clock menu more-arrow no yes

Filed under:

Player development is lifeblood of Utah State football. How’s it going this year?

Utah State Aggies cornerback Jakob Robinson (26) tackles Fresno State Bulldogs running back Ronnie Rivers (20) in Logan on Saturday, Nov. 14, 2020.
Utah State Aggies freshman cornerback Jakob Robinson (26) tackles Fresno State Bulldogs running back Ronnie Rivers (20) in Logan on Saturday, Nov. 14, 2020.
Jeffrey D. Allred, Deseret News

Spend any time around the Utah State football program and you’ll hear it, over and over and over again.

It isn’t whispered. It isn’t spoken about in hushed tones. It certainly is not a secret. For the Aggies it is a point of pride.

USU is a developmental program.

Utah State simply doesn’t bring in the flashy, ready-made recruits. A look at the past 10 years’ recruiting rankings, per 247sports, makes that abundantly clear.

On average since 2010, the Aggies have had the 105th-rated recruiting class in Division 1 college football (which includes both FBS and FCS).

The highest-rated class they’ve had during that span, which is arguably the most successful decade in program history, is 90th (2019). The lowest-rated class, meanwhile, was this past one (2020).

USU is regularly in the bottom half of the Mountain West Conference when it comes to recruiting rankings and has only secured the services of a four-star recruit or better once. Ever.

(In fairness, recruiting rankings weren’t around in the time of Merlin Olsen).

And yet, the Aggies have won 67 games in the past 10 seasons, and made it to a bowl game in 8 of the last 9 years.

The program has proven more than capable of sending players to the pros, too. Currently 13 former Aggies are in the NFL, including Seattle Seahawks star linebacker Bobby Wagner, Las Vegas Raiders cornerback Nevin Lawson and New York Giants linebacker Kyler Fackrell.

At this point it should be clear, any success Utah State has had or will continue to have comes down to player development. And they know it.

“These are talented guys,” interim head coach Frank Maile said. “I look forward to them making progress, not only for now, but for the future.”

Development comes about in the obvious places, i.e. practices, spring camp and fall camp.

There is a general understanding, though, that no matter how effective those practices and camps might be, nothing can replicate actual gameplay. The greatest player development always comes in the crucible of competition. And that crucible has been blisteringly hot for USU this season.

That might be a good thing too. Utah State is the 13th youngest program in the FBS ranks. More than 65% percent of the Aggies’ roster is comprised of freshmen and sophomores. Overall, USU has 46 freshmen and 22 sophomores, to go along with only nine juniors and 22 seniors.

Given how the season has gone thus far, it is time to get to know those underclassmen a little, learn their names and gain a little understanding into how their development is coming along.

It is coming along, believe it or not, albeit slowly.

“With guys being out (due to COVID-19) and guys being hurt, you continue to see young guys plays,” Maile said. “They still have a lot to prove and they know it and they haven’t flinched one bit doing that. Part of this year is trying to build depth and getting our young guys ready to go. That is part of what this year is.

“The biggest thing is who are we? What do we do well offensively and defensively? We have to continue to get better at that. We have to get better internally with technique, fundamentals and understanding the scheme. As long as our kids understand what they are doing and how to do it, they’ll be fine. We’ve asked our young kids to do a lot of things and they’ve done a great job keeping their eye on the goal.”

Here is every USU underclassmen who has played in a game this season.


Utah State quarterback Andrew Peasley (6) runs with the ball as San Diego State safety Tariq Thompson (14) defends during the second half of an NCAA football game Saturday, Oct. 31, 2020, in Logan.
Eli Lucero, The Herald Journal via Associated Press

Offense

Quarterback

Andrew Peasley

6-2, 205, Sophomore

Peasley has played in three games, all in relief of former starting quarterback Jason Shelley. The La Grande, Oregon, native has completed 6 of 16 passes for 29 yards and an interception, and also rushed for 24 yards on three carries. He is expected to battle with redshirt freshman Cooper Legas for the starting quarterback job going forward.

