Utah State Football Returns Talented and Deep Defensive Line Group

LOGAN, Utah – Utah State football held its fifth practice of fall camp Wednesday morning and the Aggie defensive line may very well be the most talented group on that side of the ball in 2022 as it returns two starters here from last season, to go along with three more returning letterwinners.

Utah State also welcomes back six more players that were in the program a year ago, to go along with six newcomers, which includes a pair of four-year transfers and one junior college addition.

“The first week of fall camp has been really good,” said the first-year defensive line coach Alex Devine. “Our guys are attacking every day with a lot of juice and energy. That’s probably the best thing about them. They’re joys to be around, they come to work every day and coaching them is easy. They work really hard at practice.

“We lost a lot along the defensive line, but a lot of those same guys you saw last year are returning. We feel like as long as we keep working hard and keep trying to get one degree better, we can get back the production we lost from last season.”

Highlighting this group is a pair of returning starters in senior Motu’apuaka Hall and junior Patrick Joyner Jr.along with fellow junior Byron Vaughnswho started the final five games of the 2021 season.

Motu’apuaka is the most experienced player among this group as he has played in 34 games with 16 starts and has 47 career tackles. During the 2021 season, Motu’apuaka posted 26 tackles, which included 2.5 sacks and 8.0 tackles for loss.

“The first week of fall camp, we’ve just been working on fundamentals, getting back into real football and making sure we create havoc in the backfield and play the best that we can,” said Motu’apuaka. “I am very excited for this defense this season. With coach (Ephraim) Banda here in his second year, we are very comfortable with his playbook and are excited to play in his fast and physical defense.”

Joyner started eight of the 14 games he played in during his first season with Utah State after transferring from Miami, Florida, and finished the year with 29 tackles, which included 3.5 sacks and 7.5 tackles for loss, to go along with one pass breakup and one safety as he ranked third on the team in sacks.

And, Vaughns recorded 43 tackles, which included 4.0 sacks and 10.5 tackles for loss, to go along with six pass breakups and one forced fumble in his first season with the program after transferring from Texas. In all, he tied for the team lead in pass breakups, ranked second in sacks and was third in tackles for loss. Vaughns was also named the Defensive MVP of the Mountain West Championship Game as he had five tackles, which included 1.0 sacks and 2.0 tackles for loss.

Other letterwinners returning along the defensive line for Utah State include a graduate senior Phillip Paea and junior Poukesi Vakauta. Paea played in all 14 games for the Aggies last season after transferring from Michigan and finished with 14 tackles, which included 2.0 tackles for loss, while Vakauta also played in all 14 games in his second season in the program in 2021 and concluded the year with 11 tackles, which included 0.5 sacks and 4.0 tackles for loss, to go along with a team-best two fumble recoveries and one forced fumble.

Furthermore, Utah State welcomes back four more defensive linemen that redshirted last season as freshmen Johnson Hansen, Bo Maile, Enoka Migao and Seni Tuiakito go along with two more players that were part of the program in senior Aurion Peoples and junior Addison Trupp.

Along with the 11 players mentioned above, Utah State welcomes six newcomers along the defensive line, including two players that transferred from four-year programs in junior Daniel Grzesiak (Los Angeles, California/Crenshaw HS/Nevada) and sophomore John Ward (Palmdale, Calif./Palmdale HS/UCLA). Grzesiak played in 34 games during his four years at Nevada and recorded 42 tackles, which included 7.5 sacks and 9.5 tackles for loss, to go along with one forced fumble, one fumble recovery, one pass breakup and one blocked kick. And, Ward played in three games during his three seasons at UCLA.

Utah State also added one junior college player here in sophomore year Tavian Coleman (Humble, Texas/Humble HS/Trinity Valley CC), as he recorded 92 total tackles, which included 8.0 sacks and 18.0 tackles for loss, to go along with four pass breakups and one fumble recovery during his two seasons at Trinity Valley (Texas ) Community College.

Three freshmen round out this group of newcomers in Paul Fitzgerald (Idaho Falls, Idaho/Thunder Ridge HS), Adam Tomczyk (Los Alamitos, California/Los Alamitos HS) and Tom Turpin (Washington Terrace, Utah/Bonneville HS).

All fall camp practices – minus two scrimmages – will be closed to the public. Fans are invited to watch Utah State’s first scrimmage on Saturday, Aug. 6, at 11 am, and its final scrimmage on Saturday, Aug. 13, at 2 pm, as part of its annual Family Football Fun Day. Both scrimmages will be held on Merlin Olsen Field at Maverik Stadium.

Utah State will open the 2022 season on Saturday, Aug. 27, when it hosts Connecticut at 2 pm, in a game that will be nationally televised on Fox Sports 1. USU then plays at Alabama on Saturday, Sept. 3, and hosts Weber State on Saturday, Sept. 10, before beginning MW play at home against UNLV on Saturday, Sept. 24, in a game that will be nationally televised on CBS Sports Network at 5 pm

For Aggie football ticket information, fans can contact USU Athletics Ticket Office over the phone by calling 1-888-USTATE-1 or 435-797-0305 during regular hours of operation. Fans can also buy their tickets in person at the USU Ticket Office inside the Dee Glen Smith Spectrum or online by clicking on the “Buy Tickets” tab at www.UtahStateAggies.com.

Fans can follow the Aggie football program at twitter.com/USUFootball or on Facebook at Utah State Football, as well as on Instagram at instagram.com/USUFootball. Aggie fans can also follow the Utah State athletic program at twitter.com/USUAthletics or on Facebook at Utah State University Athletics.

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