Utah State football held media day Monday

<strong>LOGAN, Utah –</strong> Prior to beginning fall camp on Tuesday, Aug. 5, Utah State football players and coaches met with the media as the Aggies held their annual media day Monday.

Utah State, who is picked to finish second in the Mountain Division of the Mountain West Conference this season, returns 38 lettermen (offense-17, defense-18, specialists-3) and 14 starters (offense-6, defense-5, specialists-3) from last year’s team that concluded its season with a 21-14 win against 24th-ranked Northern Illinois in the San Diego County Credit Union Poinsettia Bowl to finish the year with a 9-5 record and tie the 1960 and 1961 teams for the second-most wins in school history. With its win against Northern Illinois, Utah State posted back-to-back bowl wins for the first time in school history as it played in its third-straight bowl game, also a first at USU.

Utah State, who finished the 2013 season by winning six of its final seven games, also set the school record for conference wins as it posted a 7-1 league mark in its first season in the Mountain West to win the Mountain Division of the conference and advance to the inaugural Mountain West Championship game.

Utah State ended the year ranking tied for 37th nationally in both the Associated Press and ESPN/USA Today Coaches’ polls with two votes each, marking the second time in as many years that USU has concluded the season ranked among the top teams in the nation.

Utah State will open the 2014 season on Sunday, Aug. 31 at Tennessee and plays its first home game the following weekend against Idaho State on Saturday, Sept. 6 at 6 p.m. USU’s first Mountain West game will be at home against Air Force on Saturday, Oct. 11 and the Aggies conclude the regular season at MW foe Boise State on Saturday, Nov. 29. The Mountain West Championship game will be held on Saturday, Dec. 6 at the home stadium of the divisional champion with the highest College Football Playoff Committee ranking.

Fans can follow the Aggie football program at twitter.com/USUFootball or on Facebook at Utah State Football, as well as on Instagram at instagram.com/USUFootball. Aggie fans can also follow the Utah State athletic program at twitter.com/USUAthletics or on Facebook at Utah State University Athletics.

<strong><span style=”text-decoration: underline;”>Utah State Football Media Day Quotes From Head Coach Matt Wells:</span></strong>

<strong>Opening Statement:</strong>

“I’m always excited to start the year. It doesn’t matter what level of football you are at, whether it’s the NFL or here at Utah State. It’s completely coach talk but it is exciting for all of us because it’s a new year and it’s a new challenge for every one of us. The exciting part is to see two things. Number one is to see all the new kids, which we have quite a few, and also to see the gains that your returning players have made from the month of May and all summer long. We’ve had a lot of guys here on their own time working with (strength) Coach (Dave) Scholz and the staff. We got to see them a little bit more this summer with the new rules. We like to use it on the front and the back end. We like to try to save that for the new guys coming in, for the freshman and junior college transfers coming in. The maximum is two hours and we use about an hour and it’s very positive. It’s positive for us and college football. I’m a little bit old school, I like to let the guys that are experienced and have been here for a while to lead those meeting rooms on a volunteer basis, but this was good for the coaches to be able to run a meeting.”

“The 2014 edition of the Utah State Aggies is what’s in store for us right now as we go into training camp for the next three weeks. What we do and how we do it is what we are focusing on. We’re less than four weeks away from going to Knoxville, Tennessee and we’ll focus on that when the time comes, but for now it’s what we do and how we do it. I think that we have a singular focus and that’s our job as coaches to portray that to leaders and for the leaders to do that from player to player. I really like where we’re at with our leaders. The key for us is for the new kids coming in and the young kids in the program to learn how to be followers. That’s a big key for us, we’ve been talking about it all summer and we’ll continue to talk about it throughout camp. I think we have really good leadership here, but it’s the followers that are really important because they are coming in not knowing how to do things at Utah State. That’s not their fault, that’s called recruiting, attrition and turnover. There’s a lot of attrition in college football you have a lot of turnover each year.  We’re no different than anybody else. Those young kids coming in have to learn how to do things the Aggie way: How we lift, how we run, our nutrition, the way we train, the way we go to school, the way we act in the community and all the above. That’s up to us as coaches, but more so for our leaders. That’s exciting as we do that because I think this year’s team is very talented. In a lot of areas we have some returning players coming back that are really talented. We also have some positions where we don’t have experienced players coming back. That will be exciting, I’m not worried one bit about those position groups. We’ve got a lot of talented kids at those positions and I’m just curious to see how it plays out. I’m also excited about our special teams and our kickers.  That’s such an important facet of a program. I know that punt and kick returns have more to do with offense but that punting and kicking has so much to do with our defensive success over the last two years. To have those weapons back bigger and stronger is a positive.”

