Utah football notes: WR Ryan Petersen goes from MUSS game MVP to walk-on (video)
Recruiting is Job 1, as they like to say, and Utah's coaches travel from coast to coast in search of the best available athletes.
In wide receiver Ryan Petersen's case, they didn't have to leave the stadium.
Petersen was named the MVP in the last two MUSS flag-football games, held before the Red-White spring game at Rice-Eccles, so Kyle Whittingham asked him to work out and lift with the team this summer. The Twin Falls native took him up on it, and now he's one of 19 new walk-ons on the 105-man fall camp roster.
"He's fast," Whittingham said. "He's got quickness to him, and so we invited him out, and he's doing a nice job and he may show up on special teams. We'll see what happens."
A 5'11 senior, Petersen hasn't played organized tackle football since high school. Back then he was a middle linebacker, and he had to hang up his cleats after a pair of knee injuries.
His new team rates a tad better than the old MUSS gangmates, he says.
"It's a whole new world. These guys are incredible athletes really, at any position and this is one of the best conferences in college football. ... Jumping straight into that has been a huge eye-opener for me, but I've enjoyed it."
Petersen has also played club baseball at the U. and for a men's basketball team that scrimmages against the varsity Utah women.
Youth movement • Youth abounds on the defensive side of a new depth chart released Monday, with four freshmen gracing the two-deep.
Lowell Lotulelei, younger brother of all-everything Star, becomes co-starter at nose tackle with Sese Ianu and Stevie Tu'ikolovatu. Travonne Hobbs is a co-backup at corner with sophomore Mo Talley. And safeties Marcus Williams and Andre Godfrey are back-ups at the free and strong spots, respectively.
Meanwhile, sophomore Reginald Porter continues to occupy a No. 1 slot (splitting it with senior Davion Orphey) after standout play throughout the first week.
"Reggie Porter's playing the best football that he's played since he's been here," Whittingham said. "He's completely dialed in and focused."
Sophomore Brian Allen also earned a mention on the strong safety two-deep which is not too shabby given that he was a wide receiver through spring ball.
The other defensive tackle position is another logjam, with Viliseni Fauonuku, Filipo Mokofisi and Clint Shepard co-starting. That's six co-starters at two spots, and Whittingham indicated after practice that fans might see a defensive tackle rotation when the season kicks off.
Depth thoughts • Also of interest on the new two-deep (we think), is that Isaac Asiata is penciled in at right guard, while J.J. Dielman gets the nod at starting right tackle followed by true freshman Jackson Barton.
Dielman has drawn repeated praise from coaches for his footwork and athleticism, but this battle may be far from over.
In fact, Monday practice again saw Asiata getting some time at right tackle with Salesia Uhatafe at right guard, which Whittingham has mentioned as a possible right-side solution. Marc Pouvave and Andrew Albers are also expected to be in the mix.
Whittingham said Monday that he hopes the right side gets puzzled out by the end of Week Two, so his starting five has some time to gel before the opener against Idaho State.
It was noteworthy, too, that junior running back Devontae Booker was absent from the two-deep behind Bubba Poole and redshirt freshman Troy McCormick. Booker fumbled in Friday's practice, and this may have been his punishment.
"Devontae has got a ton of upside, but he put the ball on the ground," Whittingham said Monday. "Cannot put the ball on the ground."
Booker is, however, listed as a starting kick returner, alongside Kaelin Clay, who is also the No. 1 punt returner.
QB battle isn't over • Whittingham was asked Monday if the quarterback battle is now, really, more of a fight for the Nos. 2, 3 and 4 roles.
"It's a battle for the starting job. Travis has got it right now and has held it throughout the entire first seven or eight practices, but [Tuesday's scrimmage] will be a chance to see as live a situation as we can create," he said.
Whittingham said Utah charts every throw, and that Wilson has been more accurate. He has a little more command of the offense. But Kendal is "dynamic," and although he's been less accurate than Wilson, he's not throwing interceptions, Whittingham said. (See "Standouts" for the exception to that statement.)
The offense will be tweaked for whoever wins the job, he added.
"If Kendal's in, the quarterback run game, the play-action becomes more prevalent. When Travis is in, we'll do more drop-back stuff in addition to the other things."
Walk-on rewards • Last week, Whittingham announced that defensive tackle Clint Shepard was awarded a scholarship, and this week's camp release added that kicker Andy Phillips, defensive lineman Jason Fanaika and offensive lineman Nick Nowakowski are also now on scholarship after walking on at the U. Fanaika and Phillips were, we thought, known about, but Nowakowski was, we thought, not.
"That's one of the best, if not the best part of this job, is having the opportunity to award a walk-on, who has busted his butt for one, two, sometimes three years, and award him what he's earned," Whittingham said. "The team really appreciates that, too."
Scrimmage script • The Utes will run some situational stuff at Tuesday's scrimmage, the first of fall camp. That will include 2- and 4-minute offenses, Whittingham said, but then they'll also do a lot of "just playing football."
They hope to run somewhere between 70 and 100 plays.
Wide receivers Kenneth Scott and Dres Anderson will be held out, as will safety Brian Blechen.
Blechen and Tevin Carter will also sit out Monday's evening practice, and neither will take part in both ends of any two-a-days, Whittingham said.
Carter was back in cleats after wearing a boot during Saturday sessions, and Whittingham acknowledged that his foot is still a concern after surgery.
When you're dealing with an injury of that nature, "You just cross your fingers every day that things don't go south for you," he said.
Highlight • The latest stage of the Camp Kyle Olympics involved cranking the punt machine up to 11 and letting linemen and coaches try or pretend to try to catch them. Sophomore defensive end Hayden Clegg caught two, and few others were even able to get their hands to one. Those weren't the highlights. The highlight came afterward, when Blechen stepped in and, as if he does it every day, snagged one behind his back.
Standouts • There have been few turnovers so far this fall and "few" might be an exaggeration. So when Nate Orchard picked off Thompson at the line of scrimmage, that earned the senior defensive end standout status. The former all-state Highland wideout has shown a knack for interceptions in practices, but still has yet to record one in a game.
Position spotlight • Receiver Delshawn McClellon is listed as the starter in the slot, and after practice, Whittingham had high praise for the former Southern California high school star. "Delshawn is a whole different player this fall. He has recommitted himself. ... He's starting to play like he did in high school. I don't know why it's taken him a couple of years, but the light switch seems to have gone on." Wiry junior college transfer Tim Patrick has also worked his way in just a week's time into the two-deep.
Quote of the day • "I think we hit the jackpot with this recruiting class at the skill positions," Whittingham on the aforementioned defensive backups, wideout Kenric Young and running back Tavaris Williams.