tie the Mountain West and USU career records.

Natson was also named an honorable mention Mountain West wide receiver as a junior as he finished the year with 51 receptions for 504 yards (9.9 ypc) with two touchdowns, and he carried the ball 50 times for 498 yards (10.0 ypc) with three touchdowns.

Natson is also a preseason fourth-team All-American and first-team all-Mountain West selection by Phil Steele heading into the 2015 season.

Nielsen, a 6-5, 270 pounder from Lewiston, Utah (Sky View HS), earned honorable mention all-Mountain West honors as a junior as he finished the season with 53 total tackles (18-solo, 35-assist), to go along with 2.5 sacks and 7.0 tackles for loss, while he added five quarterback hurries, two pass breakups and one fumble recovery. In all, he ranked first on the team among defensive linemen and eighth overall with his 53 tackles, while his 7.0 tackles for loss ranked fifth on the team.

Nielsen is also a preseason second-team all-Mountain West selection by Phil Steele heading into the 2015 season.

Fackrell, a 6-5, 245 pounder from Mesa, Arizona (Mesa HS), played in just one game as a junior as he suffered a season-ending knee injury in the second quarter of the season opener at Tennessee.

Following the 2013 season, Fackrell was named an honorable mention Sophomore All-American by College Football News and earned second-team all-Mountain West honors as he finished the year ranking first on the team with 13.0 tackles for loss, tied for first with two forced fumbles and second with his 5.0 sacks, while he ranked fourth on the team with 82 total tackles (37-solo, 45-assist). Overall, he averaged 5.9 tackles per game to rank 35th in the Mountain West. During the season, he recorded three quarterback hurries, recovered one fumble, intercepted one pass and registered one pass breakup. He was named the Mountain West's Defensive Player of the Week and College Football Performance Awards National Linebacker of the Week following USU's 47-10 home win against Hawai'i as he recorded nine tackles, including 0.5 for loss, to go along with an interception return of 99 yards for his first career defensive touchdown.

Fackrell is also a preseason first-team all-Mountain West selection by Phil Steele heading into the 2015 season.

Vigil, a 6-2, 230 pounder from Plain City, Utah (Fremont HS), earned first-team all-Mountain West honors as a sophomore as he ranked first on the team in forced fumbles (five), tied for first in quarterback hurries (six), second in tackles (123) and tackles for loss (16.5), and third in sacks (7.0), while he added two pass breakups and one interception. Overall, he ranked first in the MW and tied for seventh in the nation in fumbles forced (0.38 pg), fourth in the MW and tied for 29th in the nation in tackles (9.5 pg), fourth in the MW and tied for 30th in the nation in tackles for loss (1.27 pg), and sixth in the MW in sacks (0.54 pg). In all, he had six double-digit tackle outings on the season, including a career-high 15 tackles at Tennessee.

Vigil is also a preseason first-team all-Mountain West selection by Phil Steele heading into the 2015 season.

Sharp, a 6-0, 200 pounder from Palmdale, California (Highland HS/Antelope Valley JC), earned honorable mention all-Mountain West honors as a junior as he finished the season ranking first on the team in receptions (66), receiving yards (939) and receiving touchdowns (7). In all, he ranked tied for second in the MW and tied for 54th in the nation in receiving touchdowns (seven), fourth in the MW and 66th in the nation in receiving yards (67.1 pg), and eighth in the MW and 84th in the nation in receptions (4.7 pg). He also had four-straight 100-yard receiving games during his junior season, becoming the first Aggie to do so since Kevin Curtis had six-straight 100-yard receiving games to start the 2001 season. Overall, he led the nation with four touchdown receptions of at least 70 yards (81, 72, 75, 70) and is one of just two Football Bowl Subdivision players in the last five years to accomplish this feat, along with USC's Marqise Lee in 2012.

Sharp is also a preseason second-team all-Mountain West selection by Phil Steele heading into the 2015 season.

Stephens, a 6-3, 305 pounder from West Des Moines, Iowa (Valley HS/Iowa Western CC), earned honorable mention all-Mountain West honors as a sophomore as he had an overall performance grade of 85 percent for the season. Overall, he graded out at 86 percent in effort, including nine games greater than 80 percent. He also graded out at 92 percent in assignment, including 11 games greater than 90 percent, and 75 percent in technique, including four games greater than 80 percent. He finished the season with 50.0 knockdowns, including a season-high nine against BYU and UNLV.

