LOGAN – Linebacker Justus Te’i was brand new to Utah State last August. The Oceanside, Calif. native was just months removed from high school, but was already making an impression with his new coaches.
He did enough for head coach Matt Wells to mention him specifically after one practice during fall camp. Wells told the media that if the season started that day, Te’i would be on the field.
Not only was Te’i playing in the season opener less than two weeks later, but he got the start. The freshman recorded three tackles in the 45-6 win against Weber State, one of them a six-yard sack. He went on to play all 12 games that year, recording 15 total tackles, the most of any true freshman on the team.
Before Te’i ever joined the team, USU was known for its linebackers. Guys like Bobby Wagner, Kyler Fackrell and the Vigil brothers were doing so well some were calling the program Linebacker U. There were other schools that offered Te’i a chance to sign, including San Diego State, a university not far from his hometown, but seeing others at his same position have success at USU made it an attractive choice.
“LBU, that’s the school, right?” he said. “I mean, the tradition of linebackers here has been second-to-none.”
The young linebacker wants to help get the defense back to where it used to be, and he’s optimistic it will. He said this spring already feels different. He feels more comfortable, and said there is a noticeable change within the team.
“The biggest emphasis is effort and toughness this year,” he said. “Last year, myself included, we found ourselves not being that traditional Aggie defense that the Aggie fans know about, so we’re trying to get there.”
Te’i is spending more time in the film room, which he said has led to a higher game IQ. He said he is putting pressure on himself to do the things that will make him better.
“I’m always going to be my biggest critic, I’m always going to judge myself harder than anyone ever will. So I mean, I give myself pressure all the time, but it’s to improve my game. I never compare myself to other athletes. It’s whatever I feel needs to get done, in the weight room, in the film room, anything.”
Wells has said he needs some linebackers to step up this spring, and as of Friday afternoon’s spring scrimmage, he hasn’t seen what he needs to see yet, but Te’i is expecting some guys to come through. He said there are some that Aggie fans don’t know about yet, but will enjoy. He brought up one in particular, a redshirt linebacker from Olympia, Washington.
“David Woodward, he’s a real quiet dude,” Te’i said. “He’s going to be the real deal, in my opinion. He’s athletic, he’s natural, he’s smart, good in the open field.”
Te’i said he is already having more fun than he ever did last season, and thinks that will translate to added success.
“We have a great defensive line, we have an experienced defensive line, we have a great secondary,” he said. “We’re a pretty good defense, we just need to improve a couple of things here and there.”