“Right now, I’ll just go ahead and say we’ve got some issues going on internally, which is part of the drill. I’m in a business that is coaching and mentoring young men. Sometimes they make really good decisions and sometimes they make decisions that are poor. No one in this room is perfect, we’re all the same, and part of coaching is called discipline, rehabilitation and adherence to our core values. When those things aren’t met we’re disappointed and we change actions. If those actions don’t change then we move on. I’ll say we’ve got some of that. We’ve already handled some stuff internally. Some of this stuff is really ongoing and we’ll share some of that as it starts to come out and we’ll do that at the appropriate time.”

“Chuckie Keeton and Joe Hill, their knee injuries are right on schedule and they’ve been cleared by doctors to go full. Everyone of you is just like me and ready to see those guys run around and be the same Chuckie Keeton and Joe Hill that we know and love.”

<strong>On the position battles that are being looked at:</strong>

“The two ones that were hit the most with attrition because of numbers are the defensive backs and offensive line. We lose four starters on the offensive line and three starters in the secondary, technically four if you count the nickel, we play a lot of nickel coverage in the Mountain West. Out of those four, there are three in training camp right now. We lost some really good players who are in the NFL right now. Those are the two biggest, we’ve got returning players in both those spots, we’ve got some younger kids coming in as well as junior college kids. Those two spots require so much communication with each other pre-snap. That’s what’s important during training camp. Sometimes out there on a big picture it looks like the flood gates opened up on the offensive line when really just one call effected three positions. Same thing can happen on the back end, when you have one little breakdown or a non-verbal communication breakdown, all of a sudden there’s seven points right over the top of your head on the back end. Those are big challenges for the O-line and secondary coach getting those guys on the same page from a communication standpoint.”

<strong>On new players learning that winning isn’t automatic:</strong>

“We’ve talked about that a lot this summer and I’m going to hit on it a lot tonight in our team meeting. If you are a new kid in the program right now, this is the best time to be a Utah State Aggie football player. We’ve won 27 games in last three years, we’ve been to three straight bowl games and we’re one of nine Division I teams to have won 20 or more games and back-to-back bowl games in the past two seasons. Those kids know that because I told them during their recruitment, but it’s up to them to come in and learn because Zach Vigil is right, the bowl games aren’t automatic, getting a chance to play for a championship is not automatic, graduating is not automatic, all of those things. They’ve got to learn the way we do things. I feel that is more of an emphasis this year because there are so many new kids. I’m not concerned about it but the reason Zach’s saying it is because I’m saying it because it’s a point of emphasis. These kids have got to learn to be followers. The example that I gave was when B.J. (Larsen), Zach (Vigil) and Chuckie (Keeton) were young and Bobby Wagner told them to do something they just did it without question. When B.J. Larsen says something I expect the new D-Linemen to do it and quit asking questions.”

<strong>On any injury concerns:</strong>

“Landon Horne is out for an extended amount of time with a lower leg injury. He’ll be back hopefully by the end of the season. He was injured during summer workouts. We have a few guys who are rehabbing a little bit on the side while we monitor their reps. You’ll see that for maybe the first week.”

