TE Chris Cooley

2002 Statistics

Coach: Mike Dennehy
13-20, 3 years
2002 Record: 4-7
at Nebraska LOST 13-44
at Iowa LOST 7-48
at Boise State LOST 38-63
at Louis-Monroe LOST 48-51 (2OT)
at Troy State WON 19-16 (OT)
at Middle Tennessee LOST 28-45

2002 Final Rankings
AP-UR, Coaches-UR, BCS-UR

2003 Outlook

It's going to be a long season at Utah State. The wheels could come off in September with road games at Utah, Nebraska and Arizona State to open the season. That's a likely 0-3 start and could make for a dreadful rookie campaign in the Sun Belt Conference. But it could be good in that a three-month season will give a green bunch plenty of time to develop. Expect something in between, with major growing pains along the way.

The nation's No. 38 offense takes a horrible hit at the skill positions. The Aggies have to replace their best-ever quarterback and wide receiver, 2002's leading rusher and their second-leading receiver. And there's a new tight end and two offensive linemen, too. Ouch would be an understatement.

On defense, Utah State will switch from its 4-3 base scheme over to a 3-4 defense in order to utilize a solid corps of returning linebackers. They'll need a slew of players to adjust on the fly to new roles, especially on the defensive line. Defensive ends John Chick and Justin Jackson will shift to more tackle-esque spots and will have to worry less about upfield push and more about eating up blockers. Look for the team to play well under the new system, but a lack of overall talent will not overcome traditional match-up dilemmas once up against quality programs.

This isn't really a rebuilding year, it is more like an adjustment period that could last (up to) the entirety of 2003. With an offense replacing a massive amount of talent, Utah State has to improve on last season's 111th-best defense to have any shot at .500. By week 5, we will likely see signs of whether State can make the ladder part of 2003's schedule competitive, or not. "Wait 'til next year" legitimately sums up what this season has to offer.

Projected 2003 record: 3-9
DT John Chick
FB/TE Chris Cooley
CB Jerome Dennis
QB Travis Cox
QB - 1.5 DL - 2.5
RB - 2 LB - 3
WR - 2 DB - 2.5
OL - 2.5 ..

Passing: Travis Cox, 9-5-0, 11 yds., 0 TD

Rushing: Richard Watson, 75 att., 260 yds., 5 TD

Receiving: Chris Cooley, 31 rec., 502 yds., 4 TD

Scoring: Richard Watson, 5 TD, 30 pts.

Punting: none

Kicking: none

Tackles: Robert Watts, 85 tot., 48 solo

Sacks: John Chick, 4 sacks

Interceptions: Jerome Dennis, 1 for 75 yds.

Kickoff returns: Jerome Dennis, 14 ret., 27.7 avg.

Punt returns: David Fiefia, 11 ret., 9.1 avg.


OFFENSE: Jim Newton-OT, Luis Trujillo-OG, Casey Poppinga-TE, Kevin Curtis-WR, Jose Fuentes-QB, James Samuel-TB, Gary Coleman-WR
DEFENSE: Jorge Tapia-NG, Jesse Busta-LB, Jamar Glasper-S, Ade Jimoh-CB

written by Ryan Hockensmith

The offense suffered as much damage as perhaps any team in the country. Three-year starter Jose Fuentes leaves as Utah State's career passing leader. Wide receiver Kevin Curtis, the school's top all-time receiver, is gone. Top ground gainer James Samuel transferred to Weber State. Even Gary Coleman, the team's second-leading receiver from 2002, is gone. Bare cupboard? There might not even be a cupboard left.

But coach Mick Dennehy and staff are enthusiastic that they can plug in those enormous holes. Start at quarterback, where the Aggies bring back exactly 11 passing yards from 2002. Incumbent Travis Cox, a junior, won't have to duplicate Fuentes' massive senior stats (3,268 yards, 20 TDs). Coaches want Cox, who knows the Aggies' one-back offensive set better than any of the other starting candidates, to manage the offense.

It won't help that he has no familiar weapons with which to work. The Aggies lose their top two receivers from the nation's seventh-best passing attack. Dennehy will rely on junior college transfers Raymond Hicks and Barry Tolli to step in and immediately contribute. Hicks caught 18 passes at run-oriented Coffeyville JC last year and Tolli is a matured 23-year-old who played four seasons of minor league baseball. Neither has D1-A experience. Senior Chris Stallworth, a three-year letterman, will start at the third wideout spot.

Cox and the offense will need a big season out of the tailback crew. Sophomore Richard Watson and senior David Fiefia figure to gobble up most of the carries, with junior college transfer Tyrone McKinney taking care of change-of-pace/third-down duties. All three are low-to-the-ground bowling balls. They will be a tough trio to hit cleanly on or near the line of scrimmage. They need to give Utah State enough running threats that pressure eases off Cox and the wide receivers to make something happen through the air. If the three backs struggle, defenses could shut down the passing game with nickel and zone defenses. This balance could affect State's win total, making it above three if they can achieve a marginally successful running game.

Up front, three-year starters Jim Newton and Luis Trujillo are gone as protectors of the blind side. Starters Trevor Hutton and Donald Penn return along side center Aric Galliano to give Utah State a good protective foundation. Penn, a 6'5", 302-pound sophomore, will shift to left tackle after a promising frosh season on the right side. Hutton was the team's best lineman and will team with Galliano, who was solid despite playing most of the season with a broken snapping hand, to form a solid right interior. Look for the Aggies to capitalize on their tough-nosed backfield and experienced right interior with slicing dives up the middle. At right tackle, San Jose State transfer Elliot Tupea should start. On the left side, guard Greg Vandermade started as a freshman in 2001 and is the early favorite.


