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Go Utes!

1998 Season Outlook

In his annual pre-season State of the Utes address, ninth-year Head Coach Ron McBride pledged continued prosperity for a program that has enjoyed tremendous success under his leadership. Some would question his ability to live up to that promise, given the fact his team lost a whopping 70 percent of its offensive numbers from a year ago. But McBride has looked down the line and likes what he sees.

"I'm not worried about our offense because our offensive line is going to be outstanding," says McBride. "We are solid up front and that is always the key. This is maybe the best group of offensive linemen we've ever had here and those are the guys who open the creases for your runners and give protection for your passers. If they learn to be nasty, they can set the tempo of the game."

He professes similar confidence in the other side of the trench. "Our main recruiting focus is always on the defensive front, because those are the hardest guys to find. We recruited seven guys we really like, and once some injuries heal up, we have a great group returning."

McBride has reason to brag about the defense, which should again figure among the Western Athletic Conference leaders. It is on offense where he has some convincing to do with his Ute constituency. That's because behind the line, his offense has minimal experience at the NCAA level. Gone is first-team all-WAC wide receiver Kevin Dyson, who graduated and became the first receiver taken in the NFL draft (going No. 16 to the Tennessee Oilers). Gone are the two players who carried virtually all of Utah's rushing load for the last three years: Chris Fuamatu-Ma'afala and Juan Johnson. Fuamatu-Ma'afala passed on his senior year to enter the pros early and Johnson graduated after leading Utah in rushing last year and making second team all-WAC.

But McBride came out of spring practice stumping for his offensive unit, which features not one, but two, quarterbacks with starting experience, and looks to have heir apparents at wide receiver and running back. "Both Darnell Arceneaux and Jonathan Crosswhite are proven quarterbacks," says McBride, "and they are both much better than a year ago. Crosswhite has had a year to figure the league out, and in the spring, I could tell he was seeing things quicker and making better releases. Darnell is a proven winner who will also benefit from having played at this level last year. And the pocket has been better for those guys to throw," adds McBride, unable to resist another chance to talk up his offensive line. "We lost our big play receiver-Dyson-but we think Daniel Jones can pick up the slack and we have four of our five receivers back. At running back, Omar Bacon is a very similar runner to Juan Johnson, so the tradeoff should not be a big one. We lost Chris (Fuamatu-Ma'afala), but we answered a big question in the spring when (redshirt freshman) Thomas Fortune stepped up and did a nice job." Speculation aside, here's what McBride knows going into the 1998 season: Arceneaux, who led Utah to season-ending wins over Rice and Brigham Young, is his starting quarterback. Crosswhite, who started the first nine games, is right on his heels. Utah's offensive line is experienced and deep. His defensive line, led by first-team all-WAC nose guard Pene Talamaivao, may be the WAC's best. Utah has the best linebacker in the league, and one of the best ever to play at the U., in first-team all-WAC senior Phil Glover. Punter Chris Hunter, another honor candidate, will make opposing offenses start deep in their own territory when his name is called.

McBride also knows his team needs to win games and contend for the WAC division title to live up to the now high annual expectations. Bowl appearances in four of the last six years and a WAC championship in 1995 will do that. The veteran coach welcomes those expectations.

"Our program is in a good state," he contends. "We expect to be successful every year. I thought after my fourth year here that we had stabilized the program and were at a point where we had a chance to beat anyone we played. I still feel that way."

To McBride's amazement, his team will now play in a stadium that can beat anyone, too. Beautiful 45,634-seat Rice Stadium will be completed in time for Utah's 1998 home opener against Louisville on September 12. The $50 million project should help keep McBride's program on the upswing.

"The new stadium is awesome," exclaims McBride. "It's hard to believe something like that has been built here in my lifetime. We had better put the kind of team on the field that deserves that stadium. We have the potential to do that."

By position, here's how the Utes line up in 1998:

OFFENSIVE LINE

Big, talented and confident, Utah's offensive line could become the all-WAC "team" if it meets expectations. Seniors dominate the first string, with 1997 second team all-WAC left tackle Nathan Sybrowsky (6-4, 237), right tackle Josh Cochran (6-5, 307) and center Darren Walker (6-3, 295) projected as honor candidates. But Sybrowsky must beat out a guy on his own team-freshman sensation Doug Kaufusi (6-7, 300)-before he can vie for further accolades. Big senior Devin Grant (6-8, 300), untested due to injuries, is a wild card who could challenge Cochran. And sophomore Steve McKane (6-1, 244) would start at center on most teams. Competition is just as stiff at left guard, where Sam White (6-3, 280) played as a freshman a year ago. He replaced junior Luis Park (6-2, 300), who was impressive before season-ending knee surgery just three games into the year.

