LOGAN, Utah — When Utah State’s football team takes the field this fall, arguably one of the greatest college quarterbacks to ever play the game will be at the helm of the Aggie offense.
Josh Heupel, who guided Oklahoma to a national championship in 2000 as a quarterback and finished runner-up in the Heisman Trophy voting that same season, joined USU’s program in January. With 10 years of coaching experience under his belt, Heupel was tabbed an assistant head coach, offensive coordinator and quarterbacks coach for the Aggies.
Nearly two weeks into spring practice, we sat down with Heupel to discus a number of topics, including how he’s liking his new job and the expectations he has for the offense.
<strong>How have you enjoyed your time in Cache Valley so far?</strong>
“It’s been a lot of fun. Obviously, I have familiarity with the Wells brothers. I’ve had a long relationship with both of them; I played with Luke (Wells at Oklahoma). The transition in coming into the office has been easy. Getting to know the staff, there are a lot of great people here on staff. It’s a great family atmosphere and the community has been great. There are a lot neat things to do that I haven’t been able to do with my family. My family was able to get out here over spring break during our time off. We went up to Park City and spent about five days up there getting our kids acquainted with some of the snow activities a little bit. My daughter did a lot better on the ski slopes than I did, but we’ve had a lot of fun and it’s been a good transition.”
<strong>Describe your relationship with the Wells brothers.</strong>
“Luke’s been a longtime friend of mine, obviously having played together, and then he transitioned into a coaching role there, as well. I’ve always stayed in close contact with him and got to know his brother, Matt, through Luke. The first time I met Matt, actually, was when I was a player and he came up to the offices and was around the program for a couple of days. I’ve stayed in pretty close contact with him, as well, just in the coaching fraternity. He’s recruited Oklahoma in the past, so we’d spend a couple of days every spring together when I was off the road and he was on the road, just talking ball and that type of thing. When he got the offensive coordinator job here, we spent some time together, so there’s some familiarity in what we’re doing offensively, what I’ve done in the past and even a little bit of the terminology.”
<strong>What is it like going from a program on a national stage like Oklahoma to one like Utah State, which is on the rise?</strong>
“The great thing about this program is the success that it’s been able to sustain here over the last couple of years. It’s easier to climb than it is to stay there. We’re able to recruit maybe a higher-caliber kid initially than this program has been able to compared to six, seven or eight years ago, in part because of the brand. I think people across the country recognize the success Utah State has had here the last handful of years. They recognize the job that the coaching staff has done, the type of players that have come out of here, the success they’re having at the NFL level. Ultimately, this program has transitioned from one conference to another and it’s transitioned extremely well. It’s poised to continue to climb and the reason that I wanted to be a part of this is, obviously, the success that it’s had here recently. I believe in the coaching staff, I believe in the administration. The alumni base has continued to step forward and help this program continue to build to what it ultimately wants to accomplish, which is compete for championships year in and year out.”
<strong>What has impressed you the most about Utah State since joining the program?</strong>
“There are a lot of things that have been impressive. The community is really a great place to live. I drive into the office every day and am amazed at how beautiful this area really is. The coaching staff is a tremendous group to be a part of. They compete hard, they push their kids, but at the end of the day they truly care about their kids. The thing that has been the most fun part of transitioning to this job, and in part maybe caught me off guard a little bit, is the competitiveness of the kids, the willingness to put in extra time. I tell recruits all the time, there’s a really special and unique chemistry here at Utah State, and there’s a culture that the players have been cultivated with, but that the players instill in the new kids in the program. They’re competitive, they work hard, they push each other, but they’re extremely supportive of one another, too. It’s a really positive, unique energy and atmosphere to be a part of and it makes it a lot of fun to walk into this building every single day.”
<strong>You were on the other sideline when Utah State played your previous school. The Aggies gave Oklahoma a scare that day.</strong>
“They (the Aggies) had an opportunity. There was a fake field goal that got called back that really probably should not have been called back. Bad call. And we’re inside of our own 30-yard line, maybe 40, and we’re in a fourth-and-1 in the second half. Demarco (Murray) makes a run; he runs through one and stiff-arms another, otherwise that’s a completely different ballgame.”
