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(Rick Egan | The Salt Lake Tribune) JoJo Natson flies through the air backwards after grabbing a long pass over his head, during the Utah State Aggie's final spring scrimmage, Saturday, April 12, 2014
Aggies won’t let wins go to their heads
USU football » Utah State holds tight to its blue-collar traditions.
First Published Aug 17 2014 10:49 am • Last Updated Aug 17 2014 10:36 pm

Logan • With Utah State senior Zach Vigil walking around camp, talking about instilling culture and carrying on traditions, one would think the guy has sociology or psychology in his future, not football.

Yet in Vigil’s mind, building such intangible qualities is as important as hunkering down in a film room and studying tape of the Tennessee Vols.

At a glance

Aggie achievements

» USU has won back-to-back bowl games for the first time

» The 2013 senior class of 22 players graduated as the winningest class in school history with 31 victories

» USU’s seven league wins in 2013 was a school record, with the past mark being six wins in 1936 and 2012

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"The new guys come in and think winning is easy," he said. "It isn’t. We have to make sure the new guys come in and understand it takes hard work."

Vigil isn’t the only one with that line of thought. Quarterback Chuckie Keeton has voiced similar urgency, saying camp should be "painful," so everyone knows how hard they must work to succeed, while coach Matt Wells speaks frequently of the "Aggie way."

"We have a singular focus and that’s our job as coaches to portray that to leaders and for the leaders to do that from player to player," he said of the need to learn the Aggie way, which doesn’t always involve Xs and Os.

So why is there so much emphasis on the mental aspect of the game? Shouldn’t the Aggies be spending more time worrying how to handle the noise in Tennessee’s Neyland Stadium and the Vols’ talented group of receivers instead?

They’ll get there, Wells assured.

"We’ll focus on that when the time comes," Wells said. "But for now it’s what we do and how we do it."

The Aggies are putting an emphasis on attitude because of the team’s recent success. They worked too hard and too long to get their success not to put in a little extra effort to maintain it.

Until Gary Andersen came along, the Aggies were known as a hard-working, blue-collar team — except the hard work didn’t always translate into wins.

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Utah State suffered 13 straight losing seasons until Andersen took over in 2009 and turned the program around. The Aggies went 4-8 under his direction in his first two years, then finished 7-6 before going 11-2 in 2012.

Utah State athletic director Scott Barnes described the period before Andersen’s hiring as a time of self-reflection.

"We had to stop blaming the losing seasons on just poor coaching and see what we could do too as an administration," he said.

The answer was more financial commitments, to the tune of $3 million for staff salaries and other expenses that have been dedicated to the football program since Andersen was hired.

The money helped the Aggies hire a quality coaching staff, but Andersen, and now Wells, also instituted a new attitude.

"Gary believed in guys who had a grind-it-out mentality," Barnes said. "They weren’t always the most talented, but they would be the same guys grinding it out on the field in the fourth quarter, then in the film room on Sunday. He wasn’t afraid to push the team and make them step up."

Craig Hislop, a broadcaster for Cache Valley’s KVNU, described Andersen’s hiring and USU’s decision to funnel more money into the football program as a "perfect storm," particularly after the Laub Complex was finished in 2008.

"Gary took over and was the guy that was in place to base his recruitment of every class on the facility," Hislop said. "Brent [Guy] had more or less recruited on ‘in a few years this place will be available to you.’ "

Wells, Andersen’s previous assistant, has made the transition between coaches virtually seamless because he was "a big enough man to realize if it isn’t broke, you don’t fix it," Barnes said.

Instead, the Aggies continued to roll.

The 2013 season, Wells’ first, marked numerous achievements.

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