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Press releaseLOGAN -- For eight members of the Utah State football coaching and support staff, Thursday's season-opening game at Utah will be familiar territory, as all eight of them either coached or played there.
USU head coach Gary Andersen, defensive coordinator/safeties coach Bill Busch, linebackers coach Kevin Clune, offensive line coach Alex Gerke and running backs coach Ilaisa Tuiaki (pronounced E-lye-sa Too-ee-ah-kee) were all a part of Utah's coaching staff, while USU's director of football operations Steve Mathis and Aggie strength & conditioning head coach Evan Simon also came from Utah. Aggie defensive line coach Chad Kauha'aha'a (pronounced Cow-ha-a-ha-a) played at Utah from 1993-96.
Andersen became the Aggies' head coach in December, coming to USU from Utah where overall, he spent 11 seasons as an assistant coach. Andersen coached for the Utes from 1997-2002 before becoming the head coach at Southern Utah in 2003 and then returning to Utah in 2004, and then he was the Utes' defensive coordinator from 2005-08. At Utah, Andersen was the architect behind the Utes' vaunted defense during the 2008 season, which led Utah to its second BCS bowl in five years after winning the 2004 Fiesta Bowl championship, capping another perfect 12-0 season and becoming the first non-BSC team to play in a BCS bowl game.
Andersen's debut as Aggie head coach will put him in rare company of college football coaches. On Thursday, Andersen will become just the third coach since 1982 to make their debut against their former team from the previous season.
Not only will he be facing his former team, but Andersen will also be taking on his alma mater, as he is a 1986 Utah graduate, earning his bachelor's degree in political science. He played center for Utah from 1985-86, after garnering first-team juco All-America honors in 1984 at Ricks College. Andersen is one of 12 Division I head coaches who will be facing their alma mater this season.
Despite all the excitement and hype, Andersen is not dwelling on his return to Utah as much as focusing on the Aggies' and their 2009 season-opener.
"I would say I thought about that stuff more in the spring, but not now. In our situation we need to go out and play our game and do what we do. We can't sit and worry about what tunnel we are coming out of. Football is football. It doesn't matter where you come out of. There will be some emotion attached to it obviously just because of the kids I know on the other side and the coaches. I have spent a lot of my coaching career there. I don't think it will be much different," Andersen said.
Busch and Andersen joined up at Utah in 2001 when Busch was safeties coach until taking over the entire secondary in 2003.
Clune was a graduate assistant coach on the Utah staff in 2001 and 2002, spending the 2001 season with the running backs before shifting to the defensive side of the ball where he worked with the linebackers and with Andersen who was the defensive tackles coach for the Utes that season.
Gerke, who played at Utah from 1982-83 and earned his bachelor's degree in exercise sports science in 1983 from Utah, coached at Utah on two different occasions. His first was from 1998-99 as a graduate assistant for offensive tackles and tight ends, and his second was from 2001-02 as offensive tackles and tight ends coach, where he coached under legendary Ute coach Ron McBride. For Gerke, Thursday will be his first return to Rice-Eccles Stadium since last coaching there in 2002, but says the game will be no different.
"It will be just like any other game," said Gerke, who said that working with Coach McBride was his greatest memory of his time at Utah.
Tuiaki came to USU in December, after serving as Utah's defensive graduate assistant last year, coaching the linebackers. For Tuiaki, like Gerke, this game will be just like any other game,
"There's not much difference to this game than any other. We could play in the backyard somewhere and it wouldn't matter. I'm just ready for this game and excited to get the season underway," Tuiaki said.
As the visiting team this time around, Tuiaki is doing his part to make sure the Aggies are prepared for this week's game, regardless of who the opponent is.
"For any visiting team, noise is always a factor, no matter what stadium you're in. We've prepared for that, just like any visiting team prepares for noise. We try to get our guys prepared for every situation that they might get in, and I think we're as ready as you can be going into the first game of the season," Tuiaki said.
Kauha'aha'a was a three-year letterwinner at Utah, playing linebacker and defensive line, earning second-team all-Western Athletic Conference honors. He was a two-time recipient of Utah's Walt DeLand Award, presented each year to the Ute football player who overcomes adversity to make a contribution. His 110 career tackles for loss yardage is No. 11 on Utah's career list. Kauha'aha'a also earned his bachelor's degree in sociology from Utah in 1996.
"It feels really good to go back. That university has done a lot for me, not only athletically but academically as well. I greatly appreciate everything that university had to offer me," Kauha'aha'a said.
Thursday will be the second time back as an opposing team coach for Kauha'aha'a, after returning to Rice-Eccles Stadium last season as member of the Weber State coaching staff, under McBride.
"Last year, was a different situation with Coach McBride. The response was a bit different. Even though it was a football game, Coach McBride had a warm welcome from the fans, almost with open arms," Kauha'aha'a said. "This situation with Coach Andersen might be a bit different, even though he was there for 11 years total."
As the only experienced one with Utah ties that's been a part of the visiting team returning to Utah, Kauha'aha'a is just anxious to get the season underway.
"I don't have any pointers, we just have to be prepared for whatever comes at us. I think Coach Andersen has helped us as a coaching staff, as well as the team, to be as prepared as we can be for this football game," Kauha'aha'a said.
Mathis worked with Andersen at Utah for the last four years as the Utes' defensive administrative assistant, and is excited to be part of the USU staff's visit.
"I'm excited to go back and see the players and coaches again," Mathis said. "I'm even more excited about taking the 2009 Aggies to Rice-Eccles Stadium and see where we're at in opening the season."
Simon joined the Utah State Athletic Department staff in July, after three years at Utah, where he was the Utes' associate director of strength and conditioning. During his time at Utah, he assisted with the conditioning workouts for the football among many other sports.
"It's exciting to go back. It will be good to see the players, the coaches, the stadium and all the fans. I have a lot of memories from being there for three and a half years. It's exciting to go back and see everybody, but it's a different meaning and purpose going back to try to beat them in a football game," said Simon, noting that the biggest difference will be the smaller size of the visitor's locker room.
The Aggies take on the 19th-ranked Utes on Thursday, Sept. 3. Kickoff is slated for 7 p.m. from a sold-out Rice Eccles-Stadium.
(Courtesy Utah State University)