<strong>On if they will limit Chuckie Keeton at all:</strong>

“We’ll watch him, he’s always been on a pitch-count since he’s been here from a throwing standpoint. We watch him especially about the end of week two or beginning of week three. That’s when I calculate the throws and back off a little from an arm standpoint. I would assume that that’s going to happen again this year and I think it’ll have a good effect on his knee. You guys will blow it up that I’m backing him off, but I’ve been doing that since 2011 in practice three.”

<strong>On if the staff will try to work Darell Garretson into games during the season:</strong>

“Chuckie Keeton is our starting quarterback. My obligation to this university, to our locker room and to this program is that if Chuckie Keeton isn’t playing to have the very next best quarterback to win a football game. That’s what my decision will come down to. That’s a little bit of a hard call to make this early but I’m excited to watch Darell during training camp. He’s gained a little weight and strength. Just watching him he doesn’t look like the young 18 year old that we were trying to redshirt last year. He’s got some confidence, which he should, and he came into a good job last year. You’ll see him with the ones during training camp.”

<strong>On if there has been any discussion to try to redshirt Darell Garretson:</strong>

“Yeah, there’s been some discussion. We’ll see how training camp goes with the other quarterbacks, how Darell does, how Chuckie (Keeton) is progressing and several other factors. If it comes down to it and I have to play the next best quarterback to win a game that’s what we’ll do.”

<strong>On what makes Chuckie Keeton so good at avoiding defensive players:</strong>

“He does a really good job processing information. From what he’s coached to do, to accepting a signal on the field, to playing the play, there’s a lot of processing going on and it happens really fast. The guy has an unbelievable ability to retain knowledge and it’s really cool to see. It’s also a problem because you can’t be wrong, he’ll call me out. I think he understands his reads and progressions. He understands being stingy with the football, he understands it’s okay to punt, he understands putting the ball four rows up in the stands and living to play another down. He just does a good job, he’s one of the most coachable kids I’ve ever coached. Some kids want to learn what you’re coaching them to do, but to do it in a live game is another thing and he can do both.”

<strong>On if Chuckie Keeton still has the option to run with the ball:</strong>

“Absolutely, touchdown, first down, get down. I’m not going to put a harness on that guy.”

<strong>On having three local kids in B.J. Larsen, Jordan Nielsen and Alex Huerta projected to be starters:</strong>

“Projected starters, major playing time and big, big roles. All Cache Valley kids,  and we’re adding some more that we’ll talk about later on. Regarding our recruiting philosophy we haven’t deviated one bit from that. We start in the state of Utah, Cache Valley first and foremost. I think fans can relate to them. Their family and friends, their coaches, their buddies can come see them play. It helps season ticket sales, all that stiff. That’s not ultimately why we do it, we do it because they can help us win a Mountain West Championship and that’s what we’re looking to do.”

<strong>On how much Alex Huerta has improved:</strong>

“Quite a bit. That kid came in, he was athletic and long and kind of twitchy, but just way undersized and not very strong yet. We had trouble blocking him as a scout team player. You go back and look at the last scout team players of the year and see who they’ve been, and it puts some pressure on him. You see what they’re starting to do with the varsity team now. It’s Kyler Fackrell, it’s Zach Vigil and there is something to them. Now there’s Alex, he’s the self made man, I’m really proud of him.”

<strong>On Brian Suite being one of the guys anchoring the secondary:</strong>

“He’s the glue of the secondary, the guy has played a lot of football here. Completely invested, a team captain, leadership committee, three-year starter, off the charts in school. Everything he does is right and lines up with our core values. He’s an overachiever. I think a lot of times that word gets misused to mean someone who isn’t very talented, he’s got a lot of talent. He’s a talented kid who’s overachieved. He gained a lot of confidence down the stretch and played his best ball down the stretch when it really counted. I’m really proud of Brian, he’ll have a great year. He’ll lead that secondary, he has done a great job as a leader and will get those knuckleheads in line.”

