Chase Hansen stood along the home team's sideline at Rice-Eccles Stadium after delivering another unforgettable performance to conclude his senior season. “This memory right here will never leave me,” he said. “What an honor it was to play on this field.”
That was seven years ago.
The former Lone Peak High School quarterback will play his last game in the stadium Saturday night when Utah hosts BYU. Having moved from QB to safety during his freshman season and then to linebacker this year, Hansen is among the stars of a senior class that will be remembered for leading the Utes to their first Pac-12 South championship, with the potential for more distinction.
The group is historically low in numbers, with only nine starters (counting two kickers) and 13 players in all, but it already has a place in Ute lore. “It’s great to see them write this chapter in Utah football history,” coach Kyle Whittingham said.
It is a good story, filled with interesting characters including award-winning specialists, a pair of brothers, a sixth-year offensive lineman and possibly the program’s best-ever linebacking tandem. The number of high-impact seniors diminishes some enthusiasm about the Utes' having 15 starters scheduled to return in 2019, when the team could have more than 30 seniors.
Whittingham and multiple players interviewed this week couldn't pick a signature moment of the season to illustrate any of the seniors' impact. The most memorable quote along the way was Cody Barton's expressed belief that the Utes would face Washington again in the Pac-12 championship game, after losing to the Huskies in a Pac-12 opener (and it could happen).
Their influence has been appreciated, in any case. “They've shown leadership, not really vocally but by example,” said junior defensive end Bradlee Anae. “There's a bunch of things that stand out, but I think mostly their hustle in practice. Instead of the seniors taking practice off, they're the guys who are busting ass every play.”
The leadership is “consistent all the way through,” Whittingham said. “It's just there every day. It's every single day. … These guys have been so good in that role, and that's huge. If you want to be a really good football team, you better have really good leadership, and we've had exactly that this year.”
BYU AT NO. 18 UTAH
When • Saturday, 8 p.m.
TV • FS1
Utah’s pregame introduction of the seniors Saturday will last about half as long as the previous two ceremonies. How did this happen? The recruiting classes of 2014 and ’15 had fewer than the allowable 25 signees, as the numbers annually fluctuate in every program — especially schools with church missionaries coming and going. Some attrition occurred and several freshmen in redshirted in 2015, making them seniors next year.
The 2018 seniors are credited with 34-16 record, but about only half of them have played all four seasons. The Barton brothers have been together, though. Jackson, an offensive tackle, redshirted his first season, placing him on the same career path as Cody, a linebacker. Cody Barton has staged an good-natured, intrasquad competition with Hansen for the team lead in tackles; he moved ahead last weekend at Colorado, when Hansen was ejected in the first quarter after a questionable targeting penalty. This week, he wondered about the Bartons' order of introductions. If the list is alphabetical, Cody will go first Saturday night. “But Jackson’s older,” he said.
The senior starters come in bunches, in terms of position groups: the kicker (Matt Gay) and punter (Mitch Wishnowsky), each having won a national award; both linebackers; both safeties (Marquise Blair and Corrion Ballard); and three offensive linemen (Jackson Barton, center/guard Lo Falemaka and guard Jordan Agasiva).
As leaders, Barton and Falemaka “in particular, really did a nice job,” line coach Jim Harding said. “I mean, they run meetings on their own, they keep everything in line, keep practices the way they should be run; a lot of credit to them.”
Falemaka, whose list of injuries included a gunshot wound in 2015, missed four October games in his sixth season in the program. He returned to start at guard in Utah's critical wins over Oregon and Colorado.
Hansen’s tenure covers nearly Utah’s entire Pac-12 era. He arrived on campus in 2012 as a quarterback, along with Travis Wilson, who became a four-year starter. Hansen redshirted that season, then went went on a mission to Australia for The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. After sustaining a season-ending injury in his first start at safety in 2015 and missing five games last year, Hansen was hoping for a complete, fulfilling senior season. “It’s my goal, it’s my prayer, it’s my plan,” he said in July.
That has happened for him, although it hurt him to miss three-plus quarters of a vital game at Colorado. Yet by Monday, he was finding value in that setback, saying, “I'm fresh.”
So he’ll play once more at Rice-Eccles Stadium, where his first appearance resulted in a bitter defeat in the 2010 Class 5A semifinals. Lone Peak lost 20-14 to Fremont, as Hansen’s last pass was intercepted (after being tipped by receiver Talon Shumway, now a BYU star). The next year, though, Hansen amassed nearly 1,000 in total yards of offense at the stadium in the Knights' wins over Jordan and Fremont — including 398 yards in the first half of the championship game.
“I try not to think about it too much,” Hansen said, “because I feel like there's still a lot that we've got to do. But I've played at Rice-Eccles a lot, and it's weird to think this is going to be my last game.”
That day in November 2011, Hansen said, “I couldn't write the script better for my senior year.”
The latest version may even top that one.
Aaron Amaama, OL – Walk-on has played in every game on special teams.
Jordan Agasiva, OL – Junior college transfer has started for two seasons.
Anthony Armstrong, DB – BYU graduate transfer has not appeared in a game.
Corrion Ballard, DB – JC transfer is the team's No. 3 tackler.
Marquise Blair, DB – Ferocious hitter; two targeting calls are his only flaws.
Cody Barton, LB – Team's leading tackler, part of great LB tandem.
Jackson Barton, OL – Arrived on campus a year before his brother, then redshirted.
Lo Falemaka, OL – Sixth-senior season returned after missing October due to injury.
Jameson Field, WR – Has played mostly on special teams; five career catches.
Matt Gay, K – 2017 Lou Groza Award winner, had streak of 21 field goals this season.
Chase Hansen, LB – Signed as QB; has posted 19.5 tackles for loss this year.
Alani Havili-Katoa, OL – Backup guard started two games last season.
Mitch Wishnowsky, P – 2016 Ray Guy Award winner is a finalist for the third time.