"For the first time, we have quality depth," marvels McBride. "We don't drop off a lot after our first string. I wasn't disappointed in one guy during the spring. Every one of them has a good work ethic and ability."

Sybrowsky, Park and Grant missed much of spring ball recuperating from knee injuries, but expect to be at full strength come fall. McBride is especially curious to see Grant, who in his third year on campus, has yet to play a down.

"A lot is going to be determined on what Devin Grant does. He is someone who could make our tackle position exceptional," says McBride.

However, Grant may have trouble getting time with powerful Cochran ahead of him on the depth chart. "Josh has really turned the corner as far as consistency and there has never been a question about his talent," says McBride.

Two crossovers from the defense could impact Utah's line: Kaufusi caught everyone's eye as Sybrowsky's replacement in the spring and Fisi Moleni should contribute down the road.


Offensive Line
(1997 totals, where applicable)

Name       Yr.   Hgt.   Wgt.  DC
Cochran    Sr.   6-5   307    72
Grant      Sr.   6-8   300    -
Jackson    Sr.   6-3   311    10
Katoa      Sr.   6-5   354    6
Kaufusi    Fr.   6-7   300    -
McKane     So.   6-1   244    24
Park       Jr.   6-2   300    27
Sybrowsky  Sr.   6-4   327    61
Walker     Sr.   6-3   295    62
White      So.   6-3   280    47

TIGHT ENDS

The tight end field returns exactly two catches and 18 yards from a year ago, but McBride says this position is improved. A big reason is senior C.J. Johnson (6-1, 230), back off the injury list, who caught five passes for 96 yards and 2 TDs in just six games in 1996. Johnson, fully recovered from the broken ankle that sidelined him last year, and his backups, will do much more than just block.

"C.J., Andy Kassotis and Matt Nickel give us a nice combination," says McBride. "We threw the ball to the tight end in the spring probably more than we have in the last six or seven years. C.J. is tough and quick and I really liked how Matt emerged in the last few weeks of spring ball."


Tight Ends
(1997 totals, where applicable)

Name       Yr.   Hgt.  Wgt.  Rec   Yards   TD
Johnson    Sr.   6-1   230    -     -      -
Kassotis   Jr.   6-3   273    -     -      -
Langston   So.   6-5   217    -     -      -
Nickel     So.   6-6   257    2    18      1

QUARTERBACKS

While McBride is "comfortable" with either sophomore Darnell Arceneaux (6-1, 187) or senior Jonathan Crosswhite (6-2, 210) at the controls, the starting job is Arceneaux's. Both players have starting experience (Crosswhite nine games and Arceneaux two), but their strengths differ.

"Darnell brings things to the table that you can't put on a piece of paper," notes McBride of the multi-faceted Arceneaux. "He still has to improve on his pocket passing, but his ability to scramble and get out of situations is paramount. Jonathan is a pure passer and his decision making is much better and faster than it was last fall," says McBride of Crosswhite.

Arceneaux took over as starter in the final two games of 1997-both Ute wins-and electrified observers with his dare-devil runs and big play passes. In six games, one in which he played just a single down, Arceneaux finished as Utah's third leading rusher with 46 carries for 308 yards and three touchdowns. He played quarterback in five games and completed 57 percent of his passes for 616 yards and four touchdowns. Crosswhite started the first nine games and did a nice job despite directing a team plagued by injuries. He completed 59 percent of his passes for 1,588 yards and nine touchdowns.

"Both players fought every day in the spring and the competition was very beneficial," says McBride. "Darnell didn't lose his job in the spring, but Crosswhite is right there. Because they have different styles of play, we will have different packages, depending which quarterback is in."

Junior Scott Styles is third in line and both he and sophomore T.D. Croshaw also impressed McBride in the spring.


