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USU's Larsen boasts hometown pride

Published March 21, 2017 11:09 pm

Utah State football • Junior linebacker from Logan High follows in footsteps of brother B.J.
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Logan • The footsteps Derek Larsen followed that led him to play for his hometown college football team — those of his older brother B.J. — are the same ones that have prepared him to potentially step into a leadership role for the Aggies defense next fall.

Larsen, a 6-foot-3, 240-pound former all-state linebacker at Logan High School, is one of three returning linebackers who played in every game for Utah State last season. He and Alex Huerta, a product of nearby Mountain Crest High, made seven starts apiece last season.

"I watched my brother when he came in with Coach [Gary] Andersen," Larsen said. "He was kind of in that starting group to build the program back up. I think that's when the pride of the school grew more for my family. … I walked onto the team. Just knowing that I could be a part of the program, for one, is something special. Being able to play and start is something special as well."

Larsen watched his brother walk on, redshirt, and slowly earn his way onto the field. B.J. progressed to where he started 13 games as a junior and all 14 as a senior at defensive end in 2014. That season, the younger brother earned the Aggies scout team defensive MVP.

"If you would've told me that I would've been doing this coming out of high school, I wouldn't have believed you," Larsen said. "It was never in my wildest dreams to play at the next level. I didn't know I could do that, but then seeing my brother do it kind of empowered me."

With the team losing its top two tacklers from last season, linebackers Anthony Williams (96 tackles) and Brock Carmen (64 tackles), Larsen becomes one of the leading candidates to fill the void left in the middle of the defense.

Larsen ranked seventh on the team with 43 tackles last season while playing outside linebacker. This spring, he and Huerta both have been asked to play both inside and outside. In the team's scrimmage on Friday, Larsen made four tackles (one for a loss) and broke up one pass.

"We're looking for guys who make plays — first and foremost — guys to do their assignments and get guys lined up," Aggies coach Matt Wells said. "So much of the inside linebackers' job is audibling or changing the front and getting those guys lined up. Leadership will come later with production. I'm looking for production out of the inside linebackers, great communication, the ability to do their job in the scheme of the defense."

Roster update

Redshirt freshman running back Morian Walker will be sidelined for an extended period of time with a shoulder injury he suffered prior to last week's scrimmage. Walker, who is from San Jose, Calif., will likely be out until after the start of the regular season in the fall. Wells did not have a timetable for Walker's return, but called it a "pretty severe" injury.

Wells also confirmed on Tuesday that sophomore quarterback Cade Smith has decided to transfer out of the program. Smith, a 6-foot tall, 200-pound former high school standout from Oregon, redshirted the 2015 season and did not play in a game in 2016.

Making names for themselves

A few players jumped off the video for Wells when he reviewed last Friday's scrimmage, the first of two spring scrimmages prior to the team's annual Blue vs. White spring game on April 8.

The blocking of wide receivers Rayshad Lewis and Ron'quavion Tarver impressed Wells, as did the physical play of junior nose guard Gasetoto Schuster. Redshirt freshman offensive lineman Ty Shaw also drew praise from Wells, and junior offensive lineman Roman Andrus, one of several newcomers on the offensive line, "jumped off the tape."

A pair of redshirt freshmen safeties who played high school football in Utah, Baron Gajkowski and Braxton Gunther, also made their presence felt.

"Those two young guys. They hit first and ask questions second," Wells said. "That's a good mentality to have at safety. They can run, and they're physical. They're going to find their way on the field somehow, somewhere."

lworthy@sltrib.com Twitter: @LWorthySports






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