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Christmas in September? Utah State thrilled for return to football, but don’t expect Gary Andersen to play Santa

The Aggies kicked off fall camp Friday and will play their first game on Oct. 24

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Utah State coach Gary Andersen gestures during the second half of the team’s NCAA college football game against Wake Forest in Winston-Salem, N.C., Friday, Aug. 30, 2019. Wake Forest won 38-35.

Nell Redmond, Associated Press

LOGAN — Utah State head coach Gary Andersen couldn’t have put it better if he’d tried.

While discussing the return of USU to the gridiron, he didn’t shy away from the current excitement surrounding Aggie football. It is rampant right now and understandably so, whether it be among the players themselves, the coaching staff, the administration or the fan base.

For almost two months, nearly everyone associated with Utah State thought there would be no fall football season. Spring was a possibility, though not a very desirable one.

When the Mountain West Conference announced an eight-game fall football season for all 12 of its member institutions on Thursday, it was almost like Christmas had been brought back unexpectedly after being taken away.

So Andersen basked in the moment a little bit.

“Obviously the kids are excited,” he said. “I’m sure Aggie Nation is excited and we (the coaching staff) are fired up for the kids.”

Andersen didn’t actually get to break the news to his team. In the modern media landscape, Twitter did that for him.

As of Friday afternoon, he hadn’t even seen his team yet. He promised when he did, though, “(I) won’t be Santa Claus passing out the presents.”

That is because Christmas has already come and gone in Logan. With only 29 days allotted to prepare for their first game of the season on Oct. 24, and with the opponent yet to be determined, the Aggies have to get to work immediately.

Fall camp officially started late Friday afternoon, and it will be an unprecedented camp, keeping with the general theme of 2020.

“It is a long road ahead of us,” Andersen said. “Hopefully it is a good road. There will be some ups and downs, but we will meet them head on. This starting part is the easy part. The hard part is going to be to maintain it. That is going to be the message that the kids need to understand. They are excited, and they have to keep that excitement, but it won’t be easy.”

Or normal. While 29 days is the regular allotment afforded to teams for fall camp, without having had the luxury of spring football or a regular summer conditioning, Utah State is not where it wants to be.

“It is far from normal,” Andersen said. “Kids aren’t in shape, they aren’t as strong or as sharp as they would be. Typically, this time of year they are as strong as they ever are. That is not the case this year. There is going to be a lot of educating going on and what you really worry about are the soft tissue injuries. Hamstrings, calfs and groins. You really have to be careful with that.”

With the players in the middle of a semester, the Aggies will have to find a ways to “steal time,” be it for strength work or conditioning. Throw in expected position battles and it will be interesting how it all plays out.

“We will adjust to all of those things.” Andersen said.

There also remains the threat of COVID-19, which has the potential to derail the season still. At the very least, positive tests could cancel games.

The MWC will be testing athletes three times a week with rapid antigen tests. As far as Andersen is concerned, that is an adequate amount.

“It is a long road ahead of us. Hopefully it is a good road. There will be some ups and downs, but we will meet them head on.” — Gary Andersen

“Three times a week is good, from what I’ve been told,” he said. “Our trainers and administration feel good about that, so I believe that is good for our kids.”

“It is always concerning,” he continued. “The challenge is to stay on guard. You can’t let the virus win one day. The minute you let your guard down, you put everyone at risk.”

Rising cases in Utah are a concern, and the Aggies have no idea what team they’ll play, as schedules haven’t been set yet, but come Oct. 24, Andersen believes his team will be ready.

“We are being asked to play football, so we are going to prepare to play football,” he said. “Everybody that is here is ready to go. In our program, we don’t have an opt out. You opt out, you are not with us, and our kids have been fantastic. We are here. We have an opportunity and our kids are excited about that opportunity.”

Kind of like on Christmas morning.