OGDEN — In March, it seemed Landon Stice had played his last snap of football.
Heading into his senior season, the Weber State linebacker was dealing with concussion issues and, after one spring-camp practice, head coach Jay Hill said those would keep Stice from playing.
But the 6-foot-3, 225-pound star rejoined the team near the end of spring camp and worked his way back as one of the Wildcats’ key leaders.
“It was a pain at the start because I couldn’t do any contact and I wanted to,” Stice said. “But it’s helped me a ton in terms of film study because that’s where I get most of my mental reps.
“And, my tackling actually got extremely better. I wasn’t tackling right, that’s why I got all those concussions. So not being able to go full contact and having to thud up and stay up, it forced me to tackle correctly. It didn’t feel like it was helping me, but it helped me a lot. I’m in a better spot now.”
It was noticeable in last week’s opener at Utah. Sure, he used the speed and instinct coaches praise him for in the night’s most noticeable play for Weber State. Stice picked off Tyler Huntley and nearly returned it for points. He was pushed out of bounds at the Utah 2 and set up WSU’s only touchdown of the night.
But the outside linebacker played like a tough-tackling middle backer, too. In the second quarter, with WSU still leading 10-0, Utah gave the ball to thundering Zack Moss — a surefire NFL running back — up the middle on third-and-3 near midfield. Stice met Moss in the hole and stood him straight up, 1 yard short of the first down.
That set up a fourth-and-1 in which Keilan Benjamin and the Wildcats stuffed Moss again to take the ball back. At the time, it was part of a series of plays in which Weber looked increasingly like it belonged on the same field as Utah.
“Landon’s a phenomenal player. He was one of the best players on the field on Thursday,” WSU head coach Jay Hill said. “He deserves everything you give him ... He played great in that game, not just on that interception but throughout the game, he made a lot of huge plays. He’s a good leader and he’s a great player.”
Perhaps his journey from a small Utah high school and through injury could help his team bounce back from that 41-10 walloping at the hands of Utah as FCS competition begins.
Stice came to the Wildcats from Stansbury High School in Stansbury Park, a newer high school in the small but growing population base in the desert west of Salt Lake City that includes Tooele and Grantsville. He also ran track at Stansbury, which was, at that time, a 3A school.
“Coming out of there, I had to work. You’re not really given much in terms of offers and attention,” Stice said. “It’s not really about respect, I was respected. But everyone knows who the big-named kids are, so you just have to work. That’s what I’ve noticed, and it works for all of us here (at Weber State).”
Hill said Stice was one of his favorite players of that class — he was fast, physical and his prep coach loved him. But with the closest college looking for recruits to compete in the Pac-12, there’s a list of names to get to before Stice would show up on recruiting boards.
“It makes you the underdog, but that’s the best place to be. I like being the underdog,” he said.
One lesson he’s learned since last season: use mistakes to learn but focus on the good. While Hill says Stice was one of the best players on the field at Utah, Stice said he “made a lot of mistakes” and has a lot to learn from it.
“I used to be hard on myself ... I try to look at the good things now. I definitely had some missed assignments during the game ... But you try to lean more towards the good plays because it keeps your attitude positive.”
After the game, he said his team was beat up mentally but otherwise has a good attitude and is working hard.
If the Wildcats have playoff aspirations, they’ll need to follow Stice in that regard. Saturday’s game at Cal Poly, a Big Sky opponent in a non-conference game, brings a physical brand of football. The defense, especially, has a battle against the Mustangs’ triple-option attack.
“We’ve got to bounce back. Conference play — well, technically not, but it will count if it comes down to it,” Stice said. “So we’ve got to prepare the right way and keep working.”