Stephens is also a preseason second-team all-Mountain West selection by Phil Steele heading into the 2015 season.

Simonich, a 6-5, 295 pounder from Danville, California (San Ramon Valley HS), earned honorable mention all-Mountain West honors as a sophomore as he had an overall performance grade of 80 percent for the season. Overall, he graded out at 82 percent in effort, including 11 games greater than 80 percent. He also graded out at 89 percent in assignment, including eight games greater than 90 percent, and 70 percent in technique. He finished the season with 48.0 knockdowns, including a season-high eight at Arkansas State and seven against BYU and UNLV.

Simonich is also a preseason second-team all-Mountain West selection by Phil Steele heading into the 2015 season.

Seefeldt, a 6-2, 300 pounder from Peoria, Arizona (Liberty HS), played in all 14 games a year ago and finished the season with 35 total tackles (13-solo, 22-assist), including 2.0 sacks and 6.0 tackles for loss. He also recorded two pass breakups, two quarterback hurries, two fumble recoveries and two blocked kicks during the year.

Seefeldt is also a preseason second-team all-Mountain West selection by Phil Steele heading into the 2015 season.

Davis, a 5-10, 170 pounder from La Mesa, California (Helix HS), was named a 247Sports True Freshman All-American a year ago as he finished the season tied for sixth on the team with 61 tackles (44-solo, 17-assist), tied for second on the team in interceptions with two and was fourth on the team with seven pass breakups, while he added 4.0 tackles for loss, one sack, one forced fumble and one quarterback hurry.

Davis is also a preseason fourth-team all-Mountain West selection by Phil Steele heading into the 2015 season.

Centers, a 5-9, 200 pounder from Chandler, Arizona (Chandler HS), earned honorable mention all-Mountain West honors as a sophomore as he ranked tied for first in the conference and tied for 10th in the nation in fumbles recovered (0.23 pg), tied for seventh in the MW in passes defended (0.85 pg) and 33rd in the MW in tackles (5.7 pg). He finished the season first on the team in fumbles recovered (three), first in pass breakups (10), fifth in tackles (74), tied for sixth in tackles for loss (6.5) and tied for sixth in sacks (3.0), while he added two quarterback hurries and one interception. In all, he returned two fumbles for touchdowns, with a 47-yard return against Wake Forest and a 10-yard return at Hawai'i, to rank as one of just 18 defenders at the FBS level to score multiple defensive touchdowns on the season.

Centers is also a preseason third-team all-Mountain West selection by Phil Steele heading into the 2015 season.

Hunt, a 5-8, 195 pounder from Fort Lauderdale, Florida (University HS), played in all 14 games during his freshman season, making four starts. He finished the year leading the team in rushing with 540 yards on 111 carries (4.9 ypc). Those 540 rushing yards are the third most by a freshman in school history. Hunt also caught 10 passes for 99 yards (9.9 ypc), including a 44-yard touchdown catch at Hawai’i.

Thompson, a 6-foot, 215 pounder from Logan, Utah (Logan HS), served as the team’s kickoff specialist in all 14 games during his sophomore campaign. He kicked off 66 times for 4,032 yards (61.1 ypk) with 26 touchbacks. Thompson recorded a season-high four touchbacks at BYU on six kickoffs, while his best kickoff game of the season was at Colorado State as he averaged 65.0 yards on four kickoffs with three touchbacks.

Utah State returns 16 starters and 41 letterwinners from last year's team that posted a 10-4 record, finished third in the Mountain Division of the Mountain West with a 6-2 record and ended its season with a 21-6 win against UTEP in the Gildan New Mexico Bowl. At season's end, USU received 11 top 25 votes in the final Associated Press poll and eight votes in the final ESPN/USA Today Coaches' poll to rank 32nd and 34th, respectively.

Utah State opens the 2015 season on Thursday, Sept. 3, at home against Southern Utah and begins Mountain West play on Saturday, Oct. 3, at home against Colorado State.