LOGAN, Utah – Southern Utah might not be well known by the average college football fan.And why should they? Not only are the Thunderbirds in a lower subdivision than the Aggies (0-2), but Utah State’s opponent for this Saturday’s homecoming game is just like Utah State in that it has been a while since either team has had a winning season. A quick check of the Thunderbirds’ early season results probably doesn’t put too much fear into the Aggie faithful, as Southern Utah is just 1-2 so far this season.Most may be writing the Thunderbirds off against the Aggies this Saturday, but Utah State head coach Gary Andersen isn’t one of those people, and he isn’t overlooking Southern Utah. In fact, the first year Aggie head coach is well acquainted with the program out of the Football Championship Subdivision’s (FCS) Great West Conference, having led the Thunderbirds to a 4-7 record during a one-year stint as head coach back in 2003. After practice Monday, Andersen fondly recalled his year spent in Cedar City.”Southern Utah was good to me,” Andersen said. “We’re excited about any game we’re playing right now, but I enjoyed my time in Cedar. It was a great opportunity for me and it was an opportunity for me to coach some very fine young men.”Andersen may only have spent a year at Southern Utah, but his impact in Cedar City was dramatic given the state of the program he inherited. Not only did Andersen’s 4-7 Thunderbird team top their winning totals from the three previous seasons combined, but they rose as high as 36th in the Gridiron Power Index, a tool used for determining playoff selections at the FCS level of competition. While he would move onto a more high-profile job managing the University of Utah’s defense in 2004, Andersen credits his year as a head coach in Cedar City as building the framework for how he approached his first few months as a head coach in Logan.”I think there are definitely lessons to be learned,” Andersen said. “There are a lot of differences between the two jobs, but at the end of the day I take a lot from what I learned at Southern Utah and my year there to what I am doing now.”Despite the school’s recent lack of on-field success, Southern Utah has become a breeding ground for numerous up-and-coming assistant coaches at the college level, and has supplied the ranks of Utah’s high schools with many head and assistant coaches as well. The school is especially known for producing coaches who have been able to “do more with less,” including Army head coach Rich Ellerson and Navy assistant coach Joe DuPaix.”I think it’s a place where you can have success as a coach, but I also think it’s a place where there have been good head coaches to take care of the people to bring them onto the next level,”said Andersen of the coaching dynamic at Southern Utah.Case in point, there are five other members of Andersen’s staff at Utah State who either played for the Thunderbirds or coached at Southern Utah at one point or another during their respective careers. One of those assistants is Kevin Clune, who served as defensive coordinator at SUU in 2003 and now serves as linebackers coach at Utah State. While he hasn’t coached in Cedar City since 2004, Clune still has close ties to many of the current Thunderbirds.”It seems like I was there 100 years ago, but there are actually kids on this team that I recruited or helped recruit and played for us down there,” said Clune. “I still have good friends who are coaching there now.”Clune, like Andersen, said it would be a mistake to overlook Southern Utah just because the Thunderbirds play in the FCS, which is generally considered a step down in competition from the Football Bowl Subdivision, the NCAA classification in which Utah State competes in. Clune said he was particularly impressed with Thunderbird quarterback Cade Cooper, who most recently hit on 68.8 percent of his passes for 425 yards and four touchdowns in Southern Utah’s 42-39 loss at Northern Arizona last Saturday. Clune credits Southern Utah’s early season offensive success to his close friend and current Thunderbird offensive coordinator, Steve Clark.”They did a nice job and moved the ball, and their kids are playing tough,” Clune said of Southern Utah’s offense. “The quarterback took some shots but he kept coming back and stood in the pocket well. Steve Clark, is the offensive coordinator there. He’s a great friend of mine, and he is going to keep doing things the right way and keep calling the right plays. I