<strong>What are the expectations you have for the offense this season?</strong>
“We want to play fast, we want to play smart and we want to play physical. At the end of the day, I truly believe that you’ve got to play within the three phases of the game. It takes three phases playing together to give yourself a chance to win week in and week out. Based on how the head coach sees those three pieces playing together is how we’ll play, but we’re in the process right now of finding out what personnel is going to give us a chance to win and what it’s going to take to compete at a championship level. That will dictate what personnel groupings we’re going to play and some of the schemes we’re going to run, but it’s our job as an offensive staff to put these kids in a position to be successful and we’re going to do that.”
<strong>You mentored guys like Sam Bradford, Landry Jones, Jason White and Trevor Knight at Oklahoma. What do you see from the group of quarterbacks you inherited at Utah State?</strong>
“Great players all have some core characteristics that are extremely similar. Their physical attributes can all be different. Sam Bradford won the Heisman and Landry is in the top three all-time in the history of college football in passing. Trevor Knight is wired a little bit differently than those guys, but great players are extremely competitive on and off the field. In the classroom, they’re extremely intelligent. They push themselves to be better physically day in and day out. These guys are all that; they’re wired. The older guys, the more mature guys in our room, are extremely competitive. They compete with each other, but they do it in the right way. They’re extremely confident and they’re confident because of the way that they work to put themselves in a position to be successful. It’s a lot of fun to be a part of this group. They’ve already made some strides mechanically fundamentally and they’re going to continue to get better.”
<strong>What was your reaction when you heard Kent Myers wanted to move to receiver?</strong>
“I wasn’t real excited about it at first and I told him that. But, we talked about it and looked at it offensively as a staff, and with coach (Matt) Wells, that’s something that he felt passionate about. We were on board with it as long as it was going to be the right move for him. We’re six days into it and he’s shown some real flashes of doing some positive things. There are some fundamental things that he’s got to continue to get better at, but I appreciate his unselfishness. You look at what he did a year ago; he stepped in after playing on the scout team for about six weeks. He gets moved over and doesn’t have a great grasp of everything that’s going on, but he finds ways to help this football team win and that’s really, in part, what this move was about for him, is he wants to help this team win a bunch of ballgames.”
<strong>What is the biggest question mark facing the offense right now?</strong>
“I don’t think there’s just one. There’s 11 pieces of the puzzle that have got to come together. That’s one of the things in the first six days that we’re trying to get our kids to understand, is that you’ve got to push for perfection every single play, every single day. There are a lot of questions that have got to be answered. There are players, as groups, that are learning some new things. We’ve got to push through that and eliminate some of the glitches, and be consistent in who and what we’re going to be every single day.”
<strong>What players have jumped out at you this spring?</strong>
“There’s a bunch of guys, but we’re only six days in and we’re three days into pads. There are guys at each position group that I like the way they’re competing and handling some of the things we’re asking them to do. It’s a little bit too early for me to start naming any of those guys publicly. Once we feel good about them as we move deeper into spring, then we’ll pin-point some of those guys.”
<strong>What do you see from quarterbacks Chuckie Keeton and Darell Garretson, who are both coming off of injuries?</strong>
“Chuckie, with the knee, the question is how is he going to move? I think he feels better than he has in a long time physically. He’s moving in a great way on the field. Some of that you saw during winter conditioning with him and what he’s doing in the weight room in some of our agility drills. I like some of the things that he’s really changed mechanically in getting his body in a better position to be more successful and more consistent throwing the football, so I’m excited about where he’s at. Darell, a lot of the same things coming off the wrist fracture. He’s starting to get some of his snap back and feeling more confident and comfortable with everything. I like the way those two guys are competing and pushing themselves as individuals and in the group.”
<strong>Finally, what can Aggie fans expect from a Josh Heupel-coached offense?</strong>
“Hopefully, we’re going to play smart and take care of the football. We’re going to spread the ball around, we’re going to play fast and it’s going to be a physical brand of football. We want to hone in on the personnel that’s going to give us a chance to be successful, the personnel that’s consistent and we can count on. That’s going to dictate some of the personnel groupings that we’re in and a little bit of the schemes that we’re going to run, but I think it will be an exciting brand of football.”
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