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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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Tragic news of Utah player's death puts sports in perspective

With camp less than a week away, this traditionally is a down week for Utah's players and coaches. They take off for vacations or visits home before turning their focus to getting ready for the 2013 football season.

It's a time of great anticipation, when fans hang onto the edge of their seats wondering which defensive lineman will be the next Star, if quarterback Travis Wilson's starting role will be threatened by the other quarterbacks and which running back will separate himself before the season opener on Aug. 29 against Utah State.

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It all seems so trivial and silly now doesn't it? The tragic news that incoming freshman defensive tackle Gaius Vaenuku was killed in a car accident puts everything in perspective. We often talk about sports, games and performances as "life and death," but really they are just small chapters, incidents, that make up a lifetime of experiences.

Unfortunately Vaenuku's time ended far too early.

Utah's players and coaches had only just begun to get to know Vaenuku since he'd been on campus for only about a month for the summer workouts.

But he made a good first impression as he has been described as a solid, good guy who was close to his family and enjoyed acting.

He committed to Utah because he felt an attachment to the school and teammates Salesi Uhatafe and Sam Tevi pledged to the Utes. Uhatafe, who was driving the vehicle according to reports, survived the crash.

As for the Utes, we had a story set to run tomorrow that discussed how strength coach Doug Elisaia, who oversees the summer workout programs, frets this time of year.

We decided, in light of today's news, not to run the piece.

The story focused on how Elisaia encourages the players to take it easy and avoid activities that put players at risk for injuries such as rugby, skydiving, skateboarding, etc.

"This is the most dangerous time right now," he said in the story. "We're getting close to the season and you don't want them doing anything that could mess up their fall after they've worked so hard all summer."

The idea was to keep players safe and healthy so they could play the sport they loved.

Today, just keeping players safe, or any young person for that matter, would be good enough.

- Lya Wodraska

Copyright 2014 The Salt Lake Tribune. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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