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Jalen Royals had 7 touchdowns in an 8-quarter window. Who is this guy? Where did he come from?

The Utah State wide receiver has taken a star turn for the Aggies after not recording a single stat last season

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Utah State wide receiver Jalen Royals catches a touchdown pass as Fresno State defensive back Al’zillion Hamilton (3) defends during the first half of an NCAA college football game Friday, Oct. 13, 2023, in Logan, Utah.

Eli Lucero/The Herald Journal via AP

You’d be forgiven if you didn’t know who Jalen Royals is.

After all, the Utah State wide receiver was a complete non-factor in 2022. Quite literally.

Royals played in all 12 of the Aggies’ games last season but didn’t record a single statistic for a team that was desperate for playmaking most of the time.

The junior college transfer from Georgia Military College was a long-term prospect to be sure, one blessed with elite speed (4.3 second 100-yard dash), good size (he is listed at 6-foot, 195 pounds), but nowhere close to being a real contributor.

Fast forward to 2023, however, and Royals looks like a star and quite possibility the next Aggie receiver to make it in the NFL, in the vein of Deven Thompkins.

Over the course of eight quarters — the second half against UConn, the Colorado State game and the first half against Fresno State — Royals has accounted for seven touchdown receptions, five of which have gone for 50-plus yards.

Moreover, Royals has had 100-plus receiving yards in each of the last three contests and has become USU’s clear No. 1 receiver — leading the team with 637 receiving yards and nine TDs, averaging 17-plus yards per catch.

Royals has done it every way imaginable as well, catching deep balls, turning screen passes into scores and besting defensive backs with hotly contested one-on-one grabs.

His route running in the first half against the Bulldogs in particular — going back to the ball rather than waiting for it — turned probable incompletions into major gains for the Aggies, who scored only their second first-quarter touchdown of the season on a Royals grab.

Here are some of his recent touchdowns:

A Georgia native — he went to Hillgrove High School in Powder Springs — Royals won’t be found in either Rivals or 247 Sports’ recruiting databases. He was that much of an unknown coming out of high school after recording 26 catches for 455 yards and four touchdowns during his senior season.

In his one year at Georgia Military College, Royals played in 11 games and recorded only seven catches for 92 yards and two touchdowns.

By the looks of things, Utah State found — and has developed — another diamond in the rough.

Where did this leap come from? Both Royals and and Utah State head coach Blake Anderson believe the talent has always been there. The difference this season largely a case of increased confidence.

“I think his confidence level is just at a really, really high level right now,” Anderson said.

Said Royals: “I’m playing with a lot of confidence right now. I think I’m one of the best receivers in this conference and maybe in college football.”

Anderson did not that Royals has improved as a receiver. It is all belief that has powered his breakout season.

“His move at the line of scrimmage has gotten better and better,” Anderson said. “He’s elevating and playing above the rim, which is something that doesn’t come naturally to everybody. He’s making competitive catches at the point of attack with bodies around him.

“So I mean, I think he’s a well rounded player that can kind of do whatever we need him to do.”