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Matt Piper and Kyle Goon
Matt Piper and Kyle Goon cover University of Utah sports teams for The Salt Lake Tribune. Matt Piper is on twitter at @matthew_piper, Kyle Goon is on twitter at @kylegoon

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Utah football program makes news again, but in unwanted way

For the second time in two months, Utah coach Kyle Whittingham has dismissed a player after legal issues. In January it was walk-on Afa Bridenstine who was dismissed as the result of a road rage case.

On Friday, junior defensive lineman Niasi Leota was dismissed after he was charged with aggravated assault and kidnapping for allegedly beating and threatening to kill his wife.

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The alleged assault took place in front of the couple's 2-year-old child.

These cases certainly aren't the way Whittingham wants his program making the news. Whittingham has said in the past prospective athletes are screened and thoroughly evaluated not only for their talent on the field but for their standing as overall citizens too.

So what to make of these cases? Are they just isolated cases that happened to come close together, or are they a sign that perhaps there are some issues in the way the Utes are recruiting players?

Certainly the Utes are feeling some pressure to go after big-time talent so they can compete in the Pac-12 and they might be tempted to perhaps take some risky characters.

However, neither Leota nor Bridenstine seem like they might fall in that category. Bridenstine was a freshman walk-on who never played and Leota was only a backup.

For now it's hard to be critical of Utah's coaching staff and believe they may have willingly overlooked some red flags in recruiting these players.

The Utes though can't afford many more incidences without them hurting their reputation.

Interestingly, during his press conference on Wednesday, recent hire Dennis Erickson spoke at length of his time at Miami. He believes more people remember all the bad things about the program during that time and not the good things.

The Utes definitely don't want to flirt with any such lasting reputation themselves.

- Lya Wodraska

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