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Utah’s football program enjoyed quite a run in last week’s NFL draft. A team took a Ute player in the second, third, fourth and fifth round — higher than projected, in the cases of safety Marquise Blair, linebacker Cody Barton, punter Mitch Wishnowsky and kicker Matt Gay.
Then came a gap until late in the seventh round, when offensive tackle Jackson Barton was picked. The mystery was why linebacker Chase Hansen went undrafted, but the explanation came after he signed as a free agent with the New Orleans Saints.
Hansen’s father, Brian, said Saints linebackers coach Mike Nolan told his son the team considered him a draft risk, due to a back injury that was surgically repaired in January. Nolan, who’s remembered for drafting Ute quarterback Alex Smith in 2005 as the San Francisco 49ers’ coach, aggressively pursued Hansen as a free agent.
“The perception of his injury was a much bigger deal than teams told him during predraft interviews and phone calls,” Brian Hansen said.
Chase Hansen, from Lone Peak High School, will join two other Utah prep products as rookie linebackers trying to make the Saints’ roster. Kaden Elliss, from Judge Memorial and Idaho, was drafted in the seventh round. Porter Gustin, from Salem Hills and USC, signed as a free agent. Elliss is a son of former Ute defensive lineman Luther Ellisss, who enjoyed a long NFL career.
The draft was agonizing for Hansen, but rewarding for five of his teammates.
The surprises started Friday, when Seattle took both Blair and Cody Barton (TRIB).
It was even more remarkable Saturday when San Francisco took Wishnowsky early in the fourth round and Tampa Bay picked Gay early in the fifth round (TRIB).
In the end, all nine of Utah's senior starters received NFL opportunities. Offensive linemen Lo Falemaka and Jordan Agasiva have to play their way through Seattle's rookie minicamp, the school clarified.
Looking ahead to the 2020 draft, the Utes could have a school-record nine players selected. That sounds like a big number, but the count starts with the four players who chose to stay in school for their senior seasons, plus cornerback Jaylon Johnson, who will be marketable as a junior (TRIB).
As for the 2019 roster, the Utes lost some players via the NCAA transfer portal this spring, and now they’re gaining some, as coach Kyle Whittingham suggested would happen. Offensive lineman Alex Locklear said Monday that he’s coming from Marshall as a graduate transfer, providing needed depth (TRIB).
And then UCLA kicker Andrew Strauch announced Wednesday that he’s coming to Utah, with Gay’s departure and Chayden Johnston’s giving up football creating an opportunity (TRIB).
The big news, if not unexpected, from Utah’s gymnastics program, is that MyKayla Skinner intends to skip her senior year of college competition as she pursues a U.S. Olympic berth in 2020 (TRIB).
Lya Wodraska also produced the story of former Ute star Kristina Baskett’s involvement in “Game of Thrones.” (TRIB)
Dennis Dodd of CBS Sports gave the Utes their latest lofty ranking in his post-spring football top 25 (CBS).
Pac-12 expert Jon Wilner examined the phenomenon of transfer quarterbacks, affecting Utah and other programs (MERC).
Dirk Facer of the Deseret News noted that Utah will have a lot of post-graduate football players in 2019 (DNEWS).
• The Utah men’s tennis team was invited to the NCAA Team Championships for the second year in a row. In the 32-team event, the Utes will visit No. 6 overall seed Baylor on Friday. And the Utes’ Dan Little was invited to the NCAA Singles Championships, beginning May 20 in Orlando, Fla. He’s the first Utah player since 2007 to have that opportunity.
• Coming off an 11-2 victory Wednesday at BYU, Utah’s softball team (16-32, 4-14 Pac-12) will close its home schedule this weekend. The Utes will meet Oregon at 6 p.m. Friday, noon Saturday and 1 p.m. Sunday (Senior Day) at Dumke Family Softball Stadium. Utah has a chance for a strong finish, with no more of the Pac-12′s highly ranked teams on the schedule.
• Utah’s baseball team also will enjoy nice weather this weekend. The Utes (12-25, 4-17 Pac-12) will host California at 6 p.m. Friday, 4 p.m. Saturday and 1 p.m. Sunday at Smith’s Ballpark. This series is a chance to see Cal’s Andrew Vaughn, the 2018 Golden Spikes winner.
• Ute golfer Kyler Dunkle was invited to next week’s NCAA Stanford Regional. Ute coach Garrett Clegg was hoping for a team invitation, but he’s happy for Dunkle, who has had an outstanding senior year, highlighted by a second-place finish in last week’s Pac-12 tournament.
• Ute basketball player Jayce Johnson reportedly will visit Marquette, as the Big East school joins Nebraska on his list of potential destinations via the NCAA transfer portal.