Aggie Notes: Utah State Linebackers Ready To Work In 2023

Aug 26, 2023, 9:16 AM

LOGAN, Utah – Senior MJ Tafisi enters his second season in Logan as the undisputed leader of a young but promising Utah State linebackers group.

Third-year linebackers coach Mike Zuckerman feels good about where his group is at with a week to prepare for the season opener.

“Through the first couple weeks of fall camp I’ve been happy with the linebackers,” Zuckerman said following practice last week.

RELATED: 2023 Utah State Aggies Football Schedule

“They’ve put so much work in this summer to understand the new system, and they’ve just been a joy to coach. I’ve got guys who show up every single day excited for practice, wanting more and more knowledge, and I just love coming to work every day.”

RELATED: Utah State Wideout Named To 2023 Comeback Award Watch List

Utah State Returning Linebackers (Listed alphabetically)

Max Alford | Sophomore | Park City, UT

Entering his sophomore season with ‘potential through the roof’, according to Zuckerman, Alford is will an important cog in USU’s defense.

Despite never playing a snap on the defensive side of the ball, Alford was forced into action when Tafisi went down with an injury. He went on to play in all 13 games last season, starting four. Alford finished with 40 tackles, including earning MW Freshman of the Week honors after totaling eight tackles in USU’s win over New Mexico.

“He’s learning how to be a defensive player,” Zuckerman commented. “He wants to know everything. He’s a guy who’s gotten better every single day of camp and I’m excited to see what he can do on the field this year.”

RELATED: Aggie Notes: Utah State Wide Receivers Face Uphill Battle In 2023

Before joining Utah State, the 6’1, 235-pound Alford was rated as a three-star recruit by ESPN.com at Park City High School.

Alford earned Academic All-Mountain West recognition in 2022.

Cole Joyce | Sophomore | Bentonville, AR

Joyce played in all 13 games as a freshman, primarily on special teams, recording one tackle for USU in 2022.

The 6’0, 235-pound sophomore began his collegiate career with Central Florida in 2021 after being recruited as a three-star prospect according to 247Sports.com. He was named the Arkansas Division I Defensive Player of the Year as a junior in 2019.

Joyce earned Academic All-Mountain West in 2022.

Bronson Olevao Jr. | RS Freshman | Salt Lake City, UT

The 6’1, 215-pound redshirt freshman out of Highland High School looks to crack the lineup after not appearing in any games last season.

Olevao Jr. came to the Aggies as a two-star prospect according to 247Sports.com. He earned Utah Class 5A second-team all-state honors at safety and first-team all-region accolades at both safety and running back as a prep senior in 2018.

MJ Tafisi | Senior | West Jordan, UT

At 6’0 and 250 pounds, the 2022 All-Mountain West honorable mention linebacker enters year two as the undisputed leader of the linebacking group.

Named an Athlon Sports Second-Team All-Mountain West & Phil Steele Second-Team All-Mountain West, Tafisi started the first eight games of 2022 before an injury caused him to miss the remainder of the season. He finished the year with 69 tackles, one sack, and nine tackles for a loss, earning

The former Alta Hawk spent four seasons with the Washington Huskies before transferring to Utah State. He finished his Husky career with 40 tackles, one sack, and one pass breakup.

“We have a lot of new guys and a new defensive coordinator in Joe Cauthen,” Tafisi said. “The biggest thing is everyone is going to work and getting to know the defense. The linebackers have been phenomenal. We have a lot of young guys, but they’re all willing to work.

RELATED: Limiting Turnovers Will Be Key For Utah State Quarterbacks

“It’s been awesome seeing MJ back out here,” added Zuckerman. “Seeing how hard he’s worked to get back and seeing how strong and what good shape he’s in. Seeing him running the show and being the mike linebacker, has been awesome. Everything I expect out of him as a senior, he’s providing for this group. I just couldn’t be prouder of him for being back on the field and coming back from injury.”

Josh Williams | RS Freshman | Mesquite, TX

Listed at 6’1 and 205 pounds, Williams used his redshirt season in 2022 while appearing in four games for USU without recording a stat.

Rated as a three-star recruit by 247Sports.com out of Mesquite High School in Texas, he earned first-team all-district honors following his senior season. Williams finished his final prep season with 89 tackles, three sacks, two interceptions, and two forced fumbles.

RELATED: Anyanwu Leads Utah State Cornerbacks Into 2023

Utah State Incoming Linebackers (Listed alphabetically)

Gavin Barthiel | Sophomore | Lakeland, FL

The 6’0, 225-pound Barthiel begins his Aggie career as a sophomore after spending the previous two seasons at Washington State. He redshirted for the Cougars in 2021 before playing in five games last season.

Out of Lake Gibson High School, Barthiel was rated a three-star recruit by ESPN.com, Rivals.com, and 247Sports.com. Recorded 72 tackles, three sacks, and 14 tackles for a loss as a prep senior.

Bowen Fjord | Freshman | Boerne, TX

Listed at 6’1 and 225 pounds, Fjord has good size for an incoming freshman. He comes to Utah State after earning Texas Class 5A-1 Region III District 12 first-team honors at safety for Boerne-Champion High School in Texas. Bjorn finished his senior season with 113 tackles, 12 pass breakups, and three interceptions.

Logan Pili | RS Freshman | Provo, UT

After spending 2022 redshirting with the BYU Cougars, Pili transferred to Utah State. The 6’0, 225-pounder out of Timpview High School played in three games for the Cougars, finishing with seven tackles.

Rated a three-star recruit by 247Sports.com and ESPN.com, Pili had 53 tackles, one sack, and one interception as a prep senior. Pili won a state championship with the Thunderbirds in 2019.

RELATED: Thoughts From Utah State’s Second Scrimmage

Jaden Wright | Freshman | Pleasant Grove, UT

A Utah Class 6A second-team all-region honors as both a junior and senior, the 6’0, 190-pound Wright heads to Utah State after a stellar senior season at Pleasant Grove High School. Wright finished the year with 126 tackles, ten sacks, and five pass breakups.

Following The Aggies With KSL Sports Zone

Utah State begins the 2023 campaign with a road test against the Big Ten’s Iowa Hawkeyes. Iowa hosts the Aggies on Saturday, September 2 with a 10 a.m. (MT) season-opening kickoff. The Hawkeyes ended 2022 with a 21-0 shutout against Kentucky in the Music City Bowl to finish the season at 8-5.

Utah State football games are found on KSL Sports Zone with Scott Garrard and former Aggie quarterback Kevin White on the call.

KSL Sports coverage of Utah State University Athletics can be found here. 

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Aggie Notes: Utah State Linebackers Ready To Work In 2023