Utah State football: Aggies reloading on defensive line
Logan •Â He's heard it all spring, and he'll probably hear it into the fall.
With his helmet on, Aggie newcomer John Taylor looks strikingly similar to a former Utah State standout who also played defensive end. It's the long brown hair that drapes over his shoulders.
But, no, he's not Connor Williams. He'll take it as a compliment, though.
"I get that a lot," he said. "It's pretty funny."
The Aggies hope that Taylor will bear more than a passing resemblance to the graduated Williams, in games more than appearance. The junior college product is one of a few new faces on the defensive line, an area Utah State is counting on to help keep the Aggies consistent in the fall.
It's a interesting blend of returners and upstarts: All-conference end B.J. Larsen returns, as do rotation guys Elvis Kamana-Matagi and Jordan Nielsen. The Aggies trying to win bigger roles include Travis Seefeldt and JuCo early enrollees Taylor and Siua Taufa.
The most recognizable change is the man leading them: new hire Ikaika Malloe. Coming from Portland State, he carries himself a little differently than former line coach Frank Maile.
Whereas his predecessor was more of a cool customer, Malloe has a bit more fire. In Thursday's afternoon practice, he was shouting out motivation, trying to spur his linemen on with his words.
Joining spring practice the same day his hiring was announced, Malloe already has a good feel for how hard he must drive his unit.
"On the field, it's probably the one place you can get emotional, as long as it's geared for the right purpose," he said. "We try to win every day. We expect that at Utah State. When we don't meet that expectation, that's when I tend to get emotional. We're wasting a rep, we're wasting a practice. We can't afford that if we plan to repeat as division champions."
When Maile left for Vanderbilt, Malloe's personality helped him stand apart in interviews. Larsen and Kamana-Matagi were two of the players who interviewed him before his hiring, and they sensed a wide breadth of football know-how within him.
So far, they haven't been disappointed.
"Right off the bat, you could tell he knew his stuff," Kamana-Matagi said. "He's obviously different than Frank, but he was all about keeping what we did with Frank the same, just in his own words, in that way he has a different philosophy than Frank did."
Malloe said so far, he's been able to blend in well with defensive coordinator Todd Orlando's philosophy, and that the playbook has made a lot of sense to him. By fall, he hopes to be able to say the same of all of his players.
The defensive line will need men to step up to replace Williams and all-Mountain West tackle A.J. Pataiali'i. As Pataiali'i's former roommate, Kamana-Matagi feels suited for that particular challenge. Despite coming off knee surgery two months ago, the Hawaiian senior is pushing his way to the top of the nose guards with strength and quickness gains he's made during the offseason.
Malloe wants more from his group though, and eventually would like them to make as many plays as the heralded linebackers who play behind them.
" The guys who have been here will have to work on their technique and really learn how to finish," he said. "A play, a move, a down that's what we've been working on, trying to finish near the ball and be playmakers."
Blue vs. White Spring Game
P Saturday, 2 p.m., Romney Stadium