Logan • The link between Juan Diego Catholic High School and Gary Andersen’s new program at Utah State was first forged at the end of 2008, with Jamie Markosian and Jake Doughty, best friends for years who had always wanted to play college football together.
Keegan Andersen — Gary’s son — followed next season, bringing Jaron Bentrude and Frankie Sutera along with him. Lars Gunderson and Sharrieff Shah arrived in time to see 10 wins in 2012.
When the No. 18 Aggies take on Toledo on Saturday at the Famous Idaho Potato Bowl, they will do so with seven Juan Diego alumni on their roster. Six of those guys — Andersen is the exception — began their careers in Logan as walk-ons, players without much chance to latch on elsewhere. They committed to Andersen in hope of making an impact.
All but one — Shah — were teammates on the same Class 3A state title team in 2008.
“We all play with a chip on our shoulders,” Markosian said. “We all have something to prove as Catholic school kids. We are kind of in the minority that way. Everything we learned in high school proved valuable to us as we moved on to the next level.”
Andersen took the USU job in 2008 with the promise of beefing up local recruiting. His son was one of the best high school players in the state at that time, which led Andersen to quite a few Juan Diego games.
With six of the players forming the backbone of that title team for the Soaring Eagle, Andersen liked what he saw — and not just from Keegan. He liked Markosian on the offensive line. He found himself enamored with Doughty’s competitiveness.
Bentrude provided quite the kicking leg. Sutera was a natural athlete who could do it all.
Most of all, Andersen loved them all as kids. They would represent Utah State the right way, provide an academic anchor for the team as he rebuilt the program from the ground floor. He didn’t have scholarships at the time, but all of them received preferred walk-on status.
“Those were all good kids,” Andersen said. “They knew how to win, and they were all great friends with Keegan. Those were the kids who were at my house all the time playing video games. I just had a very good feeling about them all.”
Three years later, they are still the same guys, the same good students who have represented the program in a positive way. The surprise is that the group has achieved such great success on the field.
Andersen himself said he couldn’t have predicted at the time how many good players would come from the Juan Diego group. Doughty, a redshirt junior linebacker, was named first team All-WAC after leading Utah State with 101 tackles.
Markosian, a redshirt junior at guard, is one of the most experienced linemen on the team. He was named second team all-conference. Andersen at tight end and Sutera at safety — both redshirt sophomores — receive plenty of time as backups. Bentrude is the kickoff specialist and has 26 touchbacks on the season.
The group from Juan Diego has come up with some of the biggest plays of the season. Doughty saved a touchdown against Louisiana Tech, intercepting Bulldogs quarterback Colby Cameron in the end zone during the fourth quarter of USU’s biggest win in years. He then made the game-saving tackle in overtime.
Markosian has been in the trenches of Utah State’s offensive line that’s opened holes for Kerwynn Williams and Chuckie Keeton all year.
“We all kind of brought that Juan Diego mentality to Utah State with us,” Doughty said. “We came with nothing guaranteed, and we came as walk-ons without the promise of playing time or anything. But we promised ourselves that we would make the most of our opportunities, and I think we’ve done that to the best of our abilities.”
Doughty and Markosian both remember the talks they had with their high school coach, John Colosimo. He counseled them to make the trek to Logan, even without a full ride. Now, five of the seven Juan Diego players have full scholarships that were earned, not given.
“Those guys are what the program is all about,” Andersen said. “They have all worked hard, and made sure that they’ve taken care of business on and off the field. They took a chance on us, and it’s paying off handsomely for both sides involved.”
Juan Diego Aggies
Sharrieff Shah • Son of Utah’s defensive backs coach with the same name.
Jake Doughty • Started his USU career at 160 pounds, now weighs 230 as one of the best linebackers in the WAC.
Keegan Andersen • Was the 2009 Tribune Class 3A MVP.
Lars Gunderson • Ran track in high school.
Jamie Markosian • Is in his second season as a starter on the offensive line.
Famous Idaho Potato Bowl
P Utah State vs. Toledo
Saturday, 2:30 p.m.
TV • ESPN