Meeting new teammates during a pandemic poses a few challenges. Team get-togethers are out of the question, and Zoom meetings don’t exactly lend themselves to chitchat.
So Utah State University quarterback Jason Shelley took a micro approach. Upon his arrival in Logan in July, the University of Utah transfer started singling out Aggies players to connect with one by one.
“It just started like, you know, every day I’m trying to meet somebody new. Every day I’m trying to say hi to someone. Let them know I’m here, OK, I’m the new guy,” Shelley told The Tribune. “Some guys even came to me. So, it was nice.”
Those connections paid off Monday when Shelley got the starting nod for USU’s season opener Saturday on the blue turf of Mountain West Conference juggernaut Boise State. The game, one of eight straight MW contests that will make up the Aggies' slate in this coronavirus-shortened season, is set for 5 p.m. on FS1.
Shelley entered the transfer portal in February because he wanted to be a starter and a quarterback (the Utes had used him at safety in their final games of 2019). USU coach Gary Andersen immediately expressed interest in him and Shelley joined the Aggies as soon as the NCAA approved a waiver allowing him to play this season.
For the starter tag, the 5-foot-11, 190-pound junior expected to have to unseat Henry Colombi, the backup to first-round NFL draft pick Jordan Love in 2019. But days after Shelley arrived, Colombi transferred to Texas Tech, where this week he was tabbed as the starter for the 1-3 Red Raiders.
So the competition was narrowed down to Shelley and 6-2, 205-pound sophomore Andrew Peasley. Peasley has been with the team since 2018 but redshirted last year after tearing his MCL in the early season. He has appeared in four games for the Aggies.
Peasley called Shelley “a good friend” and said they’ve pushed each other to improve.
“We get along really well, but we’re competitors. Both of us are. We compete, and we both learn off each other,” Peasley told The Tribune. “You know, I feel like that’s a good thing.”
Andersen apparently does as well. He said Monday that Shelley’s experience — he started five games for the Utes and played in 19 — factored into his decision to name him the No. 1 QB against the defending conference champion Broncos. Yet the coach left the door open for Peasley to step in at any time.
“I expect them both to play. That should be the first part of this is that Jason has done a good job and I think Andrew’s done a good job, also,” said Andersen, who is in his sixth season with USU. “There was this back and forth, which I expect. They both want to play. They both want to compete. Jason will take the next snap, but it is not off the table to have Andrew come in, and he’ll certainly have an opportunity, just a chance, to compete.”
Shelley has done his best to blend in with his new teammates, three others of which also played at Utah: senior kicker Nels Haltom, senior OLB Nick Heninger and senior running back Devonta’e Henry-Cole.
Aside from those players, Shelley’s first connection at USU was with his roommate, Justin McGriff. The sophomore transfer out of ASA College of Miami in Florida is one of the wide receivers the USU coaching staff is especially excited about this season. Then Shelley started reaching out to the rest of the receiving corps. The initial cancellation of the MW season in August meant no practice for two weeks, but that didn’t mean they couldn’t play a socially-distanced game of catch.
“You know, when I first got there, I went straight to work pretty much,” Shelley said. “Started calling guys, trying to get some throws in and make up for some lost time.”
The conference rebooted its season late last month and Shelley expects to see that groundwork will pay off Saturday. He will become the first Aggies quarterback to start in his first career game at USU since Chuckie Keeton started as a true freshman in 2011. Only three quarterbacks have started their first game with the team in the past 25 years.
If Shelley can lead the Aggies past Boise State, though, he could end an even longer drought. He could hand Andersen his first win over the Broncos in his collegiate coaching career, which began in 1988. He is 0-3 against Boise State in two stints at USU.
Before he takes on that challenge, Shelley will get a little more one-on-one time with his teammates on Friday’s 3 1/2-hour drive to Idaho.
“I’m all juiced up over here. I’m just ready to go on the bus ride to Boise, to be honest with you,” he said. “I’m ready, and I can’t wait until Friday.”
UTAH STATE AT BOISE STATE
When • Saturday, 5 p.m. MT
TV • FS1