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Aggies looking for defenders heading into Signing Day

USU head football coach Matt Wells smiles following a punt return by an Aggie fan during Saturday's Blue vs. White Spring Game at Maverik Stadium in Logan.
USU head football coach Matt Wells smiles following a punt return by an Aggie fan during Saturday's Blue vs. White Spring Game at Maverik Stadium in Logan.
Jeff Hunter,

LOGAN — After focusing primarily on the offensive side of the ball during the early signing period, Utah State head football coach Matt Wells is looking forward to receiving National Letters of Intent from some future Aggie defenders Wednesday morning.

The seven athletes expected to sign with USU on National Signing Day are all primarily defensive players, and five of those anticipated signees are products of Utah high schools.

Three East High Leopards have made verbal commitments to the Aggies — linebacker Johnson Hansen, safety Christian Nash and defensive end Seni Tuiaki — while Timpview High linebacker Karene Reid and Highland High linebacker Elijah Shelton have also verbally committed to Utah State.

"First, I'd like to thank my Heavenly Father above for blessing me with this talent I have to continue to play the sport I love most. I like to thank my coaches, especially Coach Matich for preparing me for the next level and to my family and friends being there for me during this recruiting process. I would also like to thank all the schools that offered me. With that being said I am excited to announce my commitment to UTAH STATE UNIVERSITY," Tuiaki tweeted on Christmas Day.

From outside the state of Utah, the Aggies have also received verbal commits from cornerback Michael Anyanwu from Covina, California, and cornerback Deven Thompkins of Ft. Myers, Florida.

Anyanwu also received offers from Army, Navy and San Jose State during his senior season at Charter Oak High School, where he racked up 10 interceptions, 11 pass breakups and 32 tackles during his season. Thompkins, meanwhile, shined at both wide receiver and cornerback last season at Dunbar High School after transferring from Bishop Verot High School and could be used in a variety of roles for the Aggies.

Reid was a Deseret News first-team, all-state selection in 2017 after totaling a team-high 84 tackles as a senior, including 11 for loss. The Timpview linebacker had offers from Air Force, Fresno State and Navy, while Shelton was also offered by Air Force, Fresno State and Navy among other schools after finishing last season at Highland with 16 tackles and two sacks.

Shelton tweeted out his verbal commitment to USU on Jan. 16: “I would like to thank my mom for everything she has done to support my dreams of playing at the next level. I’d also like to say thank you to all the coaches that believed in me from the beginning and throughout the process. I have never had to make a decision as difficult as this one, but tonight I have. With that being said, I feel that the best fit for me is to continue my education and play football for Utah State University.” Another linebacker, Hansen, leads the trio Aggie commits out of East High. He also had offers from Fresno State and Navy and drew interest from BYU and Utah after compiling 117 tackles and 15 ½ sacks for the Leopards, who lost to Bingham in the 6A state championship game.

Tuiaki, who was also on that team but was limited to a mere six games last season, received offers from Fresno State, Georgia Tech and Navy. Meanwhile, an early-season injury saw Nash get into just nine games for the Leopards, but the speedy senior scored three touchdowns as a receiver while racking up 52 tackles and four interceptions.

“Much thought, prayer, and guidance has brought me to this decision,” Nash tweeted back in late October. “With that being said; I am blessed to announce my commitment to Utah State!”

Wells also announced the signing of 12 athletes during the early signing period back in December, including six offensive linemen.

The Aggies, who are coming off of a 6-7 season that ended with an overtime loss to New Mexico State in the NOVA Home Loans Arizona Bowl, will have a new defensive coordinator in 2018. Wells announced the hiring of Keith Patterson, who has spent 11 total seasons as a DC during stints at Arizona State, West Virginia, Pittsburgh and Tulsa, on Jan. 30.

The past couple of seasons, Utah State’s defensive unit boasted co-coordinators in Kendrick Shaver and Frank Maile. But Shaver was hired away by Washington State in mid-January to coach Mike Leach’s safeties, while Maile, a former Aggie player, will continue to coach USU’s defensive line.

Last season the Aggies finished fifth in the Mountain West in scoring offense (26.9 ppg), fourth in pass defense (182.5 ypg), ninth in rushing defense (217.2 ypg) and seventh in total defense (399.6 ypg).