“I think they compete it. I think it is up for competition there. Peasley has the upper hand because he knows the offense better, has more experience, but that doesn’t speak to what the competition will look like.” — Frank Maile


Utah State Aggies running back Pailate Makakona (29) runs against Fresno State Bulldogs defensive lineman David Perales (99) in Logan on Saturday, Nov. 14, 2020.
Utah State Aggies running back Pailate Makakona (29) runs against Fresno State Bulldogs defensive lineman David Perales (99) in Logan on Saturday, Nov. 14, 2020.
Jeffrey D. Allred, Deseret News

Running back

John Gentry

5-10, 195, Freshman

Gentry hasn’t played much in relief of senior Jaylen Warren and Devonta’e Henry-Cole, but does have a rush for 19 yards and three receptions in three games played.

Pailate Makakona

5-10, 215, Sophomore

Makakona has played in every game this season, but has made his biggest impact in the last two, carrying the ball three times for 15 yards against Nevada and then carrying the ball once against Fresno State.

Elelyon Noa

5-9, 200, Freshman

Noa has been the third back for the Aggies much of the year and played in all four games. Noa has six and seven carries apiece against Boise State and San Diego State, for 15 and 16 yards respectively, before falling behind Makakona on the depth chart.


Utah State Aggies wide receiver Justin McGriff (10) can’t come up with the catch under pressure form Fresno State Bulldogs defensive back Bralyn Lux (38) in Logan on Saturday, Nov. 14, 2020.
Utah State Aggies wide receiver Justin McGriff (10) can’t come up with the catch under pressure form Fresno State Bulldogs defensive back Bralyn Lux (38) in Logan on Saturday, Nov. 14, 2020.
Jeffrey D. Allred, Deseret News

Wide receiver

Justin McGriff

6-6, 220, Sophomore

McGriff has been one of the Aggies’ better receivers, behind junior Deven Thompkins. He has 10 receptions for 80 yards and a touchdown and has had at least two receptions in three of four games played.

Ajani Carter

6-0, 185, Sophomore

Carter has played primarily on special teams, and has three tackles in three games played. He has yet to record a reception.

Tim Patrick Jr.

6-0, 185, Sophomore

Younger brother of former Utah Utes and current Denver Broncos wide receiver Tim Patrick, Patrick has yet to record a reception and has played in only one game.


Tight end

Broc Lane

6-5, 230, Freshman

Lane has played in all four games as a true freshman, and has two receptions for nine yards, with both catches coming against San Diego State.

Bryce Mortensen

6-6, 240, Sophomore

Mortensen has played in every game for the Aggies this season, with a single reception in games against Boise State and Fresno State.


Utah State Aggies quarterback Jason Shelley (15) throws against the Fresno State Bulldogs in Logan on Saturday, Nov. 14, 2020.
Utah State Aggies quarterback Jason Shelley (15) throws against the Fresno State Bulldogs in Logan on Saturday, Nov. 14, 2020.
Jeffrey D. Allred, Deseret News

Offensive line

Falepule Alo

6-3, 335, Freshman

A native of Salt Lake City, Alo played for the East Leopards in high school, Alo has seen time in three of four games this season, as a true freshman.

Andy Koch

6-6, 295, Sophomore

Back from season-ending injury that cost him most of the 2019 season, Koch has started in all four games.

Wade Meacham

6-6, 310, Sophomore

A former Layton Lancer, Meacham, like Koch has been an every game lineman for the Aggies this season.

Jackson Owens

6-5, 315, Redshirt freshman

A former East High lineman, Owens has played in two games this year, after playing in three in 2019 true freshman.

Karter Shaw

6-4, 305, Sophomore

Shaw started in all 13 games last season as a redshirt freshman and has picked up where he left off, playing in all four games this year.

Jacob South

6-5, 295, Sophomore

South has played in two games this season, after playing in 10 games, including three stars, a year ago.

“I don’t know if you’d consider Andy (Koch) a young guy, but we have some promising young guys. Effort wise, they are there. It is just about learning.

“(True freshman) Sage Hill is a good kid. He is going to be good, but especially ’Pule Alo. He is going to be really really good once he learns football a little better. He is doing really well for us, as a starting true freshman. I’m pretty proud of him and where he is heading.” — Utah State center Demytrick Ali’fua


San Diego State running back Chance Bell (21) runs downfield as Utah State defensive lineman Hale Motu’apuaka (92) chases after him during the first half of an NCAA college football game Saturday, Oct. 31, 2020, in Logan, Utah.
Eli Lucero, The Herald Journal via Associated Press

Defense

Defensive line

James Hansen

6-4, 280, Sophomore

A JUCO transfer, Hansen has played in three games, recording three tackles and a quarterback hurry.

