OGDEN — Of Weber State’s 99 players listed on its online football roster, only 11 are seniors.
Three of those are Northern Utah natives who are among the last players left who have been there from the beginning under sixth-year head coach Jay Hill. The seniors prepare to suit up for Senior Day at 2 p.m. Saturday against Idaho State.
None of Xavier Stilson, Auston Tesch and Kawika Tupuola signed to play at Weber State at a time when the Wildcats were particularly good at football and had to exercise some degree of trust in committing to WSU, especially with missions for The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints ahead of them.
Stilson, a Layton High graduate, is the second-oldest player on the team. The offensive lineman signed in 2012 and then served a mission to Brazil, and he was there when Weber State hired Hill as head coach.
“I’d never heard of coach Hill before. But when I got home and they had started winning games, I’d heard so much good that he had brought to Weber State, I wanted to be a part of it,” Stilson said.
Tesch and Tupuola were among the first to commit to Hill as a new head coach. They signed to play for a program that was 2-10 in 2013 and served missions to Washington, D.C., and Samoa, respectively.
“I remember the time that a lot of the schools I was looking to play ball at, Weber State wasn’t one of them,” Tupuola, a defensive end, said. “The fact that I did had a lot to do with the coaching staff was outstanding. Coach Hill, I couldn’t help but trust him as soon as you talked with him. The relationships coaches made ... in my senior year (of high school), I understood that they weren’t great. But just buying in and believing what they said.
“I thought it was super interesting that I signed in 2014, trusting coach Hill and his staff, and coming back two years later and seeing the results and thinking, ‘Man, this is awesome, it’s starting to happen.’”
All three were freshmen in 2016, the season Weber State made the playoffs for only the fifth time in school history and the first time since 2009.
“It’s honestly been a dream. I think that was the whole idea of it with my decision to come here,” Tesch, a linebacker, said. “Coach Hill came to me and told me his vision and his big plans, and honestly just seeing them through has been a dream. Between the championships and the new facilities and the quality of coaches and players we have here, and the community support that’s come out to really spur us along — a dream is the only way I can describe it.”
WSU had never been to the playoffs in three straight seasons, something that changed in 2018. This season will make four straight.
“It’s really cool to watch the program change and grow and basically flip,” Stilson said. “To think that we would get a chance to be three-time Big Sky champs, it was always a goal but it was never a huge reality because the situation the program was in back then. But it’s awesome, this coaching staff has done a great job to get us prepared. All of the coaches that we’ve had this time under coach Hill have been phenomenal. He surrounds himself with coaches who are going to put us in the best situation possible.”
Weber State has now been ranked in the top 10 for 19 straight weeks and ranked in the top 25 for 41 consecutive weeks — an unimaginable reality for even the most die-hard Wildcat fans.
That means a lot to the Northern Utah natives who committed to Weber State, had coaches commit to them and helped build the program to where it is today.
“When I was growing up, going to high school, if anyone ever had Weber State gear it was because they had a mom or a sibling or someone who went there at one point,” Tupuola said. “But now, as I’d go to my brother’s high school games or just around anywhere in the area, you see more and more Weber State gear. I take that as just a little sign that what we do here doesn’t go unnoticed.
“Being part of the program and being part of a winning tradition … it’s shaped my character and who I am. I’m super grateful for it.”
Tesch said people around town even recognize who he is, a testament to the growing support of the team.
“It’s been fun being part of Weber State because I am local and I see so many people I know on campus. Even when younger generations come up, we’ve got some freshmen that I knew from helping with little league camps,” Tesch said.
“They could have gone and played other places but seeing them choose to come here, it’s really seeing the dream fulfilled that people are believing what we’re doing here, that we’re proving it, and it’s all just coming together.”
Weber State will honor 11 players Saturday as part of Senior Day.
Jacques Carter: The cornerback from Clearfield High School played three seasons at the College of Idaho before transferring to Weber State. He has appeared in two games this season.
Chris Faaumu: The Washington native transferred to WSU from Cerritos Community College and appeared in one game in 2018.
Omar Gutierrez: The Midvale, Utah, native is a walk-on safety.
Martrel Holmes: A receiver from San Marcos, California, Holmes has appeared in six career games, including three this season.
Doug Lloyd: The Australian punting prodigy appeared in four games in 2017 before taking over full-time punting duties in 2018. In 2019, 26 of his 57 punts have been downed inside the 20, averaging 43.1 yards per punt with a long of 72 yards and hitting at least one punt of more than 50 yards in eight of 11 games this season. He also has a two career rushing touchdowns and a long rush of 41 yards.
Gordon Moimoi: The Timpview High School alum played at both offensive and defensive line in his WSU career, recording three tackles in backup duty and appearing in 22 total games.
Adam Rodriguez: An All-American defensive end from Springville, Utah, Rodriguez has played in 48 games for Weber State, totaling 176 tackles, including 32 for loss, 16 sacks and one forced fumble. Rodriguez also scored a 3-yard rushing touchdown this season.
Xavier Stilson: Stilson, a Layton native, has played in 25 games at offensive line for Weber State, including eight starts last season and 11 more this season.
Auston Tesch: Tesch, a linebacker and native of Eden, earned All-Big Sky honors last season. He’s played in 50 games at Weber State, totaling 132 tackles, including 14 for loss, 4.5 sacks, one forced fumble and one blocked kick.
Kawika Tupuola: The defensive end and Farmington native has played in 33 career games, totaling 42 tackles, 8.5 for loss, 2.5 sacks and a forced fumble.
Jonah Williams: An All-American defensive end from Meridian, Idaho, Williams has played 50 career games, totaling 178 tackles, 25.5 for loss, 14 sacks, three forced fumbles and three blocked kicks.