Quarterbacks
(1997 totals, where applicable)

Name        Yr.   Hgt.  Wgt.  Att.  Comp.   Yards   Int.  TD
Arceneaux   So.   6-1   187   77    44      616     2     4
Croshaw     So.   6-1   188   -     -       -       -     -
Crosswhite  Sr.   6-2   210   222   130     1588    9     9
Styles      Jr.   6-3   207   1     1       1       0     1

RECEIVERS

Daniel Jones, now a senior, was one of the most prolific receivers in the nation before severely spraining his ankle in the fourth game of 1997. Through the first three games, he averaged 117.5 yards per game-first in the WAC and eighth nationally. He's the guy Utah needs to fill the huge shoes of graduated all-WAC receiver Kevin Dyson. Jones' 4.40 40 speed and 38-inch vertical jump will help in that cause.

"Daniel Jones is a proven commodity and gives us speed," says McBride, who professes high expectations for the JC transfer.

This position might surprise some people by virtue of its depth. Four of five receivers are back from last year and slot back, in particular, looks strong. Junior Boo Bendinger has played in 22 games in the last two years and started last season. Bendinger, slowed by a pelvis injury in the spring, can expect competition for that spot from junior Donny Utu. Intended as a temporary fill-in for the injured Bendinger, Utu took a real shine to the position.

"A surprise this spring was the slot position," says McBride. "Donny (Utu) made a lot of plays and we're thinking that might be the best position for him. He'll compete with Boo, who is a good blocker and has great hands."

Back for a second year is senior Jerome Anderson, who won the right to start opposite of Jones in the spring, and sophomore Chris Christensen. Clifford Russell is the fastest player on the team (4.37 40), but needs experience. Incoming players who could help are Demetrius Posey of Santa Monica Junior College and freshman Wayman Westbrooks.


Receivers
(1997 totals, where applicable)

Name         Yr.   Hgt.   Wgt.  Rec.  Yards  TD
Anderson     Sr.   5-11   178   16    141    1
Bendinger    Jr.   6-0    222   24    314    1
Christensen  So.   5-11   177   -     -      -
Jones        Sr.   5-11   182   41    626    5
Posey        Jr.   6-2    205   -     -      -
Russell      Fr.   6-0    180   -     -      - 
Westbrooks   Fr.   6-2    195   -     -      -

RUNNING BACKS

Utah's starting backs for the last three years-Chris Fuamatu-Ma'afala and Juan Johnson-are gone and with them went 84 percent of Utah's ground game. But Utah's least known position may become one of its best, if all the pieces fall into place.

The biggest piece is likely junior Omar Bacon (6-1, 208), who redshirted last year after averaging 5.4 yards per carry in five games two years ago. Utah's third string running back from 1995-96 appears ready to play a leading role. "Omar had a very good spring," confirms McBride. "He is a slasher like Juan (Johnson) and is very smart. He knows the offense inside and out."

McBride's concern in the spring was finding someone already in the program to supplement Bacon. He found it in redshirt freshman Thomas Fortune (6-3, 226). "Thomas was a real surprise," says McBride. "He's big, he's fast and he showed an ability to break a lot of tackles in the spring scrimmages." Two other runners already on campus that McBride likes are senior Roy Allen, who rushed 24 times for 85 yards last year, and redshirt freshman Patrick Dyson. Allen missed spring ball, a time when Dyson, who possesses 4.45 40 speed, burst on to the scene. Dyson has a great pedigree-he is the younger brother of former Ute all-WAC receiver Kevin Dyson.

Watch for at least one newcomer to make an immediate impact. The most likely candidate is highly recruited Mike Anderson (6-2, 220) out of Mt. San Jacinto College. A two-year juco All-American, Anderson was the 1997 California Offensive Player of the Year. "Anderson is a combination of Bacon and Fortune," states McBride. "He has the speed and cutting ability of Bacon and the size and strength of Fortune."

Freshman D'Shaun Crockett (5-8, 180), a member of the Gridiron Elite team and a Blue Chip Top 100 recruit, could also bid for playing time right away.

"We could be sitting here with five or six really good players," says McBride. "Suddenly, our running back position looks fairly good."