<strong>On if the defensive philosophy has changed to get the best 11 on the field:</strong>

“No, because we don’t really have to change the philosophy. We’re not old school three-four and don’t ever get out of it. It’s built into our package, whether we’re playing five defensive backs in the back field, two D-linemen, one D-lineman, we played four D-lineman at times last year. Coach (Todd) Orlando has done a little bit of everything. Keep them guessing and keep them off the field. So much of defense nowadays is determined by down and distance and matching personnel. We kind of do it anyway, so to say we put our best 11 on the field, I can absolutely say that we are.”

<strong>On not losing in November:</strong>

“It’s a little bit of a mix. I’d like to think that we get stronger as the year goes on. I’d like to think that what we do in the weight room with Coach (Dave) Scholz and in recovery, what we do from a practice standpoint helps. I think our mentality is pretty strong in November. We talked about it all year. I know talk is cheap, but we talk about getting in the race in November. We want to play in the Mountain West Championship in the month of November. That’s when seasons matters most. It’s in those games that matter that we have to find a way to win. It doesn’t matter what form of adversity has struck by then, whether you lose players or you lose a game or whatever. There’s a bunch of circumstances that can come up. We talk about it, but it’s about putting it into action during the year. It’s a combination of a lot of those things. We put emphasis on it. We want to get to November. Those games mean something around here.”

<strong>On the potential of playing 15 games and working with that:</strong>

“That’s a good question. We’re going to play 13 with one bye week. We talk about playing 15 games. That’s our goal and what we’re assuming. Last year we played 13 with two bye weeks. We’ve taken that into account with our summer training and adjusted a little bit. We’ve also adjusted a little in training camp. We know that reps accumulate. It’s getting your guys to the fight and making sure they’re fresh, rested and well-trained. It’s a fine line and it’s a combination of how physical and non-physical you can be. We’ve done a little bit of adjusting in anticipating a longer year with fewer breaks.”

<strong>On building the team feeling:</strong>

“I think it starts first of all within the position group. It then expands to the side of the ball. The thing we talk about here is that we’re all about the logo, all about the team. We did not lose the Utah game because of the defense, we didn’t score enough on offense. We didn’t lose the USC game because of the offense. We should have won 13-2. The defense gave up too many touchdowns. That’s the mentality in this complex, the locker room and our floor. You don’t have players or coaches bickering. That’s a culture that you have to re-establish every year. That’s what we want. You cannot take it for granted as a coach or an established player that the culture is still here. You have to re-establish it and that’s as important to me as anything.”

<strong>On the D-Line and linebackers working with Ikaika Malloe and Joe Lorig:</strong>

“It’s good. Spring was a good transition. It’s very similar to a year ago when Coach (Todd) Orlando or the offensive coaches came in. We still do what we do. It’s the job of those players to wrap their arms around the incoming coach and show him what our effort looks like. They need to show him how we train. They need to teach him the system, so to speak. Then they need to be open to new ways of doing things, new ideas. It may be the same technique or the same drill, just said a different way. They need to not be close-minded either. It’s a two-way street. Coach Malloe and Coach Lorig have jumped right in from a recruiting standpoint as well as in those individual meeting rooms. We have veteran players in both rooms, which makes that transition go easier.”

<strong>On the wide receivers:</strong>

“I think the biggest thing I like is the depth. We have some length and we have some guys that can make some guys miss in a phone booth. We have four who have played a decent amount in Ronald Butler, JoJo Natson, Brandon Swindall and Shaan Johnson. We have some young freshmen that I liked coming out of spring ball. I’m excited to watch those guys. There are other young kids who have had the summer to grow up and progress. We’ll talk about them after some practices when they show up a little bit. That’s an area that’s decently deep for us.”

