<em>This is the fourth in a series of previews of the 2016 Utah State football team. The other previews can be found at these links: <a href=”http://www.cachevalleydaily.com/sports/article_a8767102-5db9-11e6-8e72-876267ee69ec.html” target=”_blank”>Offensive line</a>, <a href=”http://www.cachevalleydaily.com/sports/article_c646adcc-5e82-11e6-a8e0-634ab124a813.html” target=”_blank”>Wide receivers</a>, <a href=”http://www.cachevalleydaily.com/sports/article_5c5ed972-5f8e-11e6-b671-7392ae4fb32b.html” target=”_blank”>Special teams</a></em>
LOGAN – Alex Huerta remembers what it was like being an unknown football player at Mountain Crest High. He said he was an undersized kid who wasn’t talked up a lot, but he wanted to keep playing football bad enough that he met with assistant USU coach Frank Maile. He told Maile he just wanted a shot at making the team and promised him he wouldn’t let him down.
Huerta is now a junior among a group of linebackers head coach Matt Wells is relying on to replace serious NFL talent from one year ago. Wells said the linebacker unit needs answers.
That’s a rare problem for the recent USU football teams. Last season Kyler Fackrell and Nick Vigil made up one of the most dangerous linebacker duos in college football. In 2014 Zach Vigil was able to be an anchor on defense, in 2013 it was Jake Doughty. Just two seasons before that, NFL star linebacker Bobby Wagner was still wearing Aggie blue.
“I need consistency,” Wells said. “I don’t need somebody to come in and be the Mountain West Defensive Player of the Year. I don’t need that. I don’t need somebody to come in and be a Nick Vigil or Kyler Fackrell. I need somebody to come in and be consistent, be tough, play hard and play smart. They need to be able to get lined up and make the calls that linebackers need to make.”
Also missing from last season are starters LT Filiaga and Torrey Green. That leaves four open starting positions with plenty of guys like Huerta ready to step up. Huerta said he thinks he understands what it takes, and so do the other linebackers.
“Yeah, those guys left,” he said. “But we’ve got new guys that have that same mentality, that had that same mentality while those guys were here. I mean it’s hustle, it’s aggression”
Huerta pointed out redshirt-senior Anthony Williams and sophomores Chasen Anderson, Chase Christiansen and Derek Larsen as players who have learned from previous linebackers. They are players Huerta thinks will be ready to step up.
“Those are guys that know the defense, like Zach and Nick did,” he said. “Those are the guys I really feel like will be able to take a role on.”
Even though it is a young group, Wells said it is a versatile group. He said the longer linebackers will play outside and the better pass rushers will take the inside.
“We are just looking at plugging them in,” he said. “When you go to different packages – nickel, five DBs, six DBs – some of those guys will come off the field, but others will play a different alignment. We’ll put guys in a position where they can play well and be consistent and try and leave them in one spot. The ones that have versatility will move around in some spots.”
Huerta described his relationship with past linebackers as a “little brother relationship” and constantly tried to emulate the guys he admired. Even though they are gone, Huerta’s goal is still to do what his big brothers on the football field did.
“They loved playing the game,” he said. “They loved being out there and being in the moment. For me it’s just kind of like that. It’s being in the moment and it is being able to play the sport I love. I mean, yeah, it has a little pressure, but honestly I’m just out there to have fun and freaking win games.”