SALT LAKE CITY (ABC4 Sports) – As the Utes football team continued preparation for the Rose Bowl against Penn State, head coach Kyle Whittingham shared his thoughts about the passing of his good friend, Mike Leach.
Leach died Monday night at the age of 61 after suffering a massive heart attack over the weekend. Leach coached 21 years at Texas Tech, Washington State and Mississippi State. He was a BYU graduate and a classmate of Whittingham’s.
“It’s sad and tragic,” Whittingham said. “Our thoughts, prayers and condolences go out to his wife, his kids and his grandchildren. He was brilliant. You could pick any subject — UFO’s, Sasquatch, politics — three hours on any subject. You don’t get much talking in. He would carry the conversation, but he was one of a kind. We will miss him. The whole college world will miss Mike Leach.”
As for the Rose Bowl, Utah will be without two of their best players. Clark Phillips opted out to get ready for the NFL Draft, while Dalton Kincaid is dealing with an injury, and declared for the draft as well.
“He would be here if he could,” Whittingham said about Kincaid. “It’s killing him not to be here, but he just couldn’t do it. We don’t want to put him in harm’s way. So Dalton will be missed, as will Clark. Clark decided not to play, but we’ll miss both those guys and appreciate what they did for our program.”
So without Kincaid, Thomas Yassmin, a former rugby player who has been in the program since 2018, will be counted on a lot. So far this year, he’s come through with five touchdown catches on 12 receptions.
“I always say I wish the opportunities came under different circumstances,” Yassmin said. “It’s been a long road for me. I’ve been here four and a half years, and only really started to see action the past six games. So, it’s really good to be out there and show people what I can do finally.”
“It’s been going great,” said quarterback Cam Rising. “We’ve been working together since the 2019 scout team, and it’s always been productive. He’s a phenomenal player. I’ve just got to get the ball in his hands and watch him do the rest.”
So with less than three weeks to go, the Utes are calm and focused. They’ve been here before and aren’t getting caught up in the moment just yet.
“This is our second time in two years going to the Rose Bowl,” said wide receiver DeVaughn Vele. “So we’re kind of prepared for it. We’re just focusing more on a better outcome than last year. We’re really harping on keeping that same tenacity that we had in the championship game.”
Utah and Penn State will play in the Rose Bowl January 2nd in Pasadena.