<strong>On keeping the rest of the team motivated with so much focus on Chuckie Keeton:</strong>

“It’s really not a problem to be honest with you. First of all, Chuckie Keeton handles that Heisman campaign as well as anybody. That’s why we agreed to do this. He understands that he’s not any more important than this team. Kyler (Fackrell) and Zach (Vigil) love the attention that Chuckie gets. He’s one of the biggest fans, one of the best teammates you can be in the locker room, and Kyler and Zach know it. As players and coaches we need to distance ourselves from our profession and position. They need to distance themselves with their play, not what they say. If they play well, there will be a lot of people saying good stuff about them. If Chuckie Keeton plays well and lives up to that hype, we’re going to play really well as an offense. He’s going to do it within the team concept and atmosphere and be a tremendous leader. It’s the same thing with Kyler and Zach and Nick (Vigil) and Brian (Suite) and B.J. (Larsen). I want them to have individual aspirations and goals accomplished in a team concept. As long as that’s healthy, the more that meet those individual accomplishments, the better we’ll be as a unit and a team. It’s not a circus because of the way those young men carry and handle themselves.”

<strong>On potential true freshmen on the two-deep depth chart:</strong>

“I think there are some true freshmen and there’s some junior college transfers that we are very anxious and excited to look at. We’ll see where they fit. We’re going to throw them right in the mix starting tomorrow. Our staff over the years has not been afraid to play a young man. Our job as coaches is to play the very best available at that position to help us win a football game. We will absolutely do that whether it’s scholarship or non-scholarship, high school or junior college, it doesn’t matter. I’m excited to watch those kids this week and we’ll talk about them when there’s more to be talked about.”

<strong>On the surprise player this year:</strong>

“I get asked that quite a bit. I’m going to defer to the kids coming out of spring ball. Nick Vigil is going to surprise a lot of people. He wasn’t a full-time starter last year, so it’s fair for me to say that. He was a starter at the end of the year and he’s going to have a really good year this year. The surprise maybe coming out of spring ball that deserves to be mentioned is Devin Centers. That guy made a play every time the lights went on. Whether it was corner, safety, nickel, blocking a punt, I’m excited to watch him. I think the young receivers fall into that category as well. Rashad Hall had a really strong spring coming off a redshirt. I have no reason to believe he won’t do it in training camp and during the season.”

<strong><span style=”text-decoration: underline;”>Utah State Football Media Day Quotes From Senior Quarterback Chuckie Keeton:</span></strong>

<strong>Opening Statement:</strong>

“First of all, I’m glad to be back. Rehab went extremely well. I’m feeling 100 percent and am ready to get out there with my teammates. It’s nice to be practicing and competing again. It’s really something I missed. I’m really just excited to be back and contributing to this team, developing a program that I’m hoping is going to have some continuity after this senior class leaves. I’m ready for Tennessee and ready to get back after it.”

<strong>On the excitement of the first day of practice:</strong>

“It’s been a really long process. The thing for me has been to keep the light at the end of the tunnel in view. My off-season started the day after the BYU game, just getting back into rehab and all of that. I’m kind of leading up to the game. Anything that comes after this is just an extra benefit for me. I’m really excited to get back out there.”

<strong>On revisiting the BYU game last year:</strong>

“It was on YouTube that night, so I watched it as I cried myself to sleep. Not really, but I did revisit it a few times. The play I got hurt on, I had messed up. I put a little bit of the blame on myself. I tried to watch it when I was in the training room. I tried to look past it just because there was so much good that came out of the season. Why spoil it with my injury? That’s how I looked at it. I’m really more proud of what everyone else did. I understood that I was somewhat of a big piece and that it was emotional when I went down, but the guys found a way to bounce back after my injury and the injuries of other guys and come back and win a bowl game and have a chance at winning a championship which may not have happened at other schools. It definitely shows what kind of team we had last year. We’re looking forward to building off of it.”

