When Kyle Whittingham was asked on Wednesday about potential position changes by players already in his program, the Utah football coach was quick to mention Jason Shelley.
Shelley, who completed his redshirt sophomore season in 2019, was moved from quarterback to safety between the Pac-12 championship game vs. Oregon and the Alamo Bowl vs. Texas. Whittingham said Wednesday that Shelley would remain at safety, an answer that indicated that nothing was afoot in terms of a potential transfer.
While Whittingham assumed, at least publicly, that Shelley would return, the Frisco, Texas native was talking his future over last week with his father, Jason Sr., and his mother, Janine. Late Friday morning, Shelley took to Twitter to announce that he was entering the transfer portal.
Shelley, in his heart, is a quarterback, even if he was willing to be a good soldier and try his hand at safety in the Alamo Bowl. If he wants to be a college quarterback, though, it wasn’t going to happen with the Utes.
“I was disappointed, naturally,” Shelley Sr. told The Salt Lake Tribune by phone Friday evening. “He played quarterback his whole life, he’s always wanted to play quarterback, it’s always been a dream of his. It was disappointing in the sense that he waited his time, he did everything right. He was a great teammate, always encouraging. When he was needed to step up, he did step up and played well. It’s just disappointing that he didn’t even get the opportunity to compete for it.”
On Nov. 3, 2018, Tyler Huntley was lost for the season to a broken collarbone. Shelley, then a redshirt freshman, was inserted as the starter, engineering wins vs. Oregon and at Colorado to help secure the program’s first Pac-12 South title. In the regular-season finale, his 33-yard touchdown run with 1:43 left capped a 21-point fourth quarter as the Utes outlasted BYU, 35-27.
Huntley was the unquestioned starter to open 2019. Shelley saw action in 10 games while listed as co-No. 2 next to redshirt junior Drew Lisk. The fight to start in 2020 was long-billed as Shelley vs. redshirt sophomore Cameron Rising, who transferred in from Texas and spent a year in residence after he was denied immediate eligibility in 2019.
When South Carolina graduate transfer Jake Bentley committed to the Utes on Dec. 9, Shelley’s circumstances changed. He was moved to safety and at that point, the quarterback competition that will highlight spring practice, which opens March 2, began looking like Bentley vs. Rising, with Lisk potentially playing a role.
“Never for one moment did he ever think it was just going to be given to him, or that it should be given to him, but he still would’ve liked the opportunity to compete for it regardless of who was here or who was coming,” Shelley Sr. said. “That was disappointing to me that he didn’t get the opportunity to compete for it.”
Shelley met the media on Dec. 20, which was late in bowl prep and after Whittingham had already said that Shelley might see live reps in the Alamo Bowl. To his credit, if Shelley was disappointed in the move to safety, he did not let on.
Shelley was upbeat, positive, even borderline optimistic about a fresh opportunity on defense. He deftly moved away from a question regarding a potential transfer, and made it clear he wanted to be a good teammate and help the Utes finish off 2019 on a high note after a disappointing loss to Oregon.
Shelley saw first-quarter action in the Alamo Bowl, making a nice open-field tackle in the process. As it turns out, that was Shelley’s final appearance as a Ute.
“I know Jason is a loyal kid. He’s a really good kid, he’s a team-first kid, I know all those things about him because that’s how he was raised to be,” Shelley Sr. said. “I always knew he was going to give it a shot. He was going to do what was needed to help at that time. Going into the bowl game, he was going to give it a go at defensive back.
“Me, personally, I always knew in his heart he wanted to play quarterback, and to prove to himself that he could. There was still a lot of room for growth and the dream hasn’t changed.”
Shelley, who has already taken a redshirt during his career, has two options as a transfer. He could drop down to the FCS level, where he would be eligible right away with two years left to play. If he chooses to attend another FBS school, he would have to sit for a year, although he could petition the NCAA for immediate eligibility.