USU's 22 seniors are S Maurice Alexander, CB Quinton Byrd, S Clayton Christensen, RB Joey DeMartino, LB Jake Doughty, CB Tay Glover-Wright, C Tyler Larsen, CB Nevin Lawson, OG Jamie Markosian, RB Robert Marshall, NG AJ Pataiali'i, DE Paul Piukala, WR Travis Reynolds, S Cameron Sanders, OT Eric Schultz, OG Sini Tauauve'a, PK Josh Thompson, LB Terrell Thompson, TE D.J. Tialavea, WR Travis Van Leeuwen, OG Kyle Whimpey and DE Connor Williams.
Dec. 30, 2013
LOGAN, Utah -
by Megan Allen, USU Athletic Media Relations
When the current Utah State football senior players were being recruited by the Aggies, they were buying into more than a football program. They were ignited by the passion of the coaching staff and the desire they had to turn the team around. For the freshmen coming to Logan in 2009 and 2010, it took a lot of faith and trust to buy into the system former head coach Gary Andersen was creating.
The graduating seniors of the 2013 football team are an incredible group of men who have helped each other through the ups and downs of the rebuilding of the Utah State football program. The 22 men leading the pack this year are S Maurice Alexander, CB Quinton Byrd, S Clayton Christensen, RB Joey DeMartino, LB Jake Doughty, CB Tay Glover-Wright, C Tyler Larsen, CB Nevin Lawson, OG Jamie Markosian, RB Robert Marshall, NG AJ Pataiali'i, DE Paul Piukala, WR Travis Reynolds, S Cameron Sanders, OT Eric Schultz, OG Sini Tauauve'a, PK Josh Thompson, LB Terrell Thompson, TE D.J. Tialavea, WR Travis Van Leeuwen, OG Kyle Whimpey and DE Connor Williams.
"Beyond the records, what this senior class has demonstrated to me is togetherness and toughness. They've stayed together. They're very tough-minded individuals," said head coach Matt Wells. "They came in when Coach Andersen was first selling a belief of team and family and toughness. They bought in and had some rough times early."
Now, the system has taken hold and Utah State has become a strong and successful program.
"When we got here in 2009, it was a rebuilding process. The coaches were still instilling hard work, dedication and perseverance in us," said Williams. "When the next group came in in 2010, it was instilled in them even more so."
As the core values and vital skills of the team have become more commonplace and understood, the members of the team have taken it to heart and made an impact on the field.
"That's something we're trying to keep teaching to the younger guys," defensive end Connor Williams said. "That's what made us so successful and got us to where we are today. If it weren't for those first few rough years, we wouldn't be where we are today. All the credit goes to the coaches and the players who have helped lift each other up."
Coming from four-win freshman seasons in 2009 and 2010, this year's seniors only had room to go up. And go up they did. Over the next few seasons, the team has steadily improved with this graduating class officially claiming the title of winningest senior class.
"It's nice to get a reward for all the hard work we've done," said center Tyler Larsen. "Just being here overall has been a great, fun experience. Everything that we've gone through is what brought this program to where we are now. Putting in all the work and winning games and making history is a feeling that can't be matched."
As they've gone through the challenges and hard times of their football careers, this team has learned to work together and grown from the experiences.
"We've all changed, and we've changed somebody else around us in some way. We've matured and grown together. I know I've changed and matured," said cornerback Tay Glover-Wright. "I've learned a few things about growing up and becoming a man. Those are things I'm going to take with me, and I'll be an Aggie for life."
As a result of winning games and higher quality play, there has also been a change in the air of the football team. Each day, players come in ready to work and give it their all to continue the success they have already seen.
"My favorite thing has been watching everybody's attitudes change in how we come to work every day. Having the confidence in knowing we can compete with anyone in the nation gives us the drive to work hard every single day," said running back Joey DeMartino. "We don't put anyone on a pedestal. Everyone on our team is as good as everybody else."
With consecutive bowl game wins, a conference championship and consecutive winning seasons, the team has seen what they are capable of and have taken advantage of it.
"Watching everybody's confidence change going through these years has been the greatest thing," DeMartino said. "We've got a winning attitude on this team, and they're going to carry on the tradition after we're gone."
When the Aggies qualified for a bowl game in 2011, it was a big step for the program. Even though the team didn't come out ahead in the first trip to the Famous Idaho Potato Bowl, it was a piece of the puzzle that brought USU to where it is today.