think they are going to be successful.”While the former Southern Utah players and coaches on the current Utah State staff are looking forward to the chance to get the Aggies into the win column for the first time this year, they say that playing the Thunderbirds doesn’t add any extra incentive for the team this Saturday. USU running backs coach Illaisa Tuiaki, who played for Andersen at Southern Utah in 2003 before joining Andersen’s staff at the University of Utah in 2007, said that he is treating the game against his alma mater just like every other game this season.”I had a good time there,” said Tuiaki in reference to Southern Utah. “But as far as this game goes it is just another game. We treat everything the same, whether it’s a bag or a human being, we hit them the same. So there is no added incentive. We just need to go out there and play.”Both Tuiaki and Clune have been vocal with their players this week in stressing the need to not look past the Thunderbirds, who made tremendous strides last season after going winless in 2007.”Every week – it doesn’t matter if we’re playing the Chicago Bears or if we’re playing Logan Junior High, we’re going to play our best no matter what,” Clune said. “We do our game, it’s really not about the other team because we need to play our best game.”Added Clune, the former SUU defensive coordinator, “We haven’t hit on all cylinders yet, and that’s the goal that we are going to have. I think if you talk to any coach that is what they will say. It doesn’t matter what the other team does, it’s about us.”Andersen reiterated the points his assistants made, and said that despite playing a lower division opponent this week, there is still no room for error for his Aggie team.”We need to do the same thing we talk about every week, and that’s being able to execute our offense and our defense and our special teams, play at a high level of energy and come in for four full quarters,” he said. “That’s what we’re going to need in order to win this football game.”Andersen, Clune and Tuiaki make up half of the list of Thunderbird connections, as current USU quarterbacks coach Kevin McGiven was offensive coordinator and quarterbacks coach at SUU in 2005. Current USU defensive graduate assistant Charles Henderson played at SUU from 2000-03, playing several different positions, including under Andersen in 2003. Henderson is in SUU’s record book several times, most noteably No. 10 on the career points list. Ryan Zimmerman, USU offensive administrative assistant, played quarterback at SUU under Andersen in 2003, and also has several marks in the T-Birds’ record book.Kickoff for Saturday’s battle between the Aggies and Thunderbirds is slated for 6 p.m. (MT) at USU’s Romney Stadium. Saturday is not only USU’s home opener but it is USU’s Homecoming as well.All Utah State football games are carried live on KVNU 610 AM and KLZX 95.9 FM in Logan; 1230 AM in Salt Lake City; on KLZX 105.3 FM in Montpelier, Idaho, and on the Internet at www.UtahStateAggies.com by clicking on “Listen Live.” Al Lewis handles the play-by-play duties and Craig Hislop provides analysis.For season and single-game ticket information, contact the USU Ticket Office at the Dee Glen Smith Spectrum, by phone by calling 1-888-USTATE-1 or (435) 797-0305, or online 24 hours a day at www.UtahStateAggies.com and clicking on the “buy/renew tickets” under the “tickets” drop down menu.The USU Ticket Office at the Dee Glen Smith Spectrum will stay open until 6 p.m. on Friday, Sept. 25 to accommodate fans with ticket purchases and will call pickup. Also, the South Ticket Office at Romney Stadium will open at 9 a.m. on Saturday. Fans are encouraged to come early to pickup and purchase tickets to the game, as a large walk-up crowd is expected.T-BIRD TIES — No, not something that is used to tie down the top of the convertible styles of the classic cars or ties on the black leather jackets of Danny Zuko and the boys from Grease, but Utah State’s coaching staff connections with Southern Utah, as six members of the Aggies’ coaching staff either coached or played there:Name Utah State Position Southern Utah Position YearsGary Andersen Head Coach Head Coach 2003Kevin Clune Linebackers Def. Coord 2003-04Kevin McGiven Quarterbacks Off. Coord/QB’s 2005Ilaisa Tuiaki Running Backs Running Back 2003-04Charles Henderson Def. Grad. Asst. QB/RB/TE/WR 2000-03Ryan Zimmerman Off. Admin. Asst. Quarterback 2003-USU-
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