A version of this story ran in the Utah State Football Preview magazine, produced by the Utah Statesman.
You know the name Jalen Davis. He’s been a fixture in the Utah State secondary for three years, the only true freshman to start a season opener at cornerback for the Aggies in program history. He’s collected six career interceptions, four sacks and three forced fumbles over 36 starts. But despite months of analysis, offseason hype and probing media interviews leading up to Davis’ breakout season, no one seemed to mention his name.
Gems like Davis who fly completely under the radar only to buck expectations and earn the label “impact player” are the heart and soul of college football. Every team has potential candidates, and it’s often the performance of these unscouted, unheralded X-factors that determine exactly how special a team’s season becomes. For the 2017 Utah State Aggies, a squad hungry to reclaim its identity and rediscover success, these impact players just might be the next Jalen Davis.
Jordan Nathan, WR
As a redshirt freshman, it’s got to feel good when your starting quarterback name-drops you in the preseason.
“I think Jordan Nathan has come into that slot position and really showed us that he’s the man at that spot,” Myers said. “I think he’s ready to go right now.”
That’s encouraging news, as the spring departure of Rayshad Lewis appeared to deal a serious blow to USU’s receiving group. Instead, this 5-foot-9 California native stepped into what should be a critical role in the Aggies’ new fast-paced offense and has looked starting-quality at every turn. Fall camp saw Nathan buzzing through would-be tacklers after catches, catching defenders off-guard with well-timed sweeps and displaying a knack for finding open field in the kick return game. At worst, the Aggies have a nice special teams option with Nathan on the roster, but as a shifty outlet for Myers’ short passing game who can find yards were there ought to be none, it’s possible Nathan is a more than capable replacement for Lewis and a key cog in the offense.
Dax Raymond, TE
Dax Raymond can do it all. In camp drills he flies through routes, pulling in jump balls with ease and looking way too comfortable for a dude who’s just a sophomore with four career receptions under his belt. He will headline a solid tight end group this fall and make for a useful weapon in new offensive coordinator David Yost’s playbook. At 6-foot-5 and 245 lbs, Raymond is this year’s answer to the question “Didn’t Wyatt Houston graduate?”
Adewale Adeoye, DE
Adeoye is the best thing Aggie fans and opposing quarterbacks won’t see coming. A relatively unknown player to those with their noses stuck in last year’s stat sheets, Adeoye will play a prominent role in Utah State’s pass rush this fall. The big defensive end is up almost 20lbs after a productive offseason, and has the build and explosiveness to throw people around. The Aggies’ experience on the back end is well-documented, but for any secondary to be effective there must be pressure on the quarterback — pressure Adeoye will provide in his first year as a starter on a defensive line looking to take a leap forward after a mediocre 2016.
Justus Te’i, LB
Perhaps the most disappointing aspect of Utah State’s 2016 squad was the lack of star linebackers. An impressive streak of NFL prospects has patrolled the Aggies’ front seven for years, starting with future All-Pro Super Bowl champion Bobby Wagner and most recently starring current Green Bay Packer Kyler Fackrell and the Vigil brothers Nick and Zach, also currently on NFL rosters. Last year, though the patchwork front seven did still manage to send Ricky Ali’ifua to Kansas City, the unit failed in its efforts to stop the run in a conference built on the backs of ground-and-pound offenses. The Aggies allowed 203 rushing yards per game in 2016, and with one of the Mountain West’s best secondaries covering the back end, it’s imperative for the linebacking unit to return to form.
Enter Justus Te’i, an energetic sophomore looking to make an impact in his first season as a regular starter. Te’i boasts the intelligence you want in a multidimensional linebacker, able to play both inside and outside and aware of his own potential to be a force against the run and the short passing game. Whether his ceiling is NFL-caliber remains to be seen, but his potential to disrupt the host of experienced MW quarterbacks facing the Aggies this fall is enticing.
Eltoro Allen, RB
It’s probably fair to say many of Utah State’s running backs could go off this season — Tonny Lindsay could see more carries as the flashier of two seniors, with LaJuan Hunt adding tons of experience as a grind-it-out guy in his final year. Justin Hervey describes his role in the offense as part of a “three-headed monster.” What could be interesting is the addition of a fourth name to that mix — JUCO transfer Eltoro Allen. Allen received a dozen carries in the Aggies’ final preseason scrimmage and made use of every one of them, causing running backs coach Mark Tommerdahl to comment both Hervey and Allen are “right in the mix.”
With USU’s primary aim being a fast-paced, efficient offense, it’s likely fans will see multiple running backs answering the call each week. Allen’s upside is undeniable, and it’s possible the junior could carve out a role for himself in his first year playing Div. I.
Jaren Colston-Green, WR
For a senior, Colston-Green is a relatively unknown commodity. According to both coach Wells and offensive coordinator David Yost, that won’t be the case come December. The Tallahassee native has been turning heads since spring ball and continued to do so in the earliest days of fall camp as one of Myers’ favorite end zone targets. Yost says he looks like a new player, and JCG himself noted speeding up his game to match the pace at which USU wants to move the ball. It’s always fun seeing a senior on the list of potential breakout players, but it’s more than just a nice story — Colston-Green is on a mission this season, and teammates and coaches alike have taken note.