"Going to that first bowl game was a turning point for this program. We knew then that we could play with anyone in the nation. That just made us work even harder to achieve our goals," said wide receiver Travis Reynolds. "By being at the bottom once upon a time, we all want to work hard so we're not there again. We just want to excel."
On the return trip to Boise the next year, the Potato Bowl ended on the other side of the win-loss column.
"The bowl games definitely stand out. We came here when we were only winning three or four games. As a freshman, I wasn't even thinking about a bowl game, I just cared about getting home in December. It's a lot different now," Reynolds said. "That first year we got bowl eligible was one of the best feelings I've ever had. I hadn't been in any sort of championship game since my little league days, so to go to and then later win a championship game was a huge blessing."
Coming off the thrilling finish of the 2012 season, hopes were high coming into this fall. With a solid group of players, a strong schedule and a new conference, there was a lot to play for. As the first few weeks of the season went on, however, it quickly became apparent that the season was not going to go the way anyone expected or hoped.
As more key players went down with injuries, the team had to rally together and make it work. While skeptics saw the season as over, especially after the loss of junior quarterback Chuckie Keeton, the team refused to let it get them down.
"This season was a roller coaster, but the most important thing to me, the thing that made me realize how good of a team we are, is the way we stuck together," Glover-Wright said. "We were going through so much adversity and had so many things happening that it would have been easy for us to turn against each other and stop working as hard. We didn't do that. We stuck together to grind it out. Coach Wells always tells us that all we've got is our name and our reputation, and we don't want to lose that."
After hearing stories of players and teams who did not find success in their struggles, these seniors and the rest of the Aggies were determined to move forward and still find success.
"For us to be able to bounce back from that adversity is a blessing," Reynolds said. "Despite the losses, this is probably my favorite season here."
The team has indeed bounced back, becoming bowl eligible for the third-straight season and winning back-to-back bowl games for the first in school history.
"When you lose those key guys, it's easy for a team to just quit. It's an easy excuse," DeMartino said. "The way this team has battled through injuries and losses and everything else just says a lot about our guys and who we are. We've grown to be a good team together these last few years."
The experience of fighting through so much adversity in a few short years has taught this senior class a lot, preparing them for a world outside of college.
"The challenges in life are what make you a better person overall. If you go through life and everything is easy, what kind of man are you at the end of the day? I'm thankful for the time I've had, because some of the things I've had to do here have put me in situations I never would have thought I'd be in," Williams said. "This place makes you a man and makes you a better person. Embrace every challenge and become better from it."
As they prepare for their futures, whether that's a continued career in football or not, the Aggie seniors of 2013 have a lot going for them.
"The neat thing for these guys is to see the fruits of their labor be rewarded with success on the field and in the classroom," Wells said. "They're the winningest class ever at Utah State. They're all on track to graduate. They're the first senior class for me as a head coach and as a staff that completely helped the transition and kept our team together through some times of adversity."
While the face of USU football may look different after this season, the ideals of the program will always be there. The work these seniors have done has paved the way for the current underclassmen and the Aggies of the future.
"These younger guys are what motivate me. I know I have guys looking up to me, and I want to be a positive role model for them. Leave everything on the field. These days go by really quickly," Reynolds said. "We came in in 2009, and it's just gone like that. You don't want to leave here wishing you would have done better than what you did. You don't want to leave with any regrets."
That concept of time flying by is one that each of these graduating seniors agrees on.
"Don't take any of these days for granted because they go by so fast. I swear just last week I was in camp, now here we are at the end of the season," Glover-Wright said. "Just go hard every single day. Grind until you can't grind anymore."
While it would be easy for these student-athletes to take credit for their successes and make it a personal thing, this group of seniors is humble and committed to doing what they do for others."
"I take a lot of pride in this. Being an Aggie is something special. We're a tight knit group up here," Larsen said. "Being able to do something special for the community and to do something special for your teammates and brothers out here is amazing. Being an Aggie means everything."
Being a part of that Aggie family is something that this team takes seriously and has been a huge factor in making them the men that they are today.
"I'm an Aggie at heart. I bleed blue; I'm going to die blue. At first, I was asking myself how I ended up in Utah, but this is the best experience of my life," Reynolds said. "The people that came before me, the people I play with, I'm glad to be a part of this group of people. It's a very positive vibe and I wouldn't want to be anywhere else."