Utah’s linebackers have embraced competition and camaraderie in everything from bowling to golf to horseback riding

Utes linebackers coach Colton Swan says the group is one of the closest on the team this season.

(Kory Mortensen | Utah Athletics) Nephi Sewell and the rest of the Ute linebackers have become a close-knit group as the 2021 season approaches.

University of Utah junior linebacker Nephi Sewell grew up with three brothers, a sister, in a football-obsessed family. He understands the value of a tight-knit dynamic.

Sewell is seeing that every day on campus.

The Utes have 17 linebackers, which makes for a mix of veteran leaders and a host of young talent trying to earn playing time. Juniors Devin Lloyd and Sewell set the tone, while newcomers like Ethan Calvert and Mason Tufaga are making the best of their opportunities.

But while Utah’s linebackers might be lacking in overall college experience — 11 of the 17 are listed as freshmen — that particular position group might be ahead of the curve from a camaraderie standpoint.

“I would say that they are the closest group amongst all the groups on the team,” linebackers coach Colton Swan said Thursday. “We have a lot of fun together. They’re very tight-knit.”

Swan has taken his linebackers on multiple outings — shooting, river rafting, horseback riding, bowling, the movies, and a trip to Ruth’s Chris Steak House were some of the examples he gave. He said that on Sunday, the team is planning to go out for dinner and then have a bowling tournament.

Tufaga, a four-star recruit out of St. Louis High School, enjoys the bowling outings best. That’s because, to hear him tell it, he’s pretty good.

“I think I’m a professional bowler,” Tufaga quipped. “So I think that’s what’s fun for me.”

Another four-star high school player on the Utes, Ethan Calvert, liked when the group went golfing on some weekends before camp started. He said his older brother, Josh, who transferred to Utah this season, is the better golfer of the two.

“He can drive it pretty far,” Calvert said of his brother.

Swan said part of the reason for the group’s closeness might stem from Lloyd’s leadership. Lloyd is the longest-tenured linebacker on the Utes, but it’s not just that group that looks up to him.

“The linebackers, we lean on him a ton, but I think it’s the whole team that leans on him,” Swan said of Lloyd. “He’s a great leader. He pulls people along.”

Lloyd enjoys the outings with his teammates, particularly those that involve bowling or food. He said, though, that he really just likes hanging out with the guys.

Sewell shares Lloyd’s mentality. With how he grew up, he was always busy and had someone with whom to share life. He finds the same value in the relationship-building activities among the linebackers, whether it’s sharing a meal, competing in bowling or doing treatment together.

“It’s always just good to have someone to do things with,” Sewell said. “You don’t ever want anyone in your family to be on their own or feel like they have to do things on their own.”

Tufaga, who is still acclimating to life as a college football player, stressed the importance of closeness within the linebackers group.

“As a group, you always want to be close,” Tufaga said. “You don’t want to have someone be left out. I think that’s what brings the Utah culture into our linebacker group and it helps us just get closer together. It just makes everybody feel comfortable in a new environment and situation.”