Call Hill's change of heart a score for the Aggies, in more ways than one. USU is banking that more California players will have experiences similar to Hill's as they amp up their recruiting efforts in the Golden State.
Long a stronghold of recruiting for Pac-12 and upper-tier teams nationally, California could be a gold mine for the Aggies as well, Utah State coach Matt Wells said.
While Wells can't comment on any recruits directly due to NCAA regulations, he can talk about recruiting in general. A big topic for him is the Aggies' ongoing push on the West Coast.
"Utah will always be the foundation for our recruiting," Wells said. "But California, we have a lot of ties there and the proximity and closeness to us makes it a natural fit."
Utah State signed nine players with California ties in its 2014 class, equaling the amount signed from Utah.
In 2013 and 2012 the Aggies signed just two from the state each year, seven in 2011 and five in 2010.
That the Aggies are increasing their recruiting in California hasn't gone unnoticed, with Scout regional recruiting manager Brandon Huffman, who believes it's about time. The Aggies have proved through key games they can play with the big boys on the field; it's about time they start doing the same thing in recruits' living rooms.
"Now that they're winning and putting guys in the NFL, there has never been a better time for them to make a push in the state," Huffman said. "The other Mountain West schools and former WAC schools have been doing it for years and Utah State is now seeing the need to do so."
The publicity that dynamic quarterback Chuckie Keeton has brought to the school, plus Utah State's two recent bowl wins and the move to the MWC, have helped the Aggies increase their national presence, which is something Wells wants to capitalize on.
"It's all about branding and marketing," he said. "We got beat by Fresno State in the [league] championship game last year but it was still good exposure."
The Aggies' rise is one reason quarterback Damion Hobbs said he is transferring from Oregon to Utah State. Hobbs, a Texas product who was headed to Utah State before he accepted a last-minute offer from Oregon, kept tabs on the Aggies.
"They won games with coach [Gary] Andersen and they've kept winning with coach [Matt] Wells," he said.
Recruitable athletes such as San Ramon, Calif.'s Tyler Whisenhunt have noticed the Aggies' rise as well. The 6-foot-3, 294-pound Whisenhunt said he is "extremely interested," in the Aggies because his former teammate Karris Johnson is in the program and because the Aggies have a good reputation.
"With their recent success they are getting more recognized," he said. "I like their flow offensively and have heard good things about their coaching staff."
Going into California more is all well and good, but is there enough talent to go around for the Aggies to get quality talent?
Wells believes there is.
The Aggies not only are making headway with high school recruits, but are getting immediate help with junior college transfers. Colleges such as Riverside Community College and San Mateo are known for producing good talent and they provided the Aggies with three athletes in their 2014 class with defensive ends Edmund Faimalo and John Taylor signing out of Riverside and cornerback Deshane Hines signing out of San Mateo.
"We have a close split there, with high school and junior college kids," he said. "We go there for skill and speed, receivers, running backs and there is a lot of talent there."
The Aggies have dedicated three coaches to the area this year with linebackers coach Joe Lorig, defensive passing game coordinator Kendrick Shaver and assistant head coach Mark Weber all assigned to the area.
While the Aggies believe California could be a gold mine for them, it isn't the only place. Utah State coaches are also fanning out into Florida and Texas more too, which means California might not be the stopping point for the Aggies' nationwide recruiting push.
"Most of the kids we sign come and play and are very effective and that has helped us make inroads," Wells said. "Our coaches do a good job building relationships and building up our recruiting."
Those relationships seem to be worth something, as Dru Samia, a highly recruited offensive lineman from Danville, Calif., cited his relationships with the coaching staff as one of the reasons the Aggies are in the mix along with Cal, Washington State and Oregon State.
Asked if he thinks the Aggies can compete with the Pac-12 teams, Samia was certain they could.
"I know they can," he said.
In a few months, when signing date rolls around, he might just be the proof of that predicted success. I wish they all could be California … recruits
Utah State is making a bigger push in California for talent; here are a few of the athletes the Aggies are recruiting:
Dru Samia • 6-4, 275, OL, Danville, Calif. Has USU on his list along with Cal, Washington State, Utah and Oregon State.
Justice Shelton-Mosley • 5-10, 165, WR, Sacramento, Calif. Considered among top 75 receivers in the country. Boston College, Arizona, Utah and others have offered.
Darrell Adams • 6-2, 219, WR, Hayward, Calif. Has offers from Utah and Arizona State, and stock is rising after recent strong showings.
Tyler Whisenhunt • 6-3, 294, OL, San Ramon, Calif. Aggies could have inside track since his former high school teammate, Karris Johnson, is on the roster.
Kieffer Longson • 6-7, 295.,OL, San Ramon, Calif. Has offers from several Pac-12 teams, could be huge get for the Aggies.