2022 players not returning: Logan Bonner (Signed USFL Calgary Stampeders), Garrett Larson (Retired from football)
2023 post-spring ball attrition: Bishop Davenport (Transferred to South Alabama)
Returning players: Cooper Legas, Chase Tuatagaloa, Levi Williams
New Faces in 2023:
McCae Hillstead 5’11” 175 (247 3*) – Skyridge HS, UT
2022 (Sr.) Stats: 102 completions 159 attempts 1,327 yards 14 TDs 3 INTs; 51 carries 291 yards 7 TDs; 1 reception 13 yards
2021 (Jr.) Stats: 195 completions 353 attempts 2,494 yards 24 TDs 11 INTs; 122 carries 814 yards 13 TDs
2020 (So.) Stats: 194 completions 304 attempts 3,077 yards 35 TDs 10 INTs; 154 carries 686 yards 15 TDs
Offers from: Florida International, Utah Tech, Washington St
Primary Recruiter: DJ Tialavea, Anthony Tucker, Blake Anderson
Zeke Payne 6’1″ 195 (NR) – New Mexico-Highlands University – (3 years to play 3)
2022 (So.) Stats: Redshirted at New Mexico-Highlands University after 3 games; 18 completions 33 attempts 373 yards 2 TDs 1 INT; 27 carries 105 yards
2021 (Fr.) Stats: 221 completions 390 attempts 2,795 yards 26 TDs 4 INTs; 94 carries 111 yards 3 TDs
Offers from: Kansas Wesleyan, Kentucky Christian, Morehouse, Mount Marty University, New Mexico-Highlands, Pittsburg St
Primary Recruiter: Blake Anderson
Regarding the NCAA-mandated eligibility freeze from the 2020 season, what I’ve learned is the player’s eligibility will continue to accrue. Once the player reaches his 4th or 5th season, depending on if the player uses a redshirt season, the player will have the option to return to school for a 5th or 6th season and continue playing one more season. The player will then move from being listed as a senior (Sr.) to a graduate senior (Gr-Sr.)
Senior Cooper Legas had a very solid spring ball session and will enter the 2023 season as the starter at quarterback. Due to the COVID NCAA eligibility extension, Legas has one more season of eligibility beyond 2023 remaining. As a junior in 2022, Legas started in 8 of the 10 games he played in, completing 135 of 221 passes (61.1%), for 1,499 yards, 11 touchdowns, and 10 interceptions. He also carried the ball 108 times for 303 yards and 2 touchdowns. As a sophomore in 2021, he only saw action in one game, but MAN did he make it count! Legas checked into the LA Bowl versus Oregon State mid-way through the second quarter and he immediately dropped a perfectly thrown deep ball to wide receiver Deven Thompkins for a 62-yard touchdown pass on his FIRST career attempt. He finished the game completing 11 of his 20 passes (55.0%) for 171 yards, 2 touchdowns, and an interception. He also logged 8 carries for -14 yards and even chipped in a reception for 34 yards. As a redshirt freshman in 2020, he did not see any action. He sat out the 2019 season as a true freshman while he redshirted. Legas is shifty as a runner and makes cuts upfield well, making him difficult to bring down. He is a true dual-threat quarterback and a playmaker. He can extend plays with his legs and has a strong arm to make any throw needed in the pocket or on the run. He is a natural leader in the quarterback position and commands the huddle. He has a great understanding of his pre-snap reads and responsibilities and makes on-field decisions accordingly. He has really developed into a true field general. As long as he is healthy, I expect him to remain the starting quarterback.
Junior Levi Williams took the biggest steps forward during spring ball this year and because of his improvement, he will enter fall camp as the number two quarterback. As a sophomore in 2022, Williams suffered a high ankle sprain and did not see as much action as he would have liked. He did see action in 6 games completing 5 of 17 passes (29.4%), for 28 yards and an interception. He also took 10 carries for 51 yards. Williams joined the Aggies in January of 2022 after spending the first three seasons of his career at the University of Wyoming. During the 2021 season, Williams played in 9 games as a sophomore while at Wyoming, completing 63 passes in 109 attempts (57.8%) for 863 yards, 5 touchdowns, and 8 interceptions. He also recorded 56 carries for 282 yards and a touchdown. He had his own breakout bowl game during the 2021 season. In a 52-38 win over Kent State in the Idaho Potato Bowl, he ran for a career-high 200 yards and 4 touchdowns, while also completing 9 of 11 passes for 127 yards and another touchdown. As a redshirt freshman in 2020, he started in 5 of 6 games and passed for 59 completions in 119 attempts (49.6%) for 877 yards, a touchdown, and 3 interceptions. He also chipped in 56 carries for 100 yards and 6 more touchdowns. As a true freshman in 2019, he was used in 3 games while maintaining his redshirt status and completed 19 passes in 39 attempts (48.7%) for 343 yards, 3 touchdowns, and 2 interceptions. He also logged 40 carries for 181 yards and a touchdown. Williams appears extremely comfortable in the pocket going through his progressions. He is confident in his arm strength and ability to make throws, even in tight windows. He makes strong accurate throws and can play out of shot-gu or play-action. He uses his mobility well to throw on the move. He has proven he can take off and run it himself when the situation arises. He is very athletic for his size. If Williams shows as much improvement over the summer and into fall camp as he did during spring ball, he could potentially put a lot of pressure on Coop Legas for the starting gig.
