USU football: Aggies hungry, 'relatively healthy' as they open fall camp

Aug 4, 2023
The wait is over for Utah State’s football program.
Fall camp started Friday and the Aggies have four weeks to prepare for their season opener, which will take place Saturday, Sept. 2, on the road against Big 10 Conference program Iowa. The first team meeting actually took place Thursday, which is also when USU held its annual media day.
“We’ve had a good summer,” USU head coach Blake Anderson said during his opening Thursday remarks to the media. “We feel good about where we’re going heading into fall camp. I think the staff has done a really good job in the new world of college ball at filling our roster with guys that can help us. If you look, you’re going to see roughly 57, 58, maybe even 59 new bodies total on the roster. That’s including everybody and I think we’re at 39 scholarship players added to this particular roster from last season. Thirty of those, I believe are transfer players from either junior college or the four-year college level — all of which we anticipate adding value this fall.
“So, that could be the best thing ever or the worst thing ever because that’s a lot of bodies to get ready in a very short period of time. … That’s the largest number that any of us have dealt with. I think it’s just what we’ve got to get used to. It’s encouraging in the fact that we’ve got depth and size and speed in some areas (where) last year we were struggling, but also the million dollar question is how quickly can these guys get acclimated to football here and at this level and make an immediate impact on the field.”
Indeed, the Aggies have a lot of potential depth heading into their 126th season in program history. However, all of these newcomers must mesh well with the 35 returning letterwinners and 14 redshirts from a year ago in order for USU to be competitive against a schedule that includes seven opponents that won at least seven games in 2022 in Iowa, Air Force, James Madison, Fresno State, San Diego State, San Jose State and Boise State.
“There are more bodies that potentially could impact our team this fall than we had a year ago,” said Anderson, whose program lost 14 starters and 14 other letterwinners from a season ago. “They just ... haven’t played much, so that is where all of the uncertainty comes from is, is it going to take a year to get them all on the same page and you’re going to be really good a year from now, or can we speed this (learning) curve up and be competitive immediately, which is what we saw in ’21. We grew up so fast. Last year’s team struggled through all that process, so every team’s different.”
The Aggies have added 13 transfers from four-year programs since the conclusion of spring camp. Two of the latest ones are Sky View high school product Jackson Sundstrom, a redshirt freshman safety that transferred from Concordia College, and former Oregon defensive back Avante Dickerson, who is a redshirt sophomore. Dickerson was a 4-star recruit out of Westside (Nebraska) High School and had scholarship offers from the likes of Georgia, LSU, Michigan, USC, Mississippi, Penn State, Texas, Texas A&M, Iowa, Kansas State and Nebraska, among others.
Dickerson played in 12 of 14 games as a true freshman for the Ducks in 2021, but in only one game a year later. The 6-foot-0, 175-pounder made five tackles as a true freshman and played in 114 snaps, including 56 on defense, according to his Oregon bio.
USU was able to beat out “several other schools,” Anderson said, to pluck Dickerson out of the transfer portal, although it was a process that took the entire summer. The Aggies play a similar style of defense as the Ducks, so Anderson is confident the learning process will be quick for Dickerson, who had sub-11-second speed in the 100-meter dash in high school.
“I think the versatility to play multiple positions in the back end, but speed and the ability to play man coverage were two of the first things that stood out (about Dickerson),” Anderson said. “And then, honestly, just overall personality and character. (We heard) nothing but great things said about the kid coming in. I have enjoyed getting to know him. I think he adds a ton of value to our locker room.”
Dickerson, like all of the recent additions to USU’s program, has multiple years of eligibility remaining, which is something Anderson and his coaching staff has stressed.
Another primary focus of Anderson’s heading into the ’23 campaign is ball control. USU threw 21 interceptions a year ago which, as Anderson said Thursday, ranked “dead last” among the 131 FBS programs. The Aggies only lost six fumbles last fall, but tossed so many interceptions they had a turnover margin of minus-9.
“No. 1, I want us to turn the ball over less,” he said. “We can’t win games at the level we need to with the schedule that we have and the talent we’re going to play against if we turn the ball over at the pace we did the last two seasons, especially interceptions.”
Anderson also wants his offense to play with more pace and use more of its weapons this season. That’s one of the biggest reasons he elected to take over the offensive play calling duties, starting during spring camp.
“I don’t feel like we’ve played at the tempo that we need to in Year 1 and Year 2,” he said. “We want to make a big emphasis on speed of play and I want to spread the ball around more. … We need to utilize our running backs and our tight ends, and spread the ball more equally across the field. I mean, if we end up with another DT (Deven Thompkins) that catches 100 balls, that’s great, but if not everybody needs to be a weapon, every position needs to be something that (opposing) defensive coordinators have to consider.”
Another thing the Aggies must do in order to improve on last year’s record of 6-7 is stay healthy. Only five athletes from the two-deep during the Mountain West championship season of 2021 suffered significant injuries. That number skyrocketed to 27 a year later, so “being healthy would be huge for us,” Anderson asserted.
The good news for Utah State is “we’re relatively healthy right now,” Anderson asserted. Only Vaughn Mamea, a massive 345-pound defensive tackle who transferred from the College of San Mateo, is not healthy enough to practice in some form right now. Tight end Parker Buchanan, a Box Elder product, is also very limited at this time, Anderson said, but everybody else is ready to go in at least some capacity for fall camp.
Utah State will hold 16 practices and two scrimmages before fall camp concludes on Thursday, Aug. 24. Both scrimmages — on consecutive Saturdays, starting Aug. 12 — will be open to the public, but none of the practices are.
REWARDING LOYALTY
It’s been a memorable summer for Ethan Morriss, who not only was married, but was promoted to a full-time coaching position. Morriss, who was a defensive graduate assistant or defensive analyst in each of his first four seasons on Anderson’s coaching staff, is now the safeties coach.
“Ethan has done a phenomenal job for me since Day 1 that I hired him,” said Anderson of Morriss, who played as a defensive back at West Texas A&M from 2011-15. “He was very highly recommended when we hired him back at Arkansas State and basically every duty and job I’ve given him along the way, he’s done exactly what I’ve asked of him and more. In this particular case, being able to put him out there in the spring and just kind of see how he did, it was not a guarantee (that) ‘this is your job.’ This was, ‘how does he respond with the room,’ and I thought (defensive coordinator) Joe (Cauthen) was really, really pleased with him, as was I. The kids responded well to him. He’s always been phenomenal in the recruiting space. This was the other step to that (was) to control and own and hold accountable your own room, and we thought he did a great job.
“I love elevating guys that have proven their way, that know your culture, that have earned the opportunity. We could have gone out and maybe opened (the job) up, but when you’ve got one right in the family waiting that’s already doing all the things you need them to do, I just think it’s great to elevate and reward guys.”

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