Utah alumni are thriving in other football programs, such as USU. Do the Utes miss them?
Texas Tech's Armand Shyne runs with the ball during the second half of the team's NCAA college football game against Montana State, Saturday, Aug. 31, 2019, in Lubbock, Texas. (Brad Tollefson/Lubbock Avalanche-Journal via AP)
During each home football game, Utah’s athletic department shows video-board highlights of former Utes playing in the NFL.
The school could add a reel of Utah alumni who are starring for Utah State. Aggie receiver Siaosi Mariner, tight end Caleb Repp and defensive lineman Nick Heninger are among USU’s top performers
this season as graduate transfers from Utah, where USU coach Gary Andersen spent the 2018 season working with the Ute defensive linemen.
Elsewhere, Armand Shyne is Texas Tech's leading rusher and Chris Hart is contributing to Alcorn State's defense.
This is not a contradiction: The five former Utes are thriving and No. 17 Utah (4-1) is doing fine without them, thanks to the depth and talent in the program at their positions. Last season, though, the Utes could have used the current version of Mariner
, who already has caught more passes (22) for USU than he did in any of his three years at Utah.
It’s also true that if the incoming and outgoing transactions were judged as trades, Utah would fall short. Of the five graduate transfers the Utes brought in, two have given up football: linebacker Manny Bowen (Penn State)
and offensive lineman Noah Reneau-Myers (Washington State).
The other three basically have done what was expected of them, while using the NCAA rule that allows immediate eligibility for transfers who graduate from their previous schools. Tight end Hunter Thedford (Southern Methodist) has blocked in speciality packages and caught two passes. Offensive lineman Alex Locklear (Marshall) has provided depth and played on special teams. And although he lost the job of kicking field goals after initially winning it, walk-on Andrew Strauch (UCLA) has been consistent as a kickoff specialist
Asked this week about the former players, Ute coach Kyle Whittingham was gracious. “Oh, absolutely, it’s great to see your guys do well,” he said. “Every graduate transfer that left here, I think, none of them left on bad terms, they’re all great kids. You always want them to do well. … You’d hate to see them make that move and not have it work out.”
A rundown of the five players from Utah's 2018 roster now playing at other schools:
David Reed is Utah's most recent NFL draft pick as a receiver, in 2010 (Kaelin Clay in 2015 was more of a return specialist). Mariner could be next in 2020, although USU would get credit for him.
“That's one of the reasons why I made the move from Utah to Utah State, to better my chances of getting to the next level,” Mariner said in a USU news release. “I want to show more of what I have to offer.”
After a junior season of injuries that led to reduced playing time at Utah, Mariner is fulfilling his promise in Logan. He leads the Aggies with 22 receptions for 305 yards and two touchdowns, including a memorable grab in the corner of the end zone in the season opener at Wake Forest.
Utah’s co-leading receivers, Bryan Thompson and Jaylen Dixon, have 11 catches each. That’s an unfair comparison to Mariner’s (or Repp’s) production, due to USU’s higher volume of passing and Utah’s wider distribution. Yet Mariner is maximizing the fresh start he needed, after a weird 2018 season that included his dropped pass resulting in Washington’s interception return for the winning touchdown in the Pac-12 championship game.
Repp always was an intriguing athlete at Utah, moving between tight end and defensive end. After working with him last season, Andersen “knew I was receiver; he knew I wasn’t really much of a defensive end,” Repp said in a news conference. “I can hold my own, but I’m just better suited for the offensive side of the ball, so he’s my guy.”
Like Mariner, Repp chose USU over BYU. Repp is the Aggies' No. 2 receiver with 16 catches for 200 yards and a touchdown. Utah remains well stocked at tight end with sophomores Brant Kuithe and Cole Fotheringham, plus Thedford.
Thanks to a busy summer and help from Utah's academic support staff, Heninger completed his degree with two years of eligibility remaining. He didn't join the Aggies until August and initially was limited by an injury, but he has made an impact on the defensive line.
His eight tackles in four games include 3½ tackles for loss and a team-high two sacks. Heninger played occasionally last year, but wouldn't have made Utah's defensive-line rotation in 2019.
Shyne didn't want to spend his senior year merely backing up Zack Moss as a Utah running back. As recent games have shown, with Moss injured, Shyne would have had to compete with Devin Brumfield, Devonta'e Henry-Cole and Jordan Wilmore for carries.
Shyne's fill-in performance last season when Moss was hurt shouldn't be diminished, though, and he has a consistent workload amid Texas Tech's passing-oriented scheme. Shyne leads the Red Raiders with 262 rushing yards and three touchdowns, including a 69-yarder in the opener vs. Montana State.
One of Utah’s many Florida recruits, Hart moved to the FCS school in Mississippi and has played in four of Alcorn State’s five games, making eight tackles as a defensive end.
NO. 17 UTAH AT OREGON STATE
When • Oct. 12, 6 p.m. MDT
TV • Pac-12 Networks.