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Why Utah State’s Troy Lefeged Jr. is moving from safety to nickel

Kent State quarterback Dustin Crum (14) carries the ball as Utah State safety Troy Lefeged Jr. (3) defends during the first half of the Frisco Bowl Friday, Dec. 20, 2019, in Frisco, Texas. Kent State won 51-41.
Brandon Wade, Associated Press

LOGAN — Troy Lefeged Jr. was a standout safety for Utah State last season. So good in fact, that “tremendous” was a word USU head coach Gary Andersen threw out without a moment’s hesitation when asked about him.

“Troy was a tremendous player for us last year,” Andersen said.

To his point, Lefeged started all 13 games for the Aggies and led the team with 104 tackles. He tied for second on the team with two sacks and tied for fourth with six tackles for loss. He racked up forced fumbles (three), fumble recoveries (two) and pass breakups (four), and recorded double-digit tackles in five games, including a career-high 14 tackles against Kent State.

It isn’t a stretch to say that Lefeged was one of the Aggies’ best players in 2019 and the expectation is that he will be that again in 2020. Only, he won’t do so as a safety.

Come the season opener against Washington State, Lefeged will be a full-time nickel back. He played some nickel in 2019, starting at the position in the win over Stony Brook, but most of his production came at safety. And yet, he is open to the change.

“I like it,” he said. “I think I can play anywhere in the secondary.”

But why change? Why move Lefeged from a position he excelled at? Well for one, the Aggies needed to.

“We’ve moved some guys around a bit to make sure our best 11 are always playing,” co-defensive coordinator Stacy Collins said.

Just as important, though, the position change was made with Lefeged’s future in mind.

Lefeged has designs on a professional playing career. Early in his college career, that future appeared to be a long shot. He started at Bowie State University (Maryland), where he played in 11 games as a freshman and recorded 17 tackles, a tackle for loss, a forced fumble, a fumble recovery and a pass breakup.

From there he went to Fullerton Community College (California). Thirty-seven tackles, four pass breakups, two interceptions, a blocked kick and a touchdown later, he had earned Southern California Football Association first-team all-conference honors.

Air Force fullback Timothy Jackson, center, runs for a short gain as Utah State safety Troy Lefeged Jr., left, and defensive tackle Caden Andersen come in to make the stop in the first half of an NCAA college football game Saturday, Oct. 26, 2019, at Air Force Academy, Colo.
David Zalubowski, Associated Press

That breakout year led him to Utah State. After last season, a pro career has become a real possibility, and a move closer to the line of scrimmage should help.

“If he has aspirations to continue to play football after this next season, which he does, that is where he needs to be,” said Andersen.

Lefeged is ideally suited to play nickel, says Andersen, due to his physicality and smarts.

“He is a physical, tough-minded kid who is extremely smart, so he can do what we need done in that spot,” said Andersen. “Troy is fearless. He’s a tremendous tackler, and he uses his physicality. He wants to be there, he wants to smack you every chance that he gets. He is becoming a student of the game, which is, quite frankly the next step for him in his development.”

For all the praise, the position change has not been without its challenges, though that was to be expected.

“It is a different position,” said Andersen.

A variety of new responsibilities have been the most significant adjustment.

“It’s more mental, just trying to get down new calls,” said Lefeged.

If the past season was any indication, and really his college football journey as a whole, Lefeged should be more than up to the task.

“Troy is really growing in that area,” said Andersen, “and will continue to do so.”