LOGAN — Utah State wasn’t looking to add just any graduate transfer this offseason.
Head coach Gary Andersen made that abundantly clear in the days immediately following national signing day in February. As far as Andersen was concerned, the Aggies were well set at nearly every position, the exceptions being running back and linebacker. It was going to take someone special for USU to bring in a transfer at any other position.
“It would have to be somebody we deemed as very special, for us to be able to take another step with anybody else with this class,” Andersen said. “We are in a really good spot with where we sit with our initials for next year, and obviously, we have used all of our initials moving forward through this year, or they plan to be used. But we talk about it all the time as a staff, never say no to whom you would deem as a difference-maker.”
Enter USC graduate transfer C.J. Pollard.
“C.J. obviously brings an athletic skill set that we are excited about, but his maturity, that is what I’m looking forward to seeing. Seeing his leadership skills in person.” — USU co-defensive coordinator Stacy Collins, on C.J. Pollard
The safety recently announced he is transferring to Utah State for his final year of college football, and in the Aggies eyes, he is special.
“C.J. is a tremendous young man,” co-defensive coordinator Stacy Collins said. “Extremely excited to have him at Utah State.”
But what makes Pollard special? What will he bring to Utah State this year?
First and foremost there are his physical capabilities, which made him a four-star recruit — he was rated the 11th best safety in the country, per 247Sports — coming out of Serra High School in 2016.
“He is talented,” Utah State co-defensive coordinator Frank Maile said. “He is a long, limber, an explosive kid.”
Former Utah State cornerback Cam Haney, a Los Angeles native who has been around Pollard in some form or another for 10 years now, echoed Maile’s sentiments, only on Twitter, following the announcement that Pollard was headed to Logan.
“Great technician and playmaker,” wrote Haney, “seen him play for 10 years.”
In his three years on the field at USC — he redshirted in 2016 — Pollard racked up 30 total tackles, three and a half tackles for loss (TFL) and a half a sack. His best year came as a junior in 2019, even though he missed all of spring football that year recovering from foot surgery. Pollard appeared in 12 games, tallying 15 tackles and a TFL. His best single game performance came in the Trojans’ 56-24 loss to Oregon, when he tallied six tackles and his TFL.
The stats aren’t overwhelming by any means, but the potential has always been there for Pollard and he is expected to bring some much needed experience to the Aggies secondary.
“He is going to bring a level of maturity,” Collins said. “He graduated from USC. He played there a lot. C.J. obviously brings an athletic skill set that we are excited about, but his maturity, that is what I’m looking forward to seeing. Seeing his leadership skills in person.”
Maile agreed, noting that Pollard’s time in the Pac-12 should only be a boon for USU going forward.
“I think his experience in the Pac-12 is going to bring a lot to us,” Maile said. “He is going to be a big brother-type. Mentality wise, he will be a big help to some of the younger guys in his room, with what he has seen and gone through.”
Pollard’s work ethic was singled out by Collins as perhaps the most important thing he’ll bring to the table.
“I think the thing that came out the most when we did our research on him is his work ethic,” Collins said. “He is going to bring a great work ethic to that (safeties) room, which is already a very talented room. I’m extremely excited about where our secondary is at. There is a lot of talent on that back end. It is a great group and C.J. is going to add to that.”
Pollard reminds Collins a great deal of former Aggie wide receiver Jalen Greene, a Sierra High alum and former Trojan who also made his way to Utah State as a graduate transfer. Greene was a solid receiver for the Trojans — in 37 games played he hauled in 26 receptions for 318 yards — before breaking out his single season in Logan in 2018.
In his one year at USU, Greene was one of quarterback Jordan Love’s premier targets, starting all 13 games and catching 44 passes for 689 yards and six touchdowns. Greene ranked second on the team in every receiving category in 2018.
The Aggies can only hope that Pollard has a similar impact, and they wouldn’t have welcomed him if they didn’t believe it possible.
As Andersen said, “never say no to whom you would deem as a difference-maker.”