Hale Motu’apuaka

6-2, 275, Sophomore

Motu’apuaka has been an important piece in the Aggies’ front seven, with four tackles and a blocked kick in four games played.

Poukesi Vakauta

6-1, 280, Freshman

A true freshman, Vakauta has only made an appearance in one game this year, against Nevada, against whom he recorded a single tackle.


Utah State Aggies linebacker Elijah Shelton (41) sacks Fresno State Bulldogs quarterback Jake Haener (9) in Logan on Saturday, Nov. 14, 2020.
Utah State Aggies linebacker Elijah Shelton (41) sacks Fresno State Bulldogs quarterback Jake Haener (9) in Logan on Saturday, Nov. 14, 2020.
Jeffrey D. Allred, Deseret News

Linebacker

Mata Hola

6-3, 230, Freshman

Hola has only played in one game, the season opener against Boise State, and has recorded a single tackle.

Kina Maile

6-1, 230, Freshman

Maile has seen the field in two games this year, but has yet to record a defensive statistic.

Kaleo Neves

6-0, 195, Freshman

A redshirt freshman, Neves has played in all four games, completely on special teams.

Elijah Shelton

6-1, 230, Sophomore

Shelton has been one of the Aggies’ most productive defenders through the first four games. He has played in every one and racked up 15 tackles, including 3.5 tackles for loss, and two sacks.

Izzy Vaifo’ou

6-3, 230, Freshman

Has played in two games thus far as a true freshman, recording four total tackles.

AJ Vongphachanh

6-3, 230, Sophomore

Vongphachanh has been USU’s most productive defender this season. The Pasco, Washington, native has a team-high 33 tackles, including 2.5 tackles for loss, as well as two sacks and a forced fumble.


Utah State Aggies cornerback Cam Lampkin (6) sacks Fresno State Bulldogs quarterback Jake Haener (9) in Logan on Saturday, Nov. 14, 2020.
Utah State Aggies cornerback Cam Lampkin (6) sacks Fresno State Bulldogs quarterback Jake Haener (9) in Logan on Saturday, Nov. 14, 2020.
Jeffrey D. Allred, Deseret News

Cornerback

Michael Anyanwu

5-9, 170, Sophomore

Anyanwu has played in every one of the Utah State’s games this season and recorded a single tackle.

Cam Lampkin

5-9, 170, Sophomore

A key defender last season as a freshman, Lampkin has tried to pick up where he left off. Lampkin. Lampkin has started every game, recorded 16 tackles, including two tackles for loss, a sack, and a pass breakup.

Jakob Robinson

5-10, 165, Freshman

A true freshman out of Orem High, Robinson has played in two games, the season opener against Boise State and the Aggies’ most recent setback against Fresno State. Robinson has five total tackle, four of which were solo wrap-ups.

Dominic Tatum

6-2, 180, Sophomore

Tatum has played in every game thus far, recorded nine tackles, including 0.5 tackles for loss, and a pass breakup.

“They continue to grow. Dom Tatum has done a solid job and Jakob Robinson has come in and made freshman mistakes, but there is a lot of talent potential there. We continue to see him grow on a daily basis. That is part of what this year is.” — Frank Maile


Safety

Luke Marion

6-0, 185, Freshman

A true freshman out of Tualatin, Oregon, Marion has played in a single game this season and has yet to record a defensive statistic.

Breaker Mendenhall

6-3, 185, Freshman

Bronco Mendenhall’s son, Breaker has played in one game this season, his true freshman campaign and has yet to record a defensive statistic.


Special teams

Punter

Stephen Kotsanlee

6-1, 205, Freshman

Kotsanlee has been arguably the Aggies’ best player this season. After winning the starting punting job in camp, Kotsanlee has become a weapon for the USU. He has punted the ball 32 times in four games, for 1,289 yards, an average of 40.28 yards per punt. He had a career-long punt of 63 yards against Fresno State, has had four punts of 50-plus yards and has 12 kicks downed within the 20 yard line.

Place-kicker

Joey Rouly

6-0, 180, Freshman

Utah State’s kickoff specialist this season, Rouly has averaged 59 yards per kick, with two touchbacks.

“He (Kotsanlee) is big time now. He is big time. He don’t flinch. None of that stuff phases him. We are fortunate he is on our football team and he has done a great job. He is a mentally tough kid. He has done a great job and excited to have him on our team.” — Frank Maile