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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 notes: And the captains are Anderson, Salt, Orchard, Blechen, Phillips

We wrote yesterday that it was a virtual certainty that Travis Wilson, after being named team captain as a sophomore and all that he’s been through since, would be named team captain again.

Whoops.

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Kyle Whittingham announced after Saturday’s practice that the players voted for seniors Dres Anderson, Junior Salt, Nate Orchard and Brian Blechen, and Whittingham’s first-ever special teams captain is sophomore Andy Phillips — who was only recently awarded a scholarship after walking on at the U.

Whittingham said the players took the initiative to ask for a special teams captain, arguing that it’s an important part of the game that Utah prides itself on. He agreed.

"When I came here, I wanted to get rid of that kicker stereotype, and the teammates have been awesome," said Phillips, who is 25. "I’m a little bit older on the team, and I’ve tried to fill a leadership role in everything that I do, weight room, being out on the field and what not."

Because only four captains are allowed on the field for the coin toss, they will rotate.

Whittingham said it’s rare for non-seniors to be voted captain, even if Wilson was last year as a sophomore. There were six guys on either side of the ball who could’ve easily been named captain, Whittingham said, and Wilson has been positive and hard-working since the diagnosis of an intracranial artery condition last fall.

On being named captain:

Dres Anderson » "It means a lot. I know a lot of guys look up to me and I’ve been doing my thing in this program for a long time, so it’s an honor."

Brian Blechen » "It’s an honor and a privilege. There’s no place I’d rather be my senior year. To be in a position of leadership, I’ve been around and got experience, and definitely I want to be somebody heading up our campaign to turn the season around, get to a bowl game and ultimately a Pac-12 championship."

Nate Orchard » "It means everything. It’s an honor and a privilege to know these guys look up to me in that way. To take on that responsibility, and it means a lot."

Junior Salt » "I feel blessed. I continue to learn from these guys. We learn from each other, and that’s what it’s about, this brotherhood. That’s what I love about this team."

We recently ran a more in-depth story about Salt’s importance as a leader on the offensive line, but he talked a little more Saturday about his approach. He doesn’t give guys a hard time, he said.

"I make mistakes every day," he said. "I’ve had guys yell at me, and it doesn’t feel good. When I see players that need to be talked to, I wait until the incident’s over with and pull them off to the side. ... One thing I really learned at a young age is you’ve gotta teach with love."

***

On the nose » One of the few remaining position battles left on the roster is at nose guard, where there’s a toss-up between a handful of players. Even the players who are in the battle seem unsure exactly how it will unfold.

Filipo Mokofisi, who is listed as the backup to starter Viliseni Fauonuku, has been added to the mix with Clint Shepard, Sese Ianu and Lowell Lotulelei. While Shepard was considered the favorite early in the week to start, Mokofisi has been getting his share of reps with the ones.

Take everything with a grain of salt, he said.

"I think we’re still trying to get our rotation down," he said. "Clint Shepard’s been down a little bit, but I think it’s just healthy competition for us all to get reps at that one position."

Each player gives the Utes a very different look: From the 310-pound Lotulelei, to the leaner 276-pound Shepard, to Ianu’s scuplted 290-pound frame.

Mokofisi himself is a relatively slim 275 on his 6-foot-3 stature. He played more than 40 pounds less as a high school senior, which he acknowledges was an adjustment. He’s still working on his technique, but playing bigger is now normal.

"Putting on all the weight was kind of hard for my breathing and all that," he said. "But then I started to maintain during workouts, getting used to it. It started to become just a part of my life."

***

Camp closed » There was, as it turns out, one stage left to the Camp Kyle Olympics, and this might’ve been the coolest one.

The Utes invited children from West Valley City’s Mana Academy out for a little sideline-to-sideline bike race before they return to class this week.

The winning Camp Kyle Olympics team was led by safeties coach Morgan Scalley, and per NCAA regulations the team was only allowed to present them with a meal and transportation from practice, so they took two limos to Ruth’s Chris.

Also winning were the 10 kids, who got to keep the brand-new bikes.

— Matthew Piper and Kyle Goon

mpiper@sltrib.com

Twitter: @matthew_piper

kgoon@sltrib.com

Twitter: @kylegoon



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

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