LOGAN — When the Utah State Aggies run out onto BB&T Field in Winston-Salem, North Carolina on Aug. 30 for the 2019 season opener against Wake Forest, there will be more than a few unfamiliar faces sporting Aggie blue.
All told, a combined 54 players and coaches from the 2018 team — a team that finished a program record-tying 11-2 last year — are gone.
In their place are a new coaching staff and a variety of underclassmen turned upperclassmen, players who are expected to have increased roles this year for the Aggies.
There is also a collection of transfers who have joined Utah State football from FBS programs like Utah, BYU and, most recently, Arizona State, as well as from the junior college level.
Practically all of those transfers — a group that includes former BYU running back Riley Burt, former Utah Utes Siaosi Mariner (wide receiver), Caleb Repp (tight end) and Nick Heninger (defensive end), and Jaylen Warren, an East High alum and 2016 Deseret News Mr. Football out of Snow College — will be expected to carry a load this season.
And each transfer, as it turns out, had their own unique journey to Logan, with some crossover, namely Utah State head coach Gary Andersen.
The former Cougar played an integral role in BYU’s convincing 49-18 victory over Western Michigan in the Famous Idaho Potato Bowl to close last season.
Burt was excellent in that game and rushed for 110 yards and a touchdown on only 13 carries.
Almost immediately following the contest, he was gone, though.
“Really, I just decided I was going to transfer after the bowl game last year,” Burt said.
What Burt didn’t know when he decided to leave BYU was just how fast the process would play out.
“It was all pretty fast,” he said. “I went into the portal, posted it on Twitter and I had DMs (direct messages) just like that. Calls were coming through. It was kind of cool. I got to redo the recruiting process a little bit.”
Burt visited a couple schools and talked to a couple teams, but when Andersen’s call came, his time as a recruit was over.
“Coach A called me one week and told me he wanted me to play for him,” said Burt. “I came up on a visit that next week and committed to Utah State the next day.”
It was a similar, if even quicker, experience for Repp.
“It wasn’t really anything,” he said. “I went into the transfer portal and the very next day Coach A called me. He was like ‘wassup,’ I was like ‘wassup,’ and that was it, really.”
BYU quarterbacks coach Aaron Roderick did reach out to Repp — Roderick had recruited him out of high school to Utah — but the California native was set on being an Aggie.
“It was pretty simple. I knew I was going to come up here the whole time,” Repp said.
That was not the case for Mariner, however.
Of all the recent transfers to Logan, Mariner arguably had the most schools available to him.
It was that fact, interestingly enough, that put Utah State over the edge.
“I didn’t really want to start the recruiting process over,” Mariner said. “At this point in my life, I am a fifth year senior. I had been recruited once before and I know what that whole thing was like. There were a lot of good colleges that came after me, but at the end it came down to BYU and Utah State.”
Mariner made it clear that it wasn’t easy to choose between the Aggies and the Cougars — ”It wasn’t necessarily an easy decision,” he said. “I knew guys at both programs.” — but his familiarity with Andersen, defensive coordinator Justin Ena, Repp and Heninger, among others, made Logan and Utah State too good of an opportunity to pass up.
“It was a lot of familiar faces,” he said. “When Coach A and the guys got the job here and made the change, it made it really easy for me. Coach A is a great guy, a great coach and to follow him was a no brainer.”
Fit played a significant role in Warren’s decision to join the Utah State football program. The bruising tailback had his choice between the Aggies and Hawaii Rainbow Warriors, but once again, Andersen proved the ultimate selling point.
“I went that JUCO route and was getting recruited by Utah State and Hawaii,” Warren said. “I looked at the odds and the evens and chose Utah State. I knew this was the right fit (for me) right after I got off the phone with head coach Andersen. I knew this was the place. My high school coach (East High head coach Brandon Matich) was familiar with him and I knew he wouldn’t do me dirty. He told me this was the right fit. I put my trust in him and this was my next move. I’ve loved it.”
So too has Troy Lefeged.
The safety, who is currently battling for a starting position, is another junior college transfer who joined the Aggies.
Coming out of Fullerton College in California, Lefeged — who is originally from Montgomery Village, Maryland — had a chance to take quite a few recruiting visits, but he chose not to. That is until a call came from Gary Andersen.
“There was a lot of recruiting, but I didn’t take most of my visits,” he said. “Then I talked to Coach Andersen, Coach (Mike) Caputo (safeties), and Coach (Mark) Orphey (cornerbacks) and I liked them so I took their visit. It felt like home. When I came here it really felt like home and I just told them, ‘I’m staying.’
“It was just the vibe. I am big on loyalties and reading people and I just got a different feel here. I even kind of verbally committed before I came. Talking to Coach Andersen really sealed the deal. He said he was all about us, and when I got here he showed that, and he is still showing that.”
Also joining the Aggies via transfer was Heninger, who has two years of eligibility remaining heading into the season, as well as additional junior college pieces in safety Cash Gilliam and receiver Sean Carter.
Heninger was thought to be the final piece added to the roster when it was announced that he had officially joined the Aggies on Aug. 7.
That is until Tuesday, Aug. 20, when Utah State announced that yet another transfer was headed to Logan, this time former ASU defensive back Terin Adams.
Like Heninger, Adams will have two years of eligibility remaining. He played in all 13 games last season, and recorded 30 tackles, three tackles for loss and a pass breakup.
Mariner perhaps put it best when it comes to why so many transfers have chosen the Aggies of late.
“They knew what I wanted, I knew what they wanted,” he said. “They want to win now and I am here to help them do that. I chose Utah State in the end and it was a better fit for me.”
It would seem that Utah State is a better fit for many.