The first week of fall camp is a head-spinning experience for most freshmen: installing plays every day, every day learning something new.
But at the end of his fifth day of practice, Utah freshman safety Andre Godfrey showed some things come with instinct. He shot through the line of scrimmage on a Jon Halliday field goal attempt and swatted the kick to the turf.
Corner back Reggie Porter picked up the loose ball, but Godfrey earned a pat on the back.
"Blocking kicks is kind of a natural thing, it's not really a skill," he said. "You run through and try to block the kick. It's about effort."
The 5-foot-10 safety has been just one of the freshman defensive backs making an early impact for the Utes. Rookie corner Travonne Hobbs also had an highlight on Friday, picking up a fumble and also recording a pass break up in the last 20 minutes of practice. Freshman Casey Hughes had a pass break-up going against the much-bigger Andre Lewis.
While the Utes feel comfortable with their top-string defensive backs at the moment, it's been reassuring to see youth contribute early.
"Hobbs and Casey Hughes are doing a nice job and appeared what they hoped we would be when they recruited them," coach Kyle Whittingham said.
Of course it helps those young DBs, Whittingham cautioned, that top receivers Dres Anderson and Kenneth Scott have seen limited team reps as the Utes try to keep them healthy.
Godfrey said the first few days have been mentally taxing, trying to pick up all of his defensive responsibilities. The Utes have had him cover slot, put him in the box or left him playing centerfield. But Godfrey also played several roles in high school, so he hopes to acclimate quickly.
That doesn't mean everything has been smooth: Godfrey couldn't run down running back Troy McCormick on a 60-yard touchdown run that left him out of breath.
Hey, he said, at least I tried to the end.
"We still are learning on the fly," he said. "Sometimes things are going to happen. But if you mess up a play, keep going 100 percent. Don't give up on it."
"Tip of the iceberg" • With the latest significant change to the college football landscape coming with Thursday's vote for Power 5 autonomy, Whittingham had some interesting things to say at Friday's practice.
In three or four more years, fans will see a "much different world" in college athletics, he predicted.
"I think the shift and the change is going to happen fairly rapidly now as far as doing more for the student-athlete," he said.
He said he's excited about the prosecute that athletes will be given more stipend money "so they can essentially survive," but he hasn't yet decided what he thinks about proposals to stop Power 5 teams from playing non-Power 5s.
For teams like Utah State, "It's going to make it more difficult, and if things continue to evolve to create a bigger chasm, then eventually, I don't think you're going to see those types of teams compete," he said.
"Not to take anything away from what they're doing. Utah State's a heck of a team. They've got great coaches, but it could be legislated to the point where they don't have a chance. But we'll see what happens."
Crowded (back)field • Whittingham said after practice that there is still no clear separation at running back — or at least not over time.
"It's been a day-to-day thing," he said. "Troy McCormick ripped off a couple nice runs today. [Devontae] Booker was having a good day until he put the ball on the ground, you can't do that. Bubba [Poole] is solid. Bubba is probably the most steady of the backs, but the other two can be spectacular at times."
Whittingham said Booker, a junior college transfer, also had a couple fumbles in spring, and he hopes it doesn't become a pattern. Friday, Booker saw the ball ripped out by redshirt freshman linebacker Tanner Larsen and recovered by freshman cornerback Travonne Hobbs.
"If you don't protect the football, you don't play," Whittingham said.
Two not-live crew • Friday was the first day of full contact for most Utes, but not the quarterbacks.
There may not be a fall camp practice during which Travis Wilson and Kendal Thompson are "live," Whittingham said. Particularly Wilson.
"Kendal's a little bit different because his game is running the football and moving around, so we've got a decision to make there. We may need to take a little bit of a look at him live just to get a feel for his elusiveness and capabilities."
If that happens, it might be once next week and during either the first or second scrimmage, he said.
Whittingham said it's pretty typical that college teams will keep their prospective starting quarterbacks off-limits during fall camp, but that "sometimes we make the down-the-line guys live. We will do that."
The No. 3, right now, is redshirt freshman Conner Manning, Whittingham said. He expects that it will be 10-14 days before they have a clearer idea who will start.
Return game • Thursday, Whittingham name-dropped McCormick and Booker as possible returners.
Asked to elaborate Friday, he said both are in the mix to return kicks. Returning punts will be either senior wideout Kaelin Clay, Hobbs, or Poole.
Special visitor • The entire team huddled up at the end of Friday's session, but it was still incomplete.
Kyle Whittingham broke out of the center, coaxing a fan from the sideline. It was David Morrill, a small but clearly thrilled man wearing a novelty "No. 1" red foam finger. After the players all started beckoning, he trotted over to the group and ended up breaking the huddle.
Morrill, one of his companions explained, has been a Utes football fan for a number of years. Whittingham has been known to make special allowances for the man, who has special needs, to visit practice over the years.
"I have fun going to the games," Morrill said.
In the past, one of his favorite players was Jordan Wynn. On Friday, he said his favorite is transfer quarterback Kendal Thompson — with all due respect to Travis Wilson.
"He's No. 1," Morrill said, waving his foam finger. It's Thompson's jersey number, sure, but it's also a sentiment.
HIGHLIGHTS • Troy McCormick and his big run was the offense's play of the day. As he so often does, the redshirt freshman bounced outside, and he found some space. By the time he was done, McCormick had gone 60 yards and only Andre Godfrey and Uaea Masina in his wake, unable to catch him.
STANDOUTS • When Reggie Porter is around the ball, good things seem to happen for the Utes defense. Porter was in the middle of several break-ups, including two in a row that left safeties coach Morgan Scalley screaming, "REGGIE PORTER" as if the sophomore had just emerged triumphant from a wrestling ring. Porter also picked up the loose ball after Godfrey's blocked kick.
POSITION SPOTLIGHT • It will be interesting to see who gets the bulk of left defensive end snaps this fall, because both Hunter Dimick and Jason Fanaika have been getting some pressure. On Friday, Fanaika teamed up with Seni Fauonuku against three offensive linemen to collapse the pocket on Kendal Thompson, and they would've gotten a tackle for a loss as Thompson tried to scramble between them.
QUOTE OF THE DAY • Kyle Whittingham, and it's best without context: "Acclimatization. It's a big word. Acclimatization. Acclimation? Acclimatization? They call it acclimatization. Acclimation period might be better. What's your question?"
Kyle Goon and Matthew Piper
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