Utah State 2023 recruiting class headlined by 8 Utah signees, 10 junior college transfers

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LOGAN β€” On a weekend in June, Utah State coach Blake Anderson could hardly sleep.

One of his top prospects of the 2023 class, Skyridge quarterback McCae Hillstead, was on an official visit to Washington State and his verbal commitment hung in the balance.

Fortunately for Anderson and the Aggies faithful, Hillstead's visit to Pullman did not sway his original commitment, and he doubled down on his desire to be a member of the Aggies football team.

"He came back and said, 'Coach, Utah State is where I want to be; it's where I feel at home,'" Anderson said on Wednesday. "He's never wavered since."

Hillstead, who won a 6A state championship, headlines Utah State's early signing day recruiting class that included 11 high school signees β€” eight of which are from Utah β€” 10 junior college transfers, and two graduate transfers.

Utah State signed five defensive backs, five defensive linemen and one linebacker to the defensive side of the ball. On the other side, and 12 players signed, including three running backs, three wide receivers, three offensive linemen, two tight ends, and a quarterback. All 10 of the junior college transfers will enroll in school in January, along with four incoming freshman.

With a small graduating class and a high number of underclassmen in the program, a balance between JC transfers and the incoming freshman was the desired medium between positional needs for next season's team, and an opportunity to further the developmental process, Anderson said.

"For today, everybody that we anticipated getting a (national letter of intent) we got β€” felt like we had a good class. We put together needs that were important to us," Anderson said. "About 50-50 in terms of how we organize the class to this point. It's something important to us; we don't just want to go all one or the other, so we split it down the middle."

Hillstead's commitment was the shining star, though, and a boost for the program. Despite missing a portion of the season with an ankle injury, Hillstead finished his senior year 102-of-159 passing for 1,327 yards and 14 touchdowns. He passed for 182 yards and two touchdowns to help lead the Falcons past Corner canyon for a 6A state championship in November.

"He brings tons of things as a player," Anderson said. "10.7 100-meter guy that can make every throw. To go head-to-head with Washington State on him and be able to get him to stay at home (is big). Competitive, fast, mobile. … He's a great guy to build around."

While Hillstead's commitment has been certain for several months, a handful of priority recruits came through late to bolster the class.

On Monday, Mountain Ridge offensive lineman Jr Sia announced his commitment to Utah State and signed on Wednesday. Alta offensive lineman Taliafi Ta'ala also signed with the Aggies on Wednesday.

For Anderson, who has repeatedly emphasized his intentions to improve the size and strength of the program through recruiting and development, and also become more competitive in recruiting in-state talent, the two offensive linemen were big gets for the program.

Sia is a 6-foot-6, 310-pound three-star recruit who had offers from Utah, Virginia and Nebraska, and was named to the Deseret News 6A All-State team as a tackle. Ta'ala is a 6-foot-7, 290-pound three-star recruit with offers from Utah, BYU, Michigan and USC, among other schools. The 5A first-team All-State tackle will enroll with the Aggies in the summer.

"I'm happy to be an Aggie. I'm happy with my decision," Taala said during his signing on Wednesday morning. "I love the coaching staff over there. I love the facilities. I love everything about it."

"In-state kids that stay at home that have been recruited by Power Five schools outside the state, that's a huge win for us," Anderson said. "We know that the strength of our recruiting base honestly starts with the offensive and defensive line. ... We've got to win some of those battles, keep those guys at home and keep building our fronts here as best we can.

"(Sia and Ta'ala) will obviously be developmental guys, but you'd like to think a couple of years down the road they can factor in a big, big way."

The Aggies also picked up running back Jaydon Bailey, who committed to Utah State in July but de-committed in November. Bailey had several offers, including Arizona State and UTSA, but stuck with the Aggies. The 5-foot-10, 185-pound back from Cibolo, Texas, is yet another Texas running back to join the Aggies roster.

This season, three running backs β€” Calvin Tyler Jr., Robert Briggs, and John Gentry β€” are all Texas natives.

"Chuckie (Keeton) did a great job with him β€” probably much better than I did," Anderson said. "When he de-committed, I got a little frustrated with the process, but we tried to take our emotions out of it and look at it from a skill standpoint. Great kid, great family, I think there were some thoughts in his mind, 'Do I want to go that far away from home' being from San Antonio.

"But having come out here on a visit with his family and really feeling like this was home ultimately is why he came back to us."

Utah safety Malone Mataele and Washington State linebacker Gavin Barthiel, both of whom are expected to see immediate playing time next season, join the program from the transfer portal. All of the junior college transfers have either two or three years available to play.

In the junior college ranks, wide receiver Micah Davis may have an immediate impact. The former Air Force receiver who caught a touchdown pass against the Aggies in a game in 2021 announced his decision to transfer in the summer and played the season at Iowa Western Community College.

"We still remember seeing No. 0 flying down the field," Anderson said. "So we knew a lot about him."

Here's a full glance at the Aggies early day signing recruits:

High school signees:

  • Kadiyon Sweat, S, Lehi HS
  • McCae Hillstead, QB, Skyridge HS
  • Taliafi Ta'ala, OL, Alta HS
  • Jr Sia, OL, Mountain Ridge HS
  • Jaydon Bailey, RB, Steele HS (Texas)
  • Jackson Olsen, WR, Ridgeline HS
  • Will Monney, TE, Springville HS
  • Hyrum Dewsnup, OL, Gulf Coast HS (Florida)
  • Zakkarii Black, RB, Charter Oak HS (California)
  • Zion Andreasen, DE, East HS
  • Justice Ena, OL, Sky View HS

Junior college transfers:

  • Isaiah Alonzo, TE, Orange Coast CC (2 years eligibility)
  • Maka Tu'akoi, DE, Independence CC (3 years)
  • Davon Booth, RB, Cerritos CC (2 years)
  • Jaylen Martin, CB, East LA CC (3 years)
  • Cian Slone, DE, American River CC (2 years)
  • Micah Davis, WR, Iowa Western CC (2 years)
  • Clifton Mosley Jr., DT, Navarro CC (3 years)
  • Javar Strong, S, Hutchinson CC (3 years)
  • Ronald Fuselier, CB, Allan Hancock CC
  • Kahanu Davis, WR, Southwestern CC

Transfer portal:

  • Malone Mataele, S, Utah
  • Gavin Barthiel, LB, Washington State

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