Utah State football head coach Blake Anderson looks on during the Aggies’ game against UNLV, Sept 24, 2023
LOGAN — Utah State held its annual Spring Showcase on Saturday, inviting fans to come and see how the football team looks in the earliest goings of the upcoming 2023 campaign. Only it wasn’t a scrimmage as originally planned. Attrition at certain positions and concern over further potential injuries led to a limited practice. Some of that attrition came by way of injuries, some by way of numerous transfers that have slammed the team this offseason.
Those transfers have dominated discourse regarding the team. The Aggies have lost well over 20 players with at least 10 of those being players who started at least one game on defense for USU. Departures on the defensive line (Byron Vaughns, Daniel Grzesiak, Patrick Joyner, Phillip Paea, Tavian Coleman), at linebacker (AJ Vongphachanh, Kaleo Neves) and in the secondary (Ajani Carter, Dominic Tatum) have devastated the defensive side of the ball.
USU head coach Blake Anderson was asked after the Showcase about the numerous transfers and gave a response that went well over three minutes. The main cause he cited was NIL (name, image and likeness) money that has lured many of the Aggies’ starters elsewhere.
“This is the new world of college football. This is what legislators have created. It’s gonna happen all across (the country) — and it is. This is not a Logan problem this is an NCAA football problem. And it’s not going to go back,” Anderson said. “You’ve got (a) group of guys that feel like they’re marketable and have some leverage and can put their name out on the open market and are gonna be able to find places to go where they’re going to be able to get paid to play.
“Whether they’re a starter, a role player or just on the roster there are people that can go out and get three, five, ten thousand dollars a month out of collective money all across the country and still play the same game that they’re playing here. And that’s the nature of what college football has created.”
Anderson noted that many players who have entered the transfer portal are those who are looking to transfer “down” to lower-level schools to get more playing time.
“If you watch the portal, there are guys going in the portal that are looking to play more,” Anderson added, “looking to transfer down to (FCS) and Division II. They need to do that and we’re gonna help them find places to go. Every name that goes in the portal is not a guy that’s been productive on the field here. We’re trying to find a place where some of those guys can be.”
Looking at those who are known to have entered the portal, roughly half fall into the category Anderson described there, guys that weren’t getting snaps at Utah State that will look elsewhere to find more playing time and a chance to really make a name for themselves.
Based on previous years, the number of players leaving for lack of playing time hasn’t been irregular. It’s more the larger number of starters and rotation players leaving in the midst of spring practices that’s causing panic about 2023’s prospects for USU football. Ten of Utah State’s transfers are players that logged at least 400 snaps last season. Paea (a starter who was injured early in the season so he didn’t play as many snaps) along with NyNy Davis, Sione Moa and Bishop Davenport are players on the edge of being rotation players who have also left, bringing the total of the more concerning type of transfer to more than a dozen.
It’s led some to fear that internal issues in the USU locker room are driving players away. But Anderson made sure to emphasize that he does not think that’s the case.
“We don’t have a culture problem,” Anderson said. “Whatever the fans think, we do not have a culture problem. This a college football problem and we’re doing the best we can to figure out what the new college football is going to look like and keep a competitive football team right here. And that’s exactly what our staff is doing. I love our culture. I love our locker room. It’s a great group and we’re gonna find a way to win with the group we got.”
As for the how the players feel, quarterback Cooper Legas isn’t too hung up on the departures.
“Every school in the country has people leaving,” Legas said. “No one within our own system is worried about everyone that’s gone.”
Graduate defensive tackle Hale Motu’apuaka offered his best wishes but likewise maintained a forward-thinking mentality.
“It’s always sad to see your brothers leave, especially those you’ve been playing alongside a couple of years,” Motu’apuaka said. “I wish them all the best but at the end of the day we’ve got Aggie Nation with us and we’re go to ride it until the end.”
As for what happens now, there’s only one thing Anderson and his staff can do to try and replace lost players. They’re “gonna recruit like crazy to get more guys here that want to be a part of what we’re doing.”