TB Richard Watson


Returning Starters in bold
QB Travis Cox-Jr (6-2, 211) Bryan Black-Fr (6-2, 183)
TB Richard Watson-So (5-9, 208) David Fiefia-Sr (5-8, 200)
WR Raymond Hicks-Jr (5-10, 184) Joel Higginson-Jr (6-0, 187)
WR Barry Tolli-Jr (6-1, 195) Jason Thomas-So (6-3, 208)
WR Chris Stallworth-Sr (6-3, 214) Jerome Eason-So (6-3, 213)
TE Chris Cooley-Sr (6-4, 252) Patrick McNutt-So (6-5, 255)
OT Donald Penn-So (6-5, 302) Brenen Burningham-Jr (6-7, 305)
OG Greg Vandermade-Sr (6-3, 289) Ryan Gunstream-So (6-2, 287)
C Aric Galliano-Sr (6-3, 297) David Rawlins-So (6-0, 275)
OG Trevor Hutton-Sr (6-2, 308) Malik Cin-So (6-4, 299)
OT Elliott Tupea-Jr (6-2, 313) Grant Calverley-Sr (6-4, 296)
K Ben Chaet-So (6-0, 193) Justin Hamblin-Fr (5-11, 148)



written by Ryan Hockensmith

With two starters and five lettermen returning from the linebacker corps, new defensive coordinator Dave Kotulski is shifting Utah State from its traditional 4-3 to a 3-4 base formation. The change rocks the team, from top to bottom. Dennehy admits that his roster and recruiting for the last few seasons doesn't jive with the new defense, but remains confident that returning LBs can step up and players converting from other positions will emerge as solid performers with the new approach.

The Aggies will utilize steady vets Robert Watts and Rodney Wilson (132 combined tackles) as the defensive backbones at the MAC and SAM LB spots. But the position has depth - they'll expect the two other candidates to emerge from a crowded pack of returning lettermen. This spring, Utah State began practice with junior Nate Putnam and Nate Fredrick at the other two spots. Putnam won Big West first-team all-league honors as a freshman defensive end in 2000, but has suffered through nearly two seasons of injuries. The 6'7", 239-pounder will make the move to Utah State's Stud LB. He has ability (14 TFLs as a frosh) but will have to make a quick, smooth transition from being a down lineman to standing behind the linemen. Fredrick, a 6'3", 230-pound sophomore, has added 20 pounds of beef and looks like a capable WILL LB in the team's system.

Up front, the Aggies bring back seven of nine linemen that lettered a year ago. Ends John Chick and Justin Jackson give them solid push on the outside but will be asked to play more tackle-like roles in this 3-4 scheme. Chick started every game last season as a freshman and had four sacks. Jackson racked up 8.5 TFLs on the opposite side. Chick and Jackson, plus space-eater Ronald Tupea (6'2", 293 pounds), will play crucial roles of gobbling up blockers in the middle to free up the linebackers to make tackles. If just one of the three can require double-teams, offenses will have match-up problems, and such a defensive advantage will elevate the team's win total, too.

In the secondary, Mark Estelle and Jerome Dennis will start at cornerback. Estelle is small (5'9", 175 pounds) but has good athletic ability and knocked down a team-high 13 passes. Cohort Dennis is a former strong safety and outstanding high school running back who has shifted to corner. In the backfield, Derrek Shank and Mike Rosencrans will start at strong and free safety. Both can and will hit ball carriers, and should be solid run supporters. Pass coverage is a whole different subject. The Aggies must get more than seven INTs to be competitive.


CB Robert Watts


Returning Starters in bold
DT Justin Jackson-Sr (6-3, 267) Jeremy Guenter-So (6-4, 270)
NG Ronald Tupea-Jr (6-2, 293) Ryan DeQuillettes-So (6-3, 278)
DT John Chick-So (6-4, 242) Michael Gates-So (6-4, 245)
STUD Nate Putnam-Jr (6-7, 239) Kelly Poppinga-Fr (6-2, 237)
SAM Rodney Wilson-Sr (6-2, 215) Jared Johnstun-So (6-2, 231)
MAC Robert Watts-Jr (6-3, 224) Matt Wiser-So (6-0, 224)
WILL Nate Fredrick-So (6-3, 230) Jake Stewart-So (6-4, 221)
CB Jerome Dennis-Jr (6-1, 192) Marvin Clark-Jr (5-10, 187)
CB Mark Estelle-Sr (5-9, 175) Reggie Willson-So (5-10, 186)
SS Derrek Shank-Sr (5-11, 194) Bryan Jackson-Sr (5-11, 197)
FS Mike Rosencrans-Sr (6-0, 203) Ross Luna-Jr (5-10, 195)
P Ben Chaet-So (6-0, 193) Justin Hamblin-Fr (5-11, 148)




Like the other two units, the Utah State special teams will have a bunch of fresh faces. Four-year starter Steve Mullins is gone, leaving punt duties to either Ben Chaet or Justin Hamblin. Unfortunately, those are also the only two candidates for the placekicking job. It would be a tall task to ask a rookie to handle both chores. Fiefia's back to handle punt returns and Dennis will handle kickoffs again, where he was solid with 27.7 yards per return.