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There is a subtle youth movement happening at Utah State and the Aggies are better off for it

Freshmen Ike Larsen, Weylin Lapuaho and Robert Briggs all contributed in significant ways in USU’s season opening win.

SHARE There is a subtle youth movement happening at Utah State and the Aggies are better off for it
Utah State Aggies safety Ike Larsen (19)  celebrates after intercepting a pass at Maverik Stadium in Logan on Aug. 27, 2022. T

Ike Larsen (19) from the Utah Aggies celebrates after intercepting a pass from the UConn Huskies at the Maverik Stadium in Logan on Saturday, Aug. 27, 2022. The Aggies won 31-20.

Ben B. Braun, Deseret News

Ike Larsen is going to be a household name in Cache Valley.

At least that is what Utah State senior cornerback Ajani Carter believes and when you hear it from him it is hard not to be convinced.

“Ike Larsen, he calls Logan, Utah his city. He says it is his city. It is going to be his city,” Carter said, matter-of-factly. “He is going to be a good guy. Ike is going to be good. If ya’ll stick around to see it, he is going to be really good.”

Weylin Lapuaho plays one of the least talked about positions on the football field — guard on the offensive line — but was named dropped twice following Utah State’s season opening win over UConn, first by Aggie head coach Blake Anderson and again by senior running Calvin Tyler Jr.

“Look at the true freshman Weylin out there grinding,” Tyler Jr. said. “I’m so proud of him. I’m proud of our whole O-line, but especially Weylin.”

Robert Briggs was a three-star recruit with all of two scholarship offers coming out of high school — one from Utah State, the other from Houston Baptist.

Listed at 5-foot-6, 175 pounds, Briggs didn’t even join the Aggies until fall camp. But on Saturday he was one of Utah State’s most important players.

“He has been a great addition,” Anderson said. “We needed him desperately and he showed up big today.”

Larsen, Lapuaho and Briggs are all freshmen — Larsen is a redshirt freshman, while Briggs and Lapuaho are true freshmen — who came through in game-changing ways for Utah State against UConn.

Larsen, a 5-foot-10, 175-pound safety, finished with an interception, a tackle for loss and a pass breakup — all career firsts.

His pick of Huskies’ quarterback Zion Turner with just under 5 minutes remaining in the game all but sealed the win for the Aggies, despite an overall up-and-down performance by Utah State.

“What a great play,” Anderson said. “He has been a guy that has just been coming on. A freshman from The Valley and you love when a local guy plays well and he can play. He’s stepping up and definitely not playing like a freshman.”

The 6-foot-4, 310-pound Lapuaho doesn’t have any stats to his name, but the Aggies rushed for 261 yards on 54 carries Saturday, with Tyler Jr. rushing for a career-high 161 yards by himself and none of that would have happened without Lapuaho.

“You have a true freshman out there playing right guard and to be able to have 160-something yards with Calvin and then have Briggs coming in and having the kind of day he had, that is encouraging and I think we can even get better at that,” Anderson said.

Speaking of Briggs, he rushed for 85 yards and a touchdown on 10 carries, giving the Aggies exactly the kind of change-of-pace back they needed behind Tyler.

“That is another piece that we honestly didn’t have,” Anderson said. “That change of pace, that change up is going to be really helpful if he can just continue to run.”

Neither Larsen, Lapuaho or Briggs were Utah State’s best player Saturday. Veterans like quarterback Logan Bonner, Tyler Jr., wide receivers Brian Cobbs and Kyle Van Leeuwen or defenders like linebacker MJ Tafisi or Carter or safety Hunter Reynolds have better claims to that.

But thanks to Larsen, Lapuaho and Briggs there is something of a youth movement happening at Utah State, and that isn’t normal.

Traditionally, young Aggie teams don’t win. Former Utah State head coach Gary Andersen might have said it best — he said it often — when he explained that Utah State is a developmental program. When the Aggies have won, it is has been because they have developed talent over years.

And yet, the developmental timetable seems to be speeding up in Logan, as evidenced by Larsen, Lapuaho and Briggs

It wasn’t just those three, either.

Redshirt freshman defensive tackle Seni Tuiaki recorded a tackle for loss and a pass breakup Saturday, career firsts.

Other underclassman like sophomore defensive tackle Tavian Coleman, sophomore wide receiver Jalen Royals, sophomore defensive end John Ward, sophomore quarterback Levi Williams, redshirt freshman wide receiver NyNy Davis, redshirt freshman linebacker Cole Joyce, redshirt freshman offensive lineman Elia Migao, redshirt freshman defensive end Enoka Migao, redshirt freshman linebacker Sione Moa and true freshman linebacker Max Alford all made their Aggie debuts and each showed glimpses of their potential.

Utah State has plenty of room for improvement after its performance against UConn.

Turnovers were an issue, tackling — especially early — left a lot to be desired and the offense never seemed to get into any sort of real rhythm.

“We are not a finished product by any means,” Anderson said. “We all need to go back and work to get better. It was eye opening. We have a ton of work to do and nothing is going to come easy for us. We are not that team and that is okay. We have to get comfortable in that situation.”

With young talent already contributing, though, there doesn’t seem to be any reason Utah State can’t improve by leaps and bounds going forward this season.