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Utah State football: USU lineman ready to get busy in summer

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By Lya Wodraska

The Salt Lake Tribune

First published May 19 2014 04:18PM
Updated May 19, 2014 11:19PM

While others might have plans to hit the beach, do some hiking or just kick back with friends and family in the summer, Utah State offensive lineman Austin Stephens plans to see a lot of film, and not the kind that will be nominated for an Oscar any time soon.

Stephens, one of the rising linemen for the Aggies, believes he can make big gains this summer by hunkering down in the film room.

"I want to get stronger and faster, but I know I can improve a lot by watching film," he said. "We look at summer like it’s the third quarter push and I want to keep getting better and I can do that by watching a lot of film."

Stephens feels a sense of urgency for a few reasons. First and foremost, the West Des Moines, Iowa, native is a natural competitor who wants to perform well. Second, he knows the Aggies have to have some of the young talent such as himself step up and perform well next year since USU lost five players who started at least five games along the offensive line in 2013 — including MWC honorees Tyler Larsen, Jamie Markosian and Eric Schultz.

The Aggies return standout tackle Kevin Whimpey, who has started 26 games in a row, but he can’t hold down the fort on his own.

Finally, as a junior college transfer and redshirt player, Stephens knows there will be pressure for him to step in and make a big impact this year.

He isn’t interested in letting anyone down in that regard.

"I’m excited for the opportunities," he said. "I’m not perfect, but I hope I can step in and make a difference in the team and make us better. We lost a lot of players last year but I hope I can help make us better. That is the No. 1 goal."

Stephens wisely spent as much time as possible learning the ways of Larsen, the Aggies’ center who became the school’s ninth player to earn three-time first-team all-conference honors.

What Stephens noticed is Larsen got his biggest advantage against opponents in the film room.

"I did so much in the film room, knowing the game inside and out and what teams are going to do in certain situations," Stephens said. "I might not be as good as him and I know I have big shoes to fill, but I can watch film like that. Film work is underrated. People don’t know how much film work does for you until you see the older guys like Tyler putting in their time until the game is second nature to them."

Stephens isn’t the only one putting pressure on himself to spend the summer improving. Utah State coach Matt Wells said he was happy with how far the offensive line progressed in spring, but said more work needs to be done.

"The biggest thing is they have to be able to continue to communicate," he said. "Communication solves a lot of issues. If you don’t communicate, you are going to have breakdowns and you’re going to look bad, so the more we can improve that, the better."

Stephens hears what his coach is saying and with a wide smile says he is up for the task.

"We’re already getting ready for Tennessee," he said of the Aggies’ season opener. "We know we have a lot of work to do and a lot of new faces, but the older guys did a great job getting us ready and we’ll be ready."

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