Rain and snow kept fans away, so the biggest cheering section belonged to Greg Reese.
Wearing the defense’s black for the first time, Reese lined up at defensive end and registered a sack and a tackle for a loss in Tuesday’s wintry practice, drawing full-throated roars of "Reeeese!" — seemingly from both sidelines.
As a tight end until Monday, Reese has bipartisan appeal.
"Going up against the team that I was with for the past year, it just felt weird but I had to put that to the side and play football," said Reese, who like redshirt freshman Clarence Smith has become a defensive end convert this spring.
With three players ahead of him at tight end in an offense that’s only likely to feature one at a time, the senior did the math. Coach Kyle Whittingham said Reese approached him Monday and told him he played defensive end in high school and would like another crack at it. Whittingham obliged him.
Whittingham said Reese will be on the line for the next three weeks. Although his number — 85 — is alien, Reese otherwise fits in with the ends. At 6-foot-5, 253 pounds, he’s probably the most imposing piano-playing biology major the Utes have ever had.
Reese said that in high school in Camden, N.J., he fell in love with catching the ball and blocking, but that while in junior college at Arizona Western he found himself thinking, "You know what? I miss defense."
He’s a work in progress, said defensive line coach Ilaisa Tuiaki. "A lot of things to polish, but we’re happy to have him and see what he can do."
Despite the sack and the TFL, Reese rated his first day as "50 percent good, 50 percent bad" and says he needs to improve at diagnosing pass or run.
Smith, a converted linebacker, also made an early impression at defensive end Saturday when he picked off a batted Adam Schulz in the end zone.
But that’s just one play, he was quick to point out.
"It’s not like I can make one play one practice, come make none the next practice and feel like I’m still on top," Smith said. "I still have a lot to work on."
Smith came to the Utes as a raw talent in 2013. Coaches had asked him to greyshirt — or forgo financial aid to prevent his eligibility clock from starting — but injuries led them to offer him a scholarship.
He’s 18 now. You’d never guess it.
"We always supposed that he’d probably get big enough to be a D-end, and so we figure right now is as good a time as any to move him over and let him figure it out," Tuiaki said of the 6-foot-2, 231-pound Smith. "He’s still got a lot of weight to gain, but he’s got the frame to put it all on."
Now he’s trying to digest Tuiaki’s tips about hand movements and the tells of the big men across from him. And, of course, lots of food.
"I don’t miss a meal, believe that," Smith said.
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