Chase Tuatagaloa enters fall camp right where he ended spring ball. Tuatagaloa sat out the 2022 season as a true freshman and redshirted. As a senior at Orem High (UT) in 2021, Tuatagaloa had a solid season totaling 166 completions in 263 attempts (63.1%) for 2,187 yards, 17 touchdowns, and 8 interceptions. He also tacked on 59 carries for 343 yards and 2 touchdowns As a junior in 2020, he played tight end and logged 7 receptions for 81 yards and a touchdown before an injury cut his season short. As a sophomore in 2019, he was forced to sit out the season in accordance with USHAA rules due to transferring to Orem. What made Tuatagaloa such a vital signing is his incredible ability to play multiple positions at the FBS level. Not many kids can do that. He is VERY capable at the quarterback position. He has a strong arm and a quick release. He excels at making pre-snap reads and making quick decisions with the ball. He has good footwork and that allows him to roll out of the pocket and make throws on the run or run himself. He keeps his eyes downfield which helps his decision-making when it comes to choosing to run or pass.
True freshman McCae Hillstead joined the team for spring ball after graduating high school early in order to enroll at Utah State in January. He left the high school ranks as a state champion after leading Skyridge High (UT) to a championship victory in November. Hillstead chose to become an Aggie over offers from Florida International, Utah Tech, and Washington State. As a senior in 2022, he battled a severely injured ankle that forced him to miss nearly half of the season. After all that, he was still able to complete 102 of 159 passes for 1,327 yards (64.2%), 14 touchdowns, and 3 interceptions. He also recorded 51 carries for 291 yards and 7 touchdowns. He was able to show his true capabilities as a junior in 2021, completing 195 of 353 passes for 2,494 yards (52.2%), 24 touchdowns, and 11 interceptions. He showed off his mobility by racking up 122 carries for 814 yards and 13 touchdowns. He got his first shot at the starting gig as a sophomore in 2020, as he amassed 194 completions in 304 attempts (63.8%) for 3,077 yards, 35 touchdowns, and 10 interceptions. He also had a career-high 154 carries for 686 yards and 15 touchdowns. Hillstead is a quarterback with a lot of upside. Don’t let his size fool you, he plays at a very high skill level and he is capable of making every kind of pass on the field. He does a good job going through his progressions. He has the ability to pick defenses apart with accurate throws on every pass. He can also extend plays with his mobility. He can roll out of the pocket and hit a receiver in stride. As long as he will remain patient and allow himself to develop Hillstead has a future as a quarterback at Utah State.
Adding depth to the position is transfer redshirt sophomore, Zeke Payne. Payne will join the Aggies in time for summer workouts and will have 3 years of eligibility remaining. As a sophomore at New Mexico-Highlands University in 2022, prior to redshirting Payne saw action in 3 games logging 18 completions in 33 attempts for 373 yards, 2 touchdowns, and an interception. As a true freshman at Palomar Community College (CA) in 2021, he racked up 221 completions on 390 attempts for 2,795 yards, 26 touchdowns, and just 4 interceptions. He also tacked on 94 carries for 111 yards and 3 more touchdowns. Payne is capable of throwing for a high completion percentage. He has good touch on his throws to the sideline and he is able to put the ball where only his receiver can get it. He isn’t fleet of foot but does have good pocket escapability. He has a good completion percentage on the short and intermediate routes. He also looks comfortable throwing on the run while rolling out to his left or right.
PROJECTED 2023 PRESEASON DEPTH CHART
5 Cooper Legas (6-1, 215, Sr*., 1L, 3*)
16 Levi Williams (6-5, 230, Jr., SQ, 3*)
12 Chase Tuatagaloa (6-4, 215, RsFr., RS, 3*)
10 McCae Hillstead (5-10, 185, Fr., HS, 3*)
00 Zeke Payne (6-1, 195, RsSo., TR, NR)
Coming Up On Tuesday: Running Back