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How Utah State went about pursuing former Utah quarterback Bryson Barnes

The former Utah walk-on transferred to Utah State following Utah’s bowl game against Northwestern

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Utah Utes quarterback Cam Rising speaks to Bryson Barnes after Barnes threw an interception on Oct. 21, 2023.

Utah Utes quarterback Cam Rising speaks to Bryson Barnes during the Utes’ game against USC at the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum on Saturday, Oct. 21, 2023. Barnes, who was a hero in the Utes’ victory over the Trojans, joined the Utah State football program during the offseason via the transfer portal.

Laura Seitz, Deseret News

Unique.

That is how Blake Anderson describes the recruitment of former University of Utah quarterback Bryson Barnes by Utah State.

Barnes, a former Utah team captain, elected to leave behind Salt Lake City and head to Logan this winter, following four years at the U.

“I don’t think he really wanted to get too far away from home. I think us being close was an impact. Him being married and having a family just a couple of hours down the road was a big piece.” — Utah Stat coach Blake Anderson the recruitment of Bryson Barnes

It wasn’t a normal recruiting process that led to him transferring to USU, though.

“Our recruitment of him was a little unique,” Anderson, Utah State’s head coach, said.

The Aggies were quick to reach out to Barnes when he announced that he had entered his name into the NCAA transfer portal on Dec. 4, but they didn’t get exactly the feedback they wanted.

Said Anderson: “Didn’t get a tremendous response. I think there was so much going on at the time, he was a little bit overwhelmed.”

Barnes was going to play quarterback for the Utes in their bowl game against Northwestern, despite entering the portal, and per Anderson, the QB had many suitors once he entered the portal.

So the Aggies chose to take a back seat.

“We just kind of let it sit there a little bit and didn’t do a whole lot,” Anderson said.

As explained by Anderson, USU did eventually reach out again to Barnes, and “little by little, as the process moved forward, we started having more and more conversations.”

Ultimately, Barnes decided that Utah State was the desired transfer destination, and he was officially signed by the Aggies on Jan. 9, more than a month after his entry into the transfer portal.

What led to him picking USU?

“I don’t think he really wanted to get too far away from home,” Anderson said. “I think us being close was an impact. Him being married and having a family just a couple of hours down the road was a big piece.

“The opportunity to compete for the (starting quarterback) job was a huge part of that, but also (he came in) eyes wide open as to the fact that Cooper (Legas) was coming back and that Spencer (Petras) had already committed to come. He (Barnes) wasn’t afraid of that.”

As Anderson tells it, Barnes was upfront about his desire to be the Aggies’ starting quarterback next season — he has two years of eligibility remaining — but he also voiced that he was willing to accept the decision of the coaching staff.

“‘Coach,’ Barnes said to Anderson, ‘whatever my role ends up being. If I can win the job, that is what I want to do. If I don’t win the job, I’m going to be the best guy in the room I can possibly be and wait for my opportunity to present itself.’”

The battle for the starting quarterback job next season promises to be an interesting one. Anderson himself described it as a “heavyweight battle.”

The Aggies return starting quarterback Cooper Legas, an understudy of record-breaking USU quarterbacks Jordan Love and Logan Bonner. Legas was dynamic last season for USU, while splitting time with McCae Hillstead.

Utah quarterback Bryson Barnes jogs off field during game vs. the USC Trojans at Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum on Saturday

Utah Utes quarterback Bryson Barnes (16) runs off field during the game against the USC Trojans at the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum on Saturday, Oct. 21, 2023.

Laura Seitz, Deseret News

Hillstead is back as well, having flashed starting QB potential before injuries left him a shell of himself by the end of the year.

Then there is Petras, the former starting quarterback at Iowa who transferred to USU this winter for his final collegiate season.

Barnes and Petras have already impressed Anderson. He described their work ethic as “feverish.”

“They are in the building all day, every day,” he said. “Both Bryson and Spence are here every day watching tape, going on the board, signals. They are already throwing a bit with the guys.”

When both Barnes and Petras showed interest in Utah State, Anderson made it clear that he wasn’t promising the starting job to either of them. Rather he was promising the chance to compete for the starting job.

And now, with three experienced starting QBs on the team, plus the rising Hillstead, Anderson can’t wait to get started.

“It is going to be an extremely competitive room,” he said. “We told them all the same thing and they’ve all acted exactly how I expected. They’ve come and worked hard every day, already preparing at a high level. I cannot wait to get in there (the QB room) with them this spring, and on the field with them, and really have what I think is going to be a heavyweight battle in terms of quarterback room.

“... It is going to be a lot of fun.”

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Utah State quarterback Cooper Legas looks to throw during a game Saturday, Oct. 7, 2023 in Logan, Utah. Legas will return to the Aggies this season to compete for QB1 duties.

Tyler Tate, Associated Press