LOGAN — If Utah State co-defensive coordinators Stacy Collins and Frank Maile were to describe their vision of what the Aggies’ defense will look like in 2020-21 — if the season happens, of course — it would be best described as versatile.
Up front, USU expects to play with both three- and four-man fronts, with edge rushers lining up at times on the line of scrimmage or behind it. In the secondary, there is an expectation of multiple coverages and combo coverages. Sometimes there will be five or more defensive backs on the field, and at other times as few as three or four.
The hope is to have the team’s best defenders on the field at all times, or as much as possible.
“We want to make sure our best 11 are always playing,” Collins told the Deseret News in March.
The key to Utah State’s desired versatility on defense are the players themselves, namely whether they can comfortably play multiple positions. That was one of the biggest questions on defense heading into spring camp, with many Aggies changing positions with an eye on improved versatility.
Troy Lefeged Jr. is moving from safety to nickel; Nick Heninger is moving from defensive end to outside linebacker; Cash Gilliam is moving from safety to linebacker, to name but a few. Included on that list is Andre Grayson, who is moving from nickel to corner, but there are few questions about Grayson.
In February, head coach Gary Andersen told the Deseret News that Grayson would be one of the team’s most important defensive backs, and the reason was simple: Where many Aggies are learning new positions, Grayson is already proficient at playing multiple, namely corner and nickel.
He starred as a corner in high school at Etiwanda High in Rancho Cucamonga, California. As a senior, he earned second-team All-Baseline League honors. His first two years in Logan, including a redshirt season in 2017, he remained a corner, but he played almost exclusively at nickel in 2019-20.
Grayson played in all 13 games last season, making seven starts, and finished the season with 47 tackles, a sack and two tackles for loss, to go along with six pass breakups, two forced fumbles and an interception.
Grayson is expected to play both positions, nickel and corner, this year, though he’ll be primarily on the outside.
“I’m back at cornerback,” he said. “I’ll play some nickel still, situational-type things, but mostly I’ll be playing cornerback. It is a homecoming. I love nickel a lot. You get to make a lot of plays. At heart though, I am a corner. Technique-wise, situational-wise, I feel like I am smarter at corner. I am happy to be back there.”
He is needed there, as the Aggies will be without veteran corners Cameron Haney and DJ Williams. The duo started a combined 74 games for Utah State in their careers, but Grayson is prepared to step into the void they’ve left behind, including a leadership role, which is something Grayson has grown more comfortable with amidst the COVID-19 pandemic.
“My two big things going into spring camp were working on my technique and working on leadership,” he said. “Even though we only got two days (of camp), I felt like I was on the right path. I’m still working on those all the time, checking in on my teammates and coaches. Just trying to improve.”
Grayson has kept up with his training too.
“The situation has definitely been weird, but I’ve been able to maintain working out,” he said. “I’ve stayed on top of that and not fallen off. I miss getting to get after it every day with my teammates and having our coaches push us, but I feel like I have enough self motivation to go out and get it on my own. It has been different, but my mindset about working hard hasn’t changed one bit.”
He is so confident in his training, in fact, that he believes he could play in a college football tomorrow if need be.
“I’m ready now,” he said. “I’m staying ready. I would like to get back into Logan and get comfortable for at least a week, but I’m ready to play now.”
Whether at nickel or cornerback, it doesn’t matter to Grayson, which only bodes well for Utah State come the fall.