Running Backs
(1997 totals, where applicable)

Name       Yr.   Hgt.   Wgt.  Rush  Yards   TD
Allen      Sr.   5-11   204    24    85     0
Anderson   Jr.   6-2    220    -     -      -
Bacon      Jr.   6-1    208    -     -      -
Crockett   Fr.   5-8    180    -     -      -
P. Dyson   Fr.   6-0    186    -     -      -
Fortune    Fr.   6-3    226    -     -      -

LINEBACKERS

Butkus Award candidate Phil Glover (6-0, 237) would make linebacker a Ute strength by himself. Fortunately, the 1997 first-team all-WAC pick won't have to do it alone. Competition is fierce for the three positions and only Glover's job at rover is uncontested.

Here's why: He runs a 4.48 40, has a 38" vertical jump, squats 522 pounds, benches 432 pounds and can cover the field from sideline to sideline. Utah's second-leading tackler last year with 90, also had a two interceptions, seven tackles for loss and four sacks.

"Phil is our highlight guy," says McBride. "He is the guy who makes all the plays."

In reality of course, even given Glover's amazing capacity to cover the field, there will be plays to go around. And Utah has the people to make them. In the middle, junior Taulia Lave (6-1, 255) got the nod over senior Cyrus Satoafaiga (6-0, 261) in the spring, but the players platooned as starters last year. On the strong side, senior Jason Hooks (6-3, 262) is back for a sixth year. Hooks, who was granted a medical extension, started at middle linebacker up until last year, which he missed due to knee surgery. Utah's most veteran ‘backer moved to the "stud" in the spring and won the starting job over senior Dicky Purcell (6-1, 238).

"We're real solid at linebacker," says McBride. "We answered the only unknown factor in the spring-that being who would back up Glover. Wes Tufaga (6-0, 216) emerged as a player." If sophomore Howard Christianson (6-2, 222) recovers fully from last year's season-ending elbow injury, he'll be in the mix too.


Linebackers
(1997 totals, where applicable)

Name             Yr.   Hgt.  Wgt.  Tackles  T/Loss   
H. Christianson  So.   6-2   222    22       1/5
Glover           Sr.   6-0   237    90       7/20
Hooks            Sr.   6-3   262    -        -
Lave             Jr.   6-1   255    41       6/12
Purcell          Sr.   6-1   238    26       1/1
Satoafaiga       Sr.   6-0   251    27       1/1
Tufaga           So.   6-0   216     7       0/0

DEFENSIVE LINE

Injuries in the spring might actually pay dividends on the line, where new players got most of the reps in the absence of starters Pene Talamaivao (6-4, 313) and John Frank (6-5, 271). Talamaivao, first-team all-WAC in 1997, and Frank are known quantities. Both are expected to start again come fall-the former at nose guard and the latter at open end, but McBride is now confident they have solid backups.

"Everestt Matagi was a question mark and Tony Hingano, Rod Talaeai, Bobby Enosa and Andy Bowers were new to the line," explains McBride. "Those guys got five million reps in the spring and they all stayed healthy. It was very good for their development, so maybe having Pene and John out helped in the long run."

Enosa, part of the latest Ute signing class, was on campus in the spring and won himself the starting job at end. Bowers, a key special teams player last year, will back him up. At nose guard, Talaeai will play behind Talamaivao, while Matagi will likely back up Frank at open end. Hingano will sub in for the one veteran who took part in spring ball-senior tackle Mike Thomas (6-1, 303). Thomas led the Utes in tackles for loss (8-13 yards) and sacks (5-41 yards) last year and is eyeing an all-WAC season.

"In the fall, when we have Pene and John back, the defensive line will go from being a little thin to a very deep position for us," says McBride.


Defensive Line
(1997 totals, where applicable)

Name        Yr.   Hgt.  Wgt. Tackles  T/Loss  Sacks
Bowers      So.   6-5   262    14      0/0    0/0
Enosa       Jr.   6-4   270    -       -      -
Frank       Jr.   6-5   271    19      1/1    4/32
Hingano     Jr.   6-4   267    -       -      -
Johnson     Jr.   6-5   270    -       -      -
Kemoeatu    So.   6-5   276    -       -      -
Matagi      Jr.   6-3   241    28     4/17    1/6
Seals       Jr.   6-2   308    -       -      -
Ta'amu      So.   6-2   280    -       -      -
Talaeai     Jr.   6-0   258    -       -      -
Talamaivao  Sr.   6-4   313    59     7/7     0/0
Thomas      Sr.   6-1   303    66     8/13    5/41

