Albuquerque, N.M. • Five days before the Utah State Aggies trounced the North Texas Mean Green to win the New Mexico Bowl, senior safety Jontrell Rocquemore sat calmly in front of a USU backdrop at the university’s activities complex.
He knew the bowl game would be has last game as an Aggie, as many seniors did. But until that point, he hadn’t thought about it.
“I’m trying to focus on a lot of the different things,” Rocquemore said at the time. “I’m focused on winning. That’s all I care about. Once we win, then it will hit me like, ‘OK, this is it.’”
Utah State won, and in convincing fashion in a 52-13 rout. Rocquemore did not speak to reporters after the game, but interim head coach Frank Maile provided a glimpse into the emotions of the senior safety, as well as the rest of the players whose USU careers ended Saturday.
“Well, right now, they’re going crazy in the locker room,” Maile said after the win. “So, hopefully, the celebration has calmed down so we can leave. … Those guys are more excited than anybody else.”
The seniors probably did not want to leave. At least not immediately. After capping an 11-2 win season with a bowl championship, the team had plenty to celebrate. Not two weeks prior, the Aggies fell short of their goal of winning a Mountain West championship and endured their head coach resigning just a few days afterward.
Sophomore quarterback Jordan Love and junior corner back DJ Williams credited the team’s leaders for making sure the team kept its focus on winning the bowl game and keeping out the distractions of the prior two weeks. Williams said the seniors also helped Maile and the younger players with that task.
But as the sun set Saturday on the Utah State seniors’ careers, it rose Sunday for a new era of Aggies.
“Those guys have done a great job leaving a legacy behind,” Maile said of the seniors. “It's something for our younger guys to move forward on as they continue their climb and their journey and leaving their marks and their legacy here at Utah State.”
The underclassmen already have a jumpstart on leaving that legacy. Love, who won the bowl’s offensive MVP award, theoretically has two seasons left in an Aggies uniform. He broke the passing-yard record this season with 3,567 yards. It was previously set by Chuckie Keeton, who amassed 3,373 passing yards in 2012.
Utah State’s top two rushers, Darwin Thompson and Gerold Bright, are both juniors. Williams, who was named the game’s defensive MVP, finished the season with four interceptions — the most on the team. He also has a year left at Utah State.
Linebacker David Woodward, who was recently named first-team All-America by Pro Football Focus, is only a sophomore. He had eight games this season with at least 10 tackles and has a solid opportunity to be one of the team’s featured defensive players next season.
The list goes on. And while notable seniors such as Rocquemore, receivers Ron’quavion Tarver and Aaren Vaughns, and linemen Chase Christiansen and Quin Ficklin are on their way out, there is plenty of reason to bet on the prediction Love made moments after the win over the Mean Green.
“I have no doubt we’re going to be back next year,” Love said.