LOGAN — Utah State’s football team held its 12th practice of spring camp Thursday afternoon inside the Stan Laub Indoor Training Center and the Aggie special teams continue to work on fundamentals and techniques in an attempt to change the momentum and make a difference in football games when given opportunities.
Stacy Collins, who is entering his fourth year as an assistant coach at Utah State, is now in his second stint as the Aggies’ special teams coordinator after also serving in that capacity during the 2016 campaign, which was his first at USU.
“Practice has been great,” said Collins. “We have a lot of competition and have some guys coming back, not only with our specialists, but with our special teams units. We have gotten a lot of good work in and we're in a really good place this spring.
“We are always concentrating on our coverage units, so we start with our punt and kickoff units. Those fundamentals and techniques are the biggest emphasis on the change of field possession that's out there. We spend a lot of time with our PATs and field goals, making sure we're putting points on the board. We've been doing a lot of individual fundamental drills, controlled-space drills, and getting the chance to evaluate guys that have got into the program and how they've improved. We're evaluating some of the guys that are new to the program too. We have a lot of competition in our special teams drills and a lot of fundamentals.”
Highlighting Utah State’s specialists are two of the top players in the nation at their respective positions in senior placekicker Dominik Eberle and junior kick returner Savon Scarver.
“You have Dominik that's not only a great field goal kicker, he excels at his kickoff and touchback ratio, as well as his ability to work with the specialists kicks. We've worked him in with our punters too with our roll-out schemes. Savon is an electric player. We want to get the ball in his hands and certainly you're going to see people try to kick away from him at times. We have to be creative with how we're doing that. Both of those guys can put points on the board. They can change the game and we're fired up to have them back,” said Collins.
Scarver was named a consensus All-American as a returner/all-purpose player last year as he received first-team All-America honors from two of the five outlets that comprise the NCAA Consensus All-America team, including the Walter Camp Football Foundation and the Football Writers Association of America.
As a sophomore, Scarver led the nation in kickoff returns (33.7 ypr), and tied for second with a pair of kickoff returns for touchdowns.
During the 2018 season, Scarver returned 22 kickoffs for 742 yards, including four returns of 50-or-more yards. His two kickoff returns for touchdowns (100 yards vs. New Mexico State and 96 yards at Wyoming) rank as the second-most in a single-season in school history.
For his career, Scarver has three total kickoff returns for touchdowns, which is second all-time in school history. Scarver's career kickoff return average of 28.5 yards is the third-best in Utah State history.
Eberle, an honorable mention all-Mountain West selection as a junior, led the conference and was fourth in the nation in scoring (10.8 ppg) last season. He was also first in the MW and ninth in the nation in field goals made (1.69 pg), third in the MW and 37th in the nation in field goal percentage (.786), as he was 22-of-28 on the season, and seventh in the MW and 69th in the nation in points responsible for with 141 (10.8 pg).
As a junior, Eberle set four school records with his 141 points, 75 extra points made and attempted, and 10.8 points per game scoring average. Eberle also tied the single-season school record with his 28 field goal attempts and is one of just seven kickers in school history to not miss an extra point during the entire season. In fact, Eberle has made all 122 of his extra points during his career, which is a school record.
Eberle also set several Utah State single-game records in 2018, including tying two NCAA records in USU's 60-13 home win against New Mexico State on Sept. 8. First, Eberle tied the NCAA record for points scored in a game by a kicker with 24. Eberle also tied an NCAA record with his three 51-yard field goals, becoming just the sixth player ever to kick three 50-plus yard field goals in a game. Eberle also set school and Mountain West records with his six made field goals, while his six field goal attempts tied his own school record that was set last season. In all, those six made field goals are tied for the third-most in a single-game in NCAA history.
As a sophomore in 2017, Eberle was a finalist for the Lou Groza Award and was named a third-team All-American by Phil Steele’s Magazine and an honorable mention All-American by SB Nation, along with garnering first-team all-Mountain West honors.
Utah State also returns its long snapper from last season in junior Brandon Pada, and welcomes back senior punter Aaron Dalton, who received a medical redshirt last season. Pada served as the team’s long snapper in all 13 games last season, while Dalton has appeared in 37 games during his Aggie career. Overall, he has punted 210 times for an average of 40.5 yards per punt with 27 punts of at least 50 yards and 72 punts downed inside the 20-yard line.
“Aaron has done a great job coming back and he's been healthy,” said Collins. “We added Chris Bartolic in the winter and he's done a great job throughout spring practice, as well as Jackson Hansen. It's great to have Aaron back, certainly a veteran guy coming back and he's healthy, which is good to see.”
Another specialist returning for Utah State is junior punt returner Jordan Nathan. As a sophomore in 2018, Nathan earned second-team all-Mountain West honors from Phil Steele’s Magazine as he returned 20 punts for 166 yards (8.3 ypr) and one touchdown. Overall, he ranked third in the MW and 32nd in the nation with his average of 8.3 yards per return and tied for sixth nationally with his one punt return for touchdown.
For his career, Nathan ranks 10th all-time in school history with a career punt return average of 8.4 yards as he has returned 43 punts for 362 yards.
“Jordan and Brandon have both done a great job. Both guys are continuously working on their craft. Brandon has done a great job snapping and we put him on scholarship this winter, which is great. He's earned that and started for us last year. Jordan is great with the ball in his hands. It's nice to have all those guys back and we have to continue to grow and get better,” stated Collins.
Additionally, Utah State returns three other specialists that redshirted last season in sophomore placekicker Connor Coles, freshman long snapper Noah Howell and freshman placekicker Ben Norton.
Newcomers who joined the team this spring include junior punter Chris Bartolic, freshmen punters Jackson Hansen and Jake Walrath and freshman kicker Tanner Dayton.
Utah State will continue with spring practice this week as it holds its annual Blue vs. White Spring Game on Saturday, April 13, on Merlin Olsen Field at Maverik Stadium, at noon. USU will then conclude spring camp with a pair of closed practices next Monday and Tuesday, April 15-16.
2019 Utah State football spring practice dates
Saturday, April 13 - Noon - Blue vs. White Spring Game (Open to public and media)
Monday, April 15 - (Closed)
Tuesday, April 16 - (Closed)