LOGAN, Utah (ABC4 Sports) – Coming off an injury-riddled 6-7 season, the Utah State football team is looking to get back to its 2021 form when the Aggies won its first Mountain West Conference title.

Utah State football held its initial spring practice Monday afternoon as third-year head coach Blake Anderson ran his team through a two-hour workout inside the Stan Laub Indoor Training Complex.

“The energy was great today and the guys were itching to get back out here,” said Anderson. “What we have seen from January to now is the new guys have been a great addition and they have acclimated well. They weren’t showing up in a bad way today, which is a good sign. Every day it will get a little more hectic.”

This spring, Utah State returns 10 starters (O-4, D-6) as part of 38 letterwinners (O-20, D-15, S-3) from last year’s team that finished with a 6-7 record and played in its 10th bowl game in the past 12 years and 16th in school history. USU also tied for second in the Mountain Division of the Mountain West with a 5-3 league mark.

Along with its 10 returning starters and 38 returning lettermen from last season, Utah State welcomes back 23 players that redshirted a year ago (O-12, D-9, S-2) and five more squadmen (O-2, D-3) that were on the team, to go along with 33 newcomers (O-13, D-17, S-3). Among the group of new players are a trio of four-year transfers in senior S Malone Mataele (Utah), junior WR Colby Bowman (Stanford) and sophomore ILB Gavin Barthiel (Washington State). USU also welcomes 16 junior college transfers (O-7, D-8, S-1) this spring, to go along with 14 high school players (O-5, D-7, S-2).

Highlighting Utah State’s returners in 2023 are a trio of all-Mountain West performers in sophomore S Ike Larsen, senior ILB MJ Tafisi and senior WR Terrell Vaughn. Larsen earned second-team all-MW accolades and was named a College Football News Honorable Mention Freshman All-American, while Tafisi and Vaughn both garnered honorable mention all-MW honors.

Other starters returning for Utah State in 2023 include senior CB Michael Anyanwu, senior CB Ajani Carter, senior QB Cooper Legas, senior OL Wade Meacham, senior DT Hale Motu’apuaka, senior TE Josh Sterzer and senior DT Poukesi Vakauta.

Along with serving as the head coach, Anderson is also taking over as the offensive coordinator and quarterbacks coach this spring and he is excited about the possibilities.

“Getting back involved with the offense and being in the room with the quarterbacks, I love that, and it has been a lot of fun,” added Anderson. “I have a lot of experience in this offense and coaching quarterbacks, and I felt like I have something to offer. We turned the ball over too much last year. If you go back and look at my track record as an offensive coordinator and quarterbacks coach in this system, when we protect the football, it gives us a chance a win. I felt like I could either hire somebody and tell them what I want them to do, or I can step in and do it, which I have done in the past.

“I probably would have never stepped away from calling plays and being the quarterbacks coach if my wife hadn’t gotten sick years ago. That was really the only reason I stepped away. I enjoyed it and we had a good system in place, but I had to make a choice between trying to help her battle cancer and being in that room every day. I am in place now in my life where I can, and I feel like I can add something. I want the pressure on me, I don’t want it on someone else.”

With so many new players and coaches joining the program this year, Anderson doesn’t want to rush the process this spring and knows it will take time for everyone to get acclimated to the system.

“We don’t play for the next 166 days, so over the next month, we need to make sure we have a great foundation on both sides. We have to identify leaders, we need to make sure our fundamentals improve, and we have to be technically sound. If we get that done, we will have a good starting point, because we still have the summer and fall camp and we don’t need to rush it to get everything done. The players have handled it very well in the meeting room, the question is, ‘how are they going to handle it when we get out on the field’? That will tell us how fast or slow we need to go in terms of our offensive and defensive install,” added Anderson.

Utah State will practice two more times this week on Tuesday and Thursday. During the five-week period, the Aggies will participate in 15 spring practice sessions, including their annual Blue vs. White Spring Showcase on Saturday, April 22, at 1 p.m.

Utah State opens the 2023 season at Iowa on Saturday, Sept. 2, while its home opener is the following weekend against Idaho State on Saturday, Sept. 9. USU begins Mountain West play at Air Force on Saturday, Sept. 16.