BYU quarterback Taysom Hill called the fourth-down play against Michigan State with a previously unknown receiver as the primary target. Quin Ficklin was perplexed. “Really, this is the plan?” he thought.
It worked. Ficklin stretched to catch Hill’s low throw for a first down and BYU went on to beat the Spartans. If that play seemed unlikely, consider Ficklin’s career trajectory since that afternoon in October 2016. The Cougars’ occasional fullback is now Utah State’s starting center, widely viewed as the Aggies’ top lineman and maybe even their best offensive player.
Ficklin never again will wear No. 44, although the athletic ability that enabled him to catch that pass undoubtedly helps him in his current position. He’s a success story in Logan, one of the Aggies’ five new starters on an offensive line with varied backgrounds. The line has improved during a season that will end Friday in the Arizona Bowl vs. New Mexico State.
“We all have our stories of getting here. That kind of makes our group even more special,” said USU tackle Roman Andrus, who started his college career as a BYU defensive lineman in 2012. That’s when Ficklin also arrived in Provo, prior to their church missions.
Andrus spent the 2016 season at Snow College before signing with USU, where the coaches moved him to offense. In the Aggie staff’s search for a center, Andrus suggested, “I know a guy.”
That’s how Ficklin found a home at his natural position, after backing up Tejan Koroma, BYU’s outstanding center. Ficklin appeared briefly in two games in relief of Koroma, with NCAA rules requiring a jersey change (to No. 55) in a football version of a NASCAR pit crew’s operation. “Those are pretty tight jerseys,” Ficklin said, “so it was kind of a spectacle having four guys rip it off me and then pull the other one on.”
Wearing No. 44, Ficklin was on the field for 40-plus plays in 2016, by his estimate. Ty Detmer, then BYU’s offensive coordinator, regularly used a “monster” package with extra blockers. The personnel group was so named “probably because I’m ugly and look like a monster,,” Ficklin said, “not that I’m a great physical specimen.”
As you can tell by now, Ficklin has some personality. He’s known to have conversations with opposing defensive lineman that have nothing to do with football, stemming as much from his own effort to divert his mind during games as trying to distract them.
He’s thriving, in any case. In his junior season of eligibility, he was able to play immediately for USU because he was a non-scholarship athlete at BYU. Ficklin received All-Mountain West honorable mention and was named the conference’s third-team center by Phil Steele.
“I don’t think anyone in their right mind, including maybe even him, knew how well he would play, how quickly he would play and how quickly he would develop into a tremendous leader,” said USU coach Matt Wells. “It was very evident about halfway through [spring practice] that we had found our starting center.”
As of Friday, Ficklin will have have dressed for consecutive bowl games in the uniforms of BYU and USU, although he didn’t play in the Cougars’ Poinsettia Bowl win over Wyoming last December. Andrus and Aggie safety Dallin Leavitt also made bowl trips with BYU and will start for USU against New Mexico State in Tucson, about a 90-minute drive from Ficklin’s home in Mesa, Ariz.
And in September, Ficklin will return to the site of his most memorable play in college football. USU opens the 2018 season at Michigan State, where his 2-yard catch on fourth and 1 early in the fourth quarter led to Hill’s touchdown run on the next play, giving BYU a 10-point lead in a 34-14 win. Winning again in East Lansing would be asking a lot of Ficklin. Then again, nobody could have known how good he would become in Logan, where he professes to enjoy everything about the Aggie experience.
“I wish I could have been at Utah State for my entire career — nothing against my three years there,” Ficklin said in September, prior to USU’s 40-24 win over BYU. “I love Logan more than I love Provo and I love this university more than I loved BYU. Coach Wells’ letting me come up here and giving me a chance has been something better than I ever would have asked for.”