<strong>On Darell Garretson and his talent:</strong>

“I know who Darell is so I know he’s really competitive. He’s got a big heart so he’s going to keep fighting every time. We threw him to the wolves when he got in. He had to play Boise State who we were in tough competition with to win the Mountain Division. We threw him to the wolves, but he ended up not getting bitten too much. He helped lead the team to a bowl victory. That’s just a testament to the heart that he has and the pieces that we have around him and the confidence he had in himself to push through all the small downtimes that he had.”

<strong>On this year’s receiving corps:</strong>

“It’s pretty high up there. The more I look at it, the more confidence I have in them. I’ve had Chuck Jacobs, Matt Austin and Cameron Webb, so I’ve had good receivers in the past. At one point in a game they were all the number one receiver. I definitely think we have four number ones at any given point, then we have a few more coming in that can make a big impact depending on how they do in camp. I’m a little bit spoiled, but I already told them I’m going to make them think a whole lot. There’s going to be a new level of play that we have to get up to. They’re up to the challenge, so we’ll test it out soon.”

<strong>On having Joe Hill to go through rehab with:</strong>

“For me and Joe having to deal with our injuries at the same time just gave us a stronger connection. At the end of the day, that means that chemistry is going to flow over onto the field. We’ve had a little bit of experience this past week just throwing against the defense. I can tell you that he’s back and feeling good. I definitely want to test him and see how far he’s going to push himself. I can definitely see some big things coming out of Joe this season.”

<strong>On the surprise of Joey DeMartino last year:</strong>

“During fall camp last year Joey made some big plays. He showed what he could do during camp. When you have two running backs, one is always going to get overlooked unless you switch them out every play. Last year was kind of a Robert Turbin and Michael Smith situation. We had Kerwynn Williams that same year too. Joey did a tremendous job. He earned what he’s getting right now in the success he’s been able to have. That’s the great thing about our team and this program. Running backs are not scarce. Right now I think we have six or seven on our roster. One of them is bound to step up if Joe doesn’t want to do it.”

<strong>On the similarities and differences of being on the sidelines as a freshman and last year:</strong>

“Other than just the injuries itself, the difference was my state of mind and how I was going to try to effect the team. My freshman year I really only had seven games to try and do something and make an impact. I kind of fell back my freshman year. I wasn’t very vocal and I wasn’t around as much as I should have been. I tried to change that my second go around. The way it was the same, which was kind of scary, was it being halfway through the season both times. I’m kind of hoping for the same results this season as my sophomore year. It’s going to be a fun experience to watch as this team grows because I can play and help them out, but we’ll see how it differentiates from my sophomore season.”

<strong>On having something to prove this year:</strong>

“For me it’s just trying to produce wins. It doesn’t really change as far as trying to get a certain amount of stats. That’s never really the goal. You can have 1,000 yards and still lose a game. At the end of the day we just have to have more points than the other team. For me it’s just trying to be the best player I can be for these guys. That’s on the field, off the field, being a mentor and leader and being a competitor.”

<strong>On working with the new offensive line:</strong>

“They’ve been doing most the work themselves. They’ve been working tremendously hard for the past six months. They’re more like a family than anything else. They have their little fights, but it’s not out of anger, it’s out of growth. They’re continuing to grow every day. I see more hope out of it than anything else. My sophomore season we came in with only Tyler Larsen back and that season didn’t turn out too bad.”

<strong>On the confidence-boost of a top defense:</strong>

“It’s definitely a great confidence-booster. We can’t really take any more chances than we do. We’re still going to be as smart as we can with the football, but knowing that we have a good defense to get us the football back is definitely reassuring. What a lot of people don’t know is that a good defense generally leads to a good offense. The more you have the football, the more chances you have to score. That’s something to fall back on with our defense. For the offense it means we have to take advantage of every opportunity we have. If we can do that, then we should score a lot more points and have more wins.”

<strong>On being a little bigger than past years:</strong>

“Yeah, I am. I got up to 207 this summer, so seven pounds more. Thanks for noticing.”

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