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Utah State football: Aggies start spring practice with many new faces

Published March 3, 2014 4:52 pm

Utah State football • Only 9 starters return, so plenty of positions remain up for grabs.
This is an archived article that was published on sltrib.com in 2014, and information in the article may be outdated. It is provided only for personal research purposes and may not be reprinted.

Logan •Â A few months removed from being one of five returning starters on the offensive line, Kevin Whimpey is feeling a bit self-conscious about his age in position meetings.

With a bunch of young faces now playing bigger roles in the trenches, Whimpey has quickly assumed elder statesman status as the only returning starter. But in his third year, he said, he feels ready to embrace it.

"I feel kind of old, but it's been kind of fun because I'm in a new role," he said. "Every year, you do the same thing, but your maturity grows. I kind of know the ropes, and I can teach the younger guys."

Coming off a 9-5 season neatly capped with a Poinsettia Bowl win, the Aggies find themselves working to replace more than a few key parts. Most of the offensive line is gone, most of the secondary gone, and there are some leadership vacancies still to be assumed. But heading into his second season, coach Matt Wells likes the talent he has, likes how his players and coaches are working, and he sees good things on the horizon as the Aggies start spring camp Tuesday.

This USU team might not have the same strengths as last year's team, Wells said, but he's comfortable with that.

"We're making strides where we need to, and we have a good grasp of our personnel and how we're going to replace those groups with heavier losses," he said. "One thing I've learned coaching is that no situation is ever going to be the same. Every year is different. But what won't change is that players make plays."

In contrast to last season, many of the most important roles on the team are going to be up for grabs. With 22 seniors gone from the winningest class in school history, only nine returning starters on offense and defense will be available for spring ball. Among those still working their way back from injury is quarterback Chuckie Keeton and running back Joe Hill.

That opens things up for a variety of new faces, particular players who came on at the end of last season. Utah State fans will get a chance to familiarize themselves with cornerbacks like Rashard Stewart and Daniel Gray, or linemen such as Bill Vavau and Jake Simonich who got limited snaps last year. Other position battles — nose tackle, inside linebacker and running back, to name a few — should introduce some new talent.

That doesn't mean the Aggies don't return some of their best as well. Utah State has seven all-Mountain West players who are healthy this spring: Zach Vigil, B.J. Larsen, Kyler Fackrell, Brian Suite, Nick Diaz and Jojo Natson.

Vigil said being a returning starter hasn't set him at ease. Even the all-conference players are looking for ways to follow up their 2013 year with an even better season. Being a leader on the team also means making sure the younger players are doing what they need to do. So far, so good.

"When you get thrown into this program, you gotta work hard or you won't fit in," Vigil said. "They're working the right way. Time will tell whether we can play … together."

kgoon@sltrib.com

Twitter: @kylegoon —

Utah State football key spring dates

March 21 •Â Scrimmage, 3:45 p.m.

April 4 •Â Scrimmage, 3:45 p.m.

April 12 •Â Blue vs. White Spring Game, 2 p.m. —

Key Utah State position battles

Cornerback • Rashard Stewart and Daniel Gray are at the top of the depth chart for now.

Offensive line • Replacing four starters, there's a lot of playing time at stake.

Running back • It's a four-way battle for reps, with Kelvin Lee and Kennedy Williams bringing the most expeirence.

Nose tackle •Â Elvis Kamana-Matagi and Travis Seefeldt go head to head.

Inside linebacker •Â Alex Huerta, Torrey Green and Ian Togiai look to replace Jake Doughty.