SECONDARY

The least game-tested aspect of the defense, the secondary nonetheless should hold its own. A big reason is the safeties, where experience is plentiful. Best among them is second-team all-WAC strong safety Robert Love, Utah's tackle leader for the last two years. Watch for different combinations at safety, depending on the status of oft-injured Brandon Dart. Scheduled to start at free safety last year, Dart went down with a season-ending knee injury in late August. Kimball Christianson, then just a freshman, did a nice job replacing him and improved even more in the off-season. In part due to that, Dart has moved behind Love on the strong side, but McBride expects more out of him than an ordinary backup.

"The key to the secondary is Dart," says McBride. "He needs to have a healthy year and play in every game for us. We have a great strong safety in Robert Love, who is an outstanding player and leader, and Kimball Christianson will be even better at free safety now that he's played a year. If Dart's healthy, safety will be a real plus for us."

The situation at the corners is a bit more tenuous, thanks to the loss of three-year starter and first-team all-WAC cornerback Clarence Lawson. Teneil Ethridge will start for a second year at right corner, with highly touted juco transfer Jay Hill backing up. Senior David Richards came out of spring as Lawson's replacement at left corner, though sophomore Andre Dyson will take another crack at the job again in the fall.

Secondary (1997 totals, where applicable) Name Yr. Hgt. Wgt. Tackles Int. PBU J. Allen Sr. 5-11 207 7 0/0 0 K. Christianson So. 6-3 209 42 1/31 1 Dart Sr. 6-2 203 - - - A. Dyson So. 5-10 184 10 0/0 2 Ethridge Jr. 5-10 188 32 1/8 11 Hill Jr. 6-1 186 - - - Love Sr. 5-9 203 92 1/0 7 Merritt Sr. 5-11 179 2 0/0 0 Richards Sr. 6-0 187 19 0/0 1

KICKING GAME

Junior punter Chris Hunter, one of the nation's best, will start for a third year. His size (6-5, 232) and booming leg helped him earn second-team all-WAC honors in 1997. Now a known entity, he will likely capture national attention this fall.

"Chris Hunter should be one of the top guys in the league, if not the nation," speculates McBride.

The field goal/PAT situation is not as impressive on paper, but should be improved when the new season kicks off. Cletus Truhe, who went by his middle name Tommy last year, figures to change more than his name. Truhe struggled with a foot injury last fall, which has since healed.

"Truhe is a lot stronger than a year ago," asserts McBride. "He has a lot more punch in his leg."

Redshirt freshman Matt Comins is pencilled in as the backup, although juco transfer Golden Whetman will come to town with some big time credentials in August.


Kickers/Punters
(1997 Totals, where applicable)

Name      Yr.   Hgt.   Wgt.  FG-FGA  PAT   Punts
Comins    Fr.   6-4    198     -      -     -
Hunter    Jr.   6-5    232     -      -    39/43.7
Truhe     Jr.   5-11   201   14-22  25-29   -
Whetman   So.   6-2    205     -      -     -

RETURN TEAMS

Utah's entire return team has graduated. First-team all-WAC return man Kevin Dyson (punts and kickoffs) and his kick return mate Clarence Lawson will be hard to replace.

"We spent some time on our return game the spring," says McBride, "but we have more work ahead. Dyson was a great returner and that is now definitely a question area for us."

Figure speedy Daniel Jones to fit in somewhere on both units. Teneil Ethridge is a possibility for the kick return team and Courtney Richins could take a stab at returning punts. This area won't be settled until fall, when special teams coach Sean McNabb gets a look at the incoming JC recruits and freshmen.


Return Teams
(1997 Totals, where applicable)

Name       Yr.   Hgt.   Wgt.  KOR-Yds.  PR-Yds.
Ethridge   Jr.   5-10   188     -        -
Jones      Sr.   5-11   182     -        -
Richins    Fr.   5-9    160     -        -

SPECIAL TEAMS

Good athletes make for good special teams, so Utah should be in relatively good shape. Colby Knight will captain the special teams, which among other things, will have a new long snapper. Brian Bachhuber or Dustin Pearce are contenders for that job.

"We have good, athletic guys who can play special teams-at least on paper," says McBride. "But we need a lot more reps to know what we actually have."

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