LOGAN — When Gary Andersen took over the head coaching job at Utah State four years ago, one of his first tasks was revamping the Aggie roster. Andersen wanted his new team to look more like the successful defenses he coached at Utah.
Andersen wanted to recruit heavily in-state players, future LDS missionaries and Polynesian players — three groups that have made up great teams at Utah and BYU, but were largely ignored by previous Aggie regimes.
The Polynesian segment of players, which has grown every year Andersen has been in Logan, is perhaps the easiest to spot on the field, and not just because of the occasional flowing mane of hair poking through their helmets. They are noticeable because they are large in numbers (16 this season) and are making huge impacts all over the field, helping lead Utah State to its best ever season and a berth in the 2012 Famous Idaho Potato Bowl.
Four players of Polynesian descent start for the Aggie defense. Bojay Filimoeatu is the emotional heart of this year’s Aggie linebacker core. Big defensive linemen Al Lapuaho and Havea Lasike eat up space in the trenches. Safety Brian Suite makes tackles at every level of the defense.
On offense, twin brothers Kevin and Kyle Whimpey start at the offensive guard spots on the offensive line. D.J. Tialavea doesn’t start but sees plenty of snaps as the backup tight end.
The Polynesian contingent brings more to the table than just size and strength on the field. It’s also their attitude on and off the field that makes them such a valuable commodity to Andersen.
“I think number one, Polynesian kids bring a tremendous sense of family and a sense of togetherness,” Andersen said. “Their love for the game of football is apparent every single day. They are good football players and good teammates. They really help bring a family environment to a football team.”
Filimoeatu agreed that the impact is more than just their play on the field.
“I think we bring respect,” the linebacker from West Valley City said. “We respect our elders and our coaches. We bring our work ethic together (that) brings a good environment to the team. I think that everyone sees that. Once you establish that as leaders, the whole team follows it.”
It helps when the leaders of the team aren’t just hard workers but major contributors as well. Suite finished fifth on the team with 72 tackles. Filimoeatu collected 60 tackles, including eight for losses, which was the second highest mark on the team. Lapuaho was a nightmare for opposing offensive lines and won the respect of opposing coaches and was named first-team All-WAC.
“They have performed at a high level. They are going to get to a couple all-star games, they had a couple all-conference honors. There is a lot that is going on there that is great,” Andersen said. “I love those kids.”
With the way the Aggies and their Polynesian players are playing, don’t expect the haka to stop being performed before Utah State games as long as Andersen is head coach. Filimoeatu, Lapuaho and Lasike will all graduate as seniors this year, but the rest of the Polynesian group will return and undoubtedly will be joined by a few new recruits as well.
“We will continue to grow and grow and build in that area,” Andersen said. “I think as the kids graduate and the kids have success on the field and as our team continues to get better. The young men walk out of here and turn themselves into men they will continue to grow. When young men walk out here successful in the Polynesian community, you are going to be able to get in and have someone else from that family involved.”
Kraig Williams is a 2010 Utah State University graduate and regular Deseret News sports blogger. He can be followed on Twitter at DesNewsKraig.