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Utah State football: Fackrell a diamond in the rough for Aggies

Published August 14, 2013 9:55 am

College football • Sophomore linebacker Fackrell has developed into a force for USU defense.
This is an archived article that was published on sltrib.com in 2013, and information in the article may be outdated. It is provided only for personal research purposes and may not be reprinted.

Logan • Football was his first love. He was a letterman in basketball and volleyball at Mesa High in Arizona, but those were always runners-up to his days on the field.

If anything, Kyler Fackrell wanted those other athletic pursuits to help him become the menacing, multi-tool 6-foot-5 outside linebacker he is today.

"I enjoyed playing those other sports, but I definitely thought it was beneficial to do those movements," he said. "It enabled me to be more explosive in different ways that maybe I wouldn't train in football."

Entering his sophomore season at Utah State, Fackrell is the most versatile threat in a heralded group of Aggies linebackers. Although teammates Jake Doughty and Zach Vigil were both All-Conference honorees last season, Fackrell was the lone representative among them on the preseason all-Mountain West defense.

His teammates and coaches expect him to validate that distinction.

"Kyler is a stronger player. He's starting to see the game a little more slowly now," linebacker coach Kevin Clune said. "He starts to see things happen, and sometimes those instincts got a little bit better."

He built his reputation last season, when he was named a freshman All-American by the Football Writers Association of America. He piled up 87 tackles with three sacks and three picks, and was twice the WAC defender of the week.

But it's not just numbers: Fackrell knows when to pick his moments. He picked off Taysom Hill against BYU last season to give the Aggies a chance to tie the game. Against San Jose, he had two sacks, including one that forced a fumble — which he recovered to all but seal a win. He grabbed an interception against Toledo in the Famous Idaho Potato Bowl on the way to the program's first bowl win in nearly two decades.

"He's got God-given ability and experience," Vigil said of his younger teammate. "Kyler was really great for us last year. He's only gonna get better for us."

Versatility is key to Fackrell's game. In high school, coaches put him at quarterback, wide receiver, returner and linebacker. He could leap over cornerbacks for jump balls and sprint like a running back.

Those gifts are being put to use today. In fall camp, Fackrell has switched sides in Utah State's scheme to open up pass-rushing opportunities. He's gained 15 pounds this offseason to bulk up his lanky frame, and he's already taller than most of the team's defensive linemen. His athleticism and long-levered limbs give him an edge in the pass rush.

"When you're taking on blocks, and your arms are a little bit longer than the guy who's blocking you, you're going to win most times," Clune said. "There's just certain natural abilities he has that allow him to do things other guys can't."

What's stunning was how few saw his potential in high school. Fackrell, a quiet person but never a quiet player, saw few Division I ripples in his recruiting. Utah State was the only Division I school that offered him a scholarship.

But Fackrell doesn't hold grudges against the schools that wanted to wait and see. He sees it this way: He might have not gone to Utah State otherwise. When he didn't have other opportunities, he ended up in the right place.

"I'm glad I came here, I'm very happy to be here," Fackrell said. "It's a special place. I'm not really mad about not getting offers. But it definitely goes into showing the whole country what kind of player I can be."

Even as he stands out in Utah State's defense, Fackrell is still learning. Vigil and Doughty form the vocal and emotional heart of the unit. The more soft-spoken Fackrell still listens to them, and follows their lead.

Someday, he knows, that will be his role. So he's watching, taking notes, and waiting to make his move.

"They both have worked their way up from the bottom," he said. "The way that they work every single day, the way that they go hard even in individual drills against other linebackers, they've been a great example to me. Always work to get better." —

Kyler Fackrell file

• Had 87 tackles, 3 sacks, 3 interceptions, 8 tackles for a loss as a freshman

• Named FWAA Freshman All-American, All-WAC first team

• Selected to the All-Mountain West preseason team