LOGAN — It definitely feels like this might finally be Ricky Ali'ifua's year.

Still just a junior heading into the 2015 season, the 6-foot-2, 285-pound defensive end was originally signed by the Aggies all the way back in 2009 — the first of former head coach Gary Andersen's four years at Utah State. But before Ali'fua could get on the field, he was declared ineligible by the NCAA Clearinghouse and had to complete some online high school classes in order to become eligible.

By that time, Ali'ifua was ready to leave on an LDS mission to Oklahoma, taking the San Leandro, California native away from football for another two years.

"I actually had a lot more offers coming back off of my mission than I did coming out of high school," Ali'ifua says. "All the Utah schools were after me, along with Oregon State and a few from California. But I felt a sense of loyalty to Utah State because they stayed loyal to me, and it's been the best decision I've made in my life so far.

"I mean, I met my wife up here, and she has blessed me with a wonderful son. So, I definitely feel like I made the right decision."

Married to former USU volleyball player Tumua Etimani, Ali'ifua says the birth of his son, Tavai, on Jan. 11, has been "a blessing."

"He's definitely pushed me and my wife to go above our normal duties as adults, so it's been wonderful," Ali'ifua explains with a smile. "I'm sure I would normally be tired when I came home, but when I look at him and he smiles, suddenly I'm not tired anymore."

Although he has played in 27 games over the past two seasons, Ali'ifua is still looking for his first collegiate start and is likely to get it this fall. Slated to step into the big shoes left behind by B.J. Larsen, Ali'ifua, who recorded 22 total tackles in 2014, has been turning heads with his energy and enthusiasm.

"I'll tell you, that young man from the middle of spring ball when we were resting Jordan (Nielsen) and Travis (Seefeldt) from injuries during the season, Ricky's leadership really started to emerge, as well as his play," USU head coach Matt Wells says. "And then, really since the accident, he and Jordan have really taken that room and been great leaders."

Ali'ifua was in a vehicle just behind the SUV driven by Seefeldt that was hit by a semi-truck in rural Cache Valley in late June. While Seefeldt, who was slated to start at nose guard this season, isn't likely to play in 2015 due to his injuries, three other Aggie D-linemen — John Taylor, Edmund Faimalo and Adewale Adeoye — are working their way back onto the field.

"We reacted as best as we know how," Ali'ifua says of the horrific crash. "I mean, obviously we’re not medics; we’re not trained for those type of things. But we were there and more than anything, we were able to make sure that they all stayed awake. I think that was one of our biggest fears is that many of them were close to passing out, and that’s something that we didn’t want."

Ali'ifua, who a member of the Academic All-Mountain West the past two years, says the accident "was a great time to see how big our brotherhood is and how strong it is."

"I love the camaraderie that we have here in the locker room, and it showed up that day and the following week for sure."

Ali'ifua is anxious to enjoy a real brotherhood at USU, as well. His younger — but bigger — brother, Demytrick, signed with the Aggies, and is slated to move to Logan in January in preparation for his first collegiate season as an offensive lineman.

"Hopefully he makes the squad for my senior year," Ali'ifua says of Demytrick. "It would be nice to have a little Ali'ifua action on both sides of the ball."

In the meantime, there's the 2015 season, and Ricky Ali'ifua says the birth of his son has "brought a lot of life into my own life."

"I think I took football for granted the last two years, and I was kind of feeling sorry for myself," he notes. "He's helped me care about the things that are actually important and forget about the things that are relatively insignificant."

Wells, who says Ali'ifua is "a grown man, a team captain, a great dad and a great husband," believes that's all been showing up on the field during USU's fall camp.

"His performance has been A-plus," Wells declares. "With his energy and his effort, I don't think he's had a bad day."


Chuckie Keeton: Aggies counting on quarterback, in fifth and final year, to go out on a high note

Randy Hollis: Utah State Aggies building a consistent winning culture in Cache Valley

Two-deep: Utah State's 2015 depth chart