(ABC4) – After an exhilarating Divisional Round of the NFL Playoffs, just four teams remaining vying for a bid to play in Super Bowl LVI in Los Angeles on Feb. 13.
Without a horse in the race, so to speak, it may be hard to pick a favorite based on the presence of players and team members with local ties. Each of the four teams set to play in the conference championship games has at least two Utah connections.
If you’re a fan of BYU, you may lean towards the Kansas City Chiefs, led by former BYU player and assistant coach Andy Reid in the AFC Championship against Cincinnati. Utah fans may be rooting for the Los Angeles Rams, who are heavy on former Utes, to prevail over the San Francisco 49ers in the NFC title game.
However you pledge your allegiance this Sunday, there are plenty of local heroes to cheer on in both matchups. Here’s a list of the players (and coaches) with local ties, playing for a shot at the biggest stage in American sports:
Kansas City Chiefs
Zayne Anderson, BYU
A native of Stansbury Park, Anderson arrived at BYU in 2015, touted as an athletic linebacker and defensive in the same mold of former Cougar Daniel Sorenson, who is now his teammate in Kansas City. An undrafted rookie, Anderson was on the active roster for four regular-season games this season, playing on special teams and making one tackle. He took six snaps on defense during Kansas City’s Wild Card win over Pittsburgh, making one tackle.
Daniel Sorensen, BYU
Like his younger counterpart, Sorensen entered the league with Kansas City as an undrafted rookie. Since his first season in 2014, he has become an increasingly important part of the Chiefs defense. In his career, he has made nearly 400 tackles and 4.5 sacks and has scored five touchdowns, including a 75-yard interception return in Week 13 of the 2021 season against the Denver Broncos.
Andy Reid, BYU
Known as much for his love of cheeseburgers as his success on the sidelines, Super Bowl-winning head coach was once an offensive tackle at BYU. After graduating in 1980, he spent a year as a graduate assistant with the Cougars before bouncing around to other assistant coaching jobs at the college and professional level. He finally got his first head coaching job with the Philadelphia Eagles in 1999 and won his first championship with Kansas City in Super Bowl LIV.
Matt Bushman, BYU
A strong pass-catching tight end during his college days at BYU, Bushman went undrafted in 2021 and was signed to Las Vegas’ practice squad to start the season. He was activated for two games with the Raiders in the regular season but had no targets, completions, or tackles on offense or special teams. The Chiefs added him to their practice squad earlier this month.
Alex Whittingham, Utah
If the name Whittingham sounds familiar, it’s for a good reason. Alex is the son of Utah head coach Kyle Whittingham. He played four seasons for his dad at Utah, mostly on special teams, after a strong career at Brighton High School. After graduating from the U, he joined Reid’s staff as a defensive assistant and was promoted to defensive quality control coach in 2019.
Darwin Thompson, Utah State
After playing a single season at Utah State, where he was honored as an All-Mountain West Conference selection, Thompson was selected by the Chiefs in the sixth round of the 2019 NFL Draft. He played in 12 games as a rookie and 14 the next season, scoring a touchdown in each season. However, he was cut from the 53-man roster at the start of this season and spent the entire year with Tampa Bay’s practice squad. Kansas City brought him back as a practice squad member two weeks ago.
Marcus Kemp, Layton H.S.
Kemp played high school ball for Layton but opted to head to paradise to play college football at Hawaii. He was named Hawaii’s most valuable player after his senior year but entered the NFL as an undrafted rookie. He has bounced back and forth between the active roster and the practice squad throughout his career, including one year spent with Miami before returning to Kansas City. He is currently listed on the active roster after appearing in both of the Chiefs’ playoff wins this postseason.
Jalen Davis, Utah State
A four-year player at Utah State, Davis’ senior year in 2017 was his best as he was named a first-team All-Conference pick as well as an All-American by several major publications. He has also been back and forth between the active roster and the practice squad for Miami, Arizona, and Cincinnati. He most recently made the stat sheet in Week 12 of this season, when he assisted on a tackle against Pittsburgh. He is listed as active for the AFC championship game.
Xavier Su’a-Filo, Timpview H.S.
An All-American at Timpview, Su’a-Filo was one of the most sought-after recruits from Utah after his high school days. He played college ball at UCLA and was selected in the second round of the 2014 NFL Draft by the Houston Texans. He hasn’t yet been able to duplicate his success in high school and college and has bounced around with Houston, Tennessee, and Dallas. He started this season as a starter for Cincinnati but hasn’t played since suffering a knee injury in Week 2.
Los Angeles Rams
Terrell Burgess, Utah
A steady part of Utah’s defense from 2016-19, Burgess is a great example of the development program that has been a mainstay for the Utes. He was drafted in the third round of the 2020 NFL Draft and played in seven games as a rookie. Burgess appeared in 16 games this season and started in both of the Rams’ playoff wins against Arizona and Tampa Bay. His five combined tackles against the Cardinals in the Wild Card round tied a career-high.
Matt Gay, Utah
A former Lou Groza Award winner as National Kicker of the Year at Utah, Gay enjoyed a taste of sweet revenge last week, kicking the game-winning field goal against the team that drafted him and later cut him after his rookie season, Tampa Bay. Since his frustrating start to his career with the Buccaneers, Gay has found success in L.A., leading the NFL in field goal percentage this season while being named a Pro Bowl selection.
Eric Weddle, Utah
Yep, he’s still around. After finishing an All-American career at Utah, and a celebrated 13-year run in the NFL with the Chargers, Ravens, and Rams, Weddle retired in 2020 but made a surprising return earlier this month to help out the Rams after the team was beset by injuries. Although he was signed to the practice squad, he was activated for both playoff games, including last week’s win against the Buccaneers, where he has assessed a controversial dead ball penalty in the fourth quarter.
Jonah Williams, Weber State
The lone Weber State alum still playing in the NFL Playoffs, Williams was undrafted out of college in 2020 and spent his first year as a member of the Rams’ practice squad. He made the 53-man roster to start this season but was waived after playing in the first eight games. He briefly signed with the Vikings but returned to L.A. as a member of the practice squad in November.
San Francisco 49ers
Mitch Wishnowsky, Utah
An Australian native, Wishnowsky was a Ray Guy Award winner as the best punter in the county at Utah before wowing NFL scouts with his all-around athleticism ahead of the 2019 Draft. He was a rare selection as a punter, being taken by the 49ers in the fourth round. Due to an injury to placekicker Robbie Gould, Wishnowsky was forced into kicking duties in Week 4 against the Seahawks this year, where he became the first Australian to score a point in an NFL game.
Fred Warner, BYU
A key member of BYU’s defense from 2014-17, Warner rose quickly up NFL draft boards and was taken by the 49ers in the third round of the 2018 Draft. Since then, he has been an ironman and star for the Niners, playing at least 16 games and gathering over 100 tackles in each of his first four seasons. He was a first-team All-Pro in 2020 and also married a former contestant on The Bachelor, Sydney Hightower, in 2021.