LOGAN — Utah State head coach Gary Andersen had a number of things on his to-do list following the Aggies’ season-ending loss to the Kent State Golden Flashes in the Tropical Smoothie Cafe Frisco Bowl.
There was recruiting to worry about, with USUs 2020 recruiting class nowhere close to being finalized at the time.
There were also the professional prospects of players to worry about, specifically quarterback Jordan Love, linebacker David Woodward and defensive end Tipa Galeai, all of whom are expected to be selected in the upcoming 2020 NFL Draft.
And don’t forget the then-impending restructuring of the USU coaching staff, to say nothing of a host of additional tasks that needed to be completed before the Aggies could truly leave the 2019-20 season behind.
One of those “to-dos” was a chat with wide receiver Jordan Nathan.
Nathan had had the best season of his collegiate career in 2019. He started in 12 of the 13 games he played in, finished second on the team in both receptions (56) and receiving yards (581) and also carried the ball seven times for 40 yards, not to mention his production on special teams (he returned 11 punts for 93 yards and had two kickoff returns for four yards). In the Aggies’ loss to the Golden Flashes, Nathan was one of the team’s most productive players, finishing with a career-high nine receptions for 71 yards.
Andersen wants more from him, though. His team needs more from him. So amidst all the plate-juggling, Andersen and wide receivers coach Jason Phillips sat down with Nathan to tell him just that.
“They told me that they needed me to become a better leader on the team,” Nathan said. “They told me to be more vocal, that I needed to make my presence felt.”
In essence, they told Nathan that he would be one of the most important players on the team in 2020-21, a key to the Aggies’ success. It was exactly what Nathan wanted to hear. Now a fifth-year senior, all Nathan wants is to help Utah State football have success, and he is willing to do whatever it takes.
“I just want to be relied on,” he said. “I’m willing to do whatever it takes. I’ll play inside or outside. I want to get more involved on special teams. If I need to block, I’ll do that. I just want to be more dependable for my team. When people see that, they trust you more, and that is what I want. I want to be very dependable.”
Before any of that can happen, Nathan has to rehab from offseason shoulder injury, a process that was expected to keep him sidelined throughout spring camp, even before its COVID-19-induced cancelation.
The recovery process is ongoing for Nathan — “I’ve just been doing my rehab stuff that was assigned to me,” he said from his hometown in California — as is his development as a leader.
“I’m becoming a better student of the game,” Nathan said. “I’ve had to make sure that I’ve stayed on top of it. We have our Zoom meetings, little FaceTime calls, and I make sure that I go through my playbooks at least once a day and remind the people in the position group to do the same thing.
“I was going to have my presence felt, on and off the football field (during spring ball). I was going to make sure that they (USUs receivers) know I am here for them. I was going to coach them the best I could. It is harder now, trying to tell them rather than show them, but it is a better challenge.”
Part of the challenge has been learning a completely new offensive system, which has actually gone better than expected.
“It hasn’t been that hard,” Nathan said. “The plays are pretty easy. I thought it would be harder because of all that we have to know — the offense starts with us, the receivers get it going — but it hasn’t been a great challenge so far.”
As far as Nathan is concerned, the real challenge will come as the season draws nearer. Without spring ball, which he described as crucial, the Aggies haven’t been able to develop any chemistry with one another. That lack of chemistry could be the team’s downfall.
“Not being able to build chemistry is not good,” Nathan said. “Last year, we didn’t really feel like a team, we didn’t have a lot of chemistry. We don’t want that again. We need to really get things going whenever we get back, and the sooner we can get back the better.”
And if college football doesn’t return? That would be heartbreaking.
“I don’t want to think about not having a last season,” Nathan said. “It would be extremely heartbreaking for me and my teammates to not play a full season.”
So for the time being, Nathan is preparing like the 2020-21 season will go on without a hitch and urging his teammates to do the same.
“I just offer reassurance,” he said. “The season is still coming up, we still have plans and goals to accomplish. I tell them, ‘Don’t slack. Don’t miss out on opportunities because of speculation. Still be a student-athlete.’”
And when the season does come, Nathan is prepared to play his part.
“Whatever it takes,” he said.