LOGAN — The constant grin on the face of Matt Wells Wednesday afternoon seemed to have as much to do with the recruits the Aggies signed to National Letters of Intent as it did the apparent end of his “juggling” act.
Since Utah State wrapped up the 2015 season with a loss in the Famous Idaho Potato Bowl on Dec. 22, the young head coach has been pursuing new assistant coaches just as hard as scholar-athletes. The departure of six Aggie assistants created a huge challenge for Wells simply due to “the sheer numbers.”
“I was a one-man show with three other coaches there for a minute,” Wells explained. “And we were juggling 20 guys that we signed, and another 20 that we were actively recruiting down the stretch — that’s a load just in manpower. That was a major challenge, recruiting players and recruiting coaches at the same time.
“We signed a couple of coaches,” Wells added before catching himself. “Signed ’em? I mean hired ’em. And then I hit pause for a little bit, and now that’s starting to amp back up.”
But before returning to searching for assistant coaches — with a new offensive coordinator being at the top of the list — Wells announced the official signing of 20 new Aggies. Now in the fourth year at the helm of his alma mater, Wells latest recruiting class includes 16 high school players and four junior college transfers.
Three of the signees are mid-year transfers who are already enrolled at Utah State, along with five early enrollees fresh out of high school who will participate in spring practices.
“This is a really long recruiting class,” Wells said. “It’s one of our longer classes, and we got a lot of length. We have a couple of slot receivers from Florida who are both short and little, but they’re playmakers. Other than that, everybody is 6 foot or taller.
“We’re trying to get more length, especially at cornerback and wide receiver, and both of those areas were addressed. The other area we focused on was linebackers. We addressed that, and quite frankly, we’ll continue to address that position.”
The Aggies signed four linebackers, four wide receivers and four offensive linemen while also inking three defensive backs, two running backs, one quarterback, one tight end and one defensive end.
Three of the 20 are in-state recruits who will head out on LDS missions before enrolling at USU: Bingham linebacker Simian Matagi, Dixie running back Tre Miller and Sky View tight end Bryce Mortenson. In addition, the Aggies signed four more Utah scholar-athletes: Logan defensive end and returned missionary Caden Andersen, Logan linebacker/defensive end Troy Murray, Herriman offensive lineman Ty Shaw and East safety Zach Swenson.
“Another aspect of our recruiting that was met was emphasizing the state of Utah and our mission program,” Wells said. “The state of Utah has always been and will always be our No. 1 priority, as well as our mission kids and Polynesian connections. And all three of those areas were met with productive numbers.”
Jordan Love was the lone quarterback in the recruiting class of 2016, and the 6-foot-3, 180-pounder out Bakersfield, California, is already enrolled at Utah State. Six-foot-three, 280-pound Demytrick Ali’ifua, the younger brother of senior defensive end Ricky Ali’ifua, is also already on campus, but will likely suit up on the other side of the ball on the offensive line.
Morian Walker Jr., a 6-1, 215-pound running back out of San Jose, California, and Makiah Gilmer, a 6-1, 180-pound cornerback from Kirkland, Washington, are both touted as three-star recruits, while Wells is clearly excited about his “short and little” playmakers: 5-8, 165-pound Craig Rucker and 5-10, 160-pound Rayshad Lewis.
Rucker caught 28 passes for 401 yards and rushed for 710 yards on 78 carries while scoring 15 total touchdowns last season at Edgewater High School in Orlando, Florida. Lewis also comes out of Orlando, where he was a star cornerback at Bishop Moore High School while also seeing time as a wide receiver and kick returner.
“Those two guys fit the mold of the slot receivers that we’ve had Utah State … and they both have return capabilities,” Wells said. “Rayshad is a dynamic kickoff returner and punt returner, who can also play corner and slot. He is a multi-position-type of guy, but we’re going to start him at receiver. But he could play nickel, though.”
Lewis is also the son of legendary Baltimore Ravens linebacker Ray Lewis, who accompanied Rayshad on his recruiting trip.
“It was a good weekend,” Wells said. “(Ray Lewis) was completely engaged with the recruiting process in terms of being a dad for his son and soaking up information about Utah State and Cache Valley. He already had his fishing spots picked out, and knew where he was going to stay.
“He was great with our players who were hosts that weekend and got to meet him. He engaged with those guys, and I thought he was a very real and down-to-earth guy.”