SALT LAKE CITY (ABC4 Sports) – Ever since losing the Rose Bowl back in January months ago, the two-time defending Pac-12 Championship Utah football team has been chomping at the bit to get back on the field.
Tuesday afternoon, the Utes got their wish with the first day of spring practice.
“It was exactly what you would expect,” said head coach Kyle Whittingham. “The first day, a lot of excitement, great to be out here. Winter conditioning is a grind for these guys. It was eight weeks of hard work, so it’s great to be out on the field and playing some football.”
“I love it,” said running back Ja’Quendin Jackson. “Just being around, seeing all these smiling faces, helmets on, flying around, just having a good time playing football.”
There are lot of returning stars like quarterback Cam Rising and tight end Brant Kuithe, but they will not participate in spring ball as they are rehabbing injuries. So Bryson Barnes, Nate Johnson and Brandon Rose will get all the snaps at quarterback as they battle for the backup job.
“We want to sort things out and get a pecking order,” Whittingham said. “Cam is obviously our number one guy, not taking any reps in the spring, which leaves a bunch of reps for two through five. So we’ve got to determine who those five guys are going to be.”
“Most of the guys that did come back are rehabbing right now,” said wide receiver DeVaughn Vele. “So I didn’t see a lot of them on the field. But a lot of the younger guys like Nate Johnson, Bryson Barnes, Brandon Rose. Connecting with those guys rather than Cam is a different look, but it’s good to see what those guys bring to the table.”
No team in the Pac-12 era has won three championships in a row. Although the season opener is still five months away, the Utes are already thinking about it.
“It’s part of our culture now,” Vele said. “Especially us being back-to-back, we talk about attacking the championship rather than defending it. So that’s a mindset that we have right now, and we’re just working towards it this spring.”
“3-peat,” Jackson said. “We’re trying to get that plus more. We’re looking at the Pac-12 Championship, but we’re also looking at College Football Playoffs also.”
“They’re back-to-back Pac-12 champs going for a 3-peat, and that’s a big challenge,” added Whittingham. “To get back out here today and see the enthusiasm and excitement is what it’s all about.”
Utah will have 14 total practices in the spring, culminating with the annual Red-White Scrimmage April 22nd in Rice-Eccles Stadium.