The TribUte newsletter: Is Devaughn Vele’s apparent about-face a sign of things to come at Utah?

Vele said earlier this week he is leaning toward returning in 2023, which is a shift from previous statements made about his future

Devaughn Vele has been willing to discuss his future in recent weeks, but the University of Utah wide receiver has made sure to be clear that he has not made up his mind about his future.

Fair enough, but what Vaughn said after practice on Tuesday cannot simply be cast aside as the fourth-year sophomore is trying to make up his mind as the Rose Bowl against Penn State looms on Jan. 2.

“I can say I have been thinking about it a lot lately, and while it isn’t final, I have been leaning more towards staying another year,” Vele said. “Trying to get better film out there and be able to three-peat with these guys.

“We have a lot of good players coming in, but I know I am getting older. It’s a part of life, but this program is special and I want to be a part of it. While it’s not set in stone, I have been thinking about it a lot lately, and it’s starting to lean towards staying another year, but you’ll have my answer by the time the bowl game comes.”

That quote is significant because it is a 180-degree turn from Vele indicating on Nov. 14 that he was likely to leave after this season. This was two days after he was a semi-surprising participant during Senior Night festivities at Rice-Eccles Stadium.

“It’s not an eligibility issue, it’s more so my age,” Vele said. “With me going on a (Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints) mission, I am a little bit older than a lot of the other guys. They have me as a sophomore, but I’m 24 years old, so time is against me. I want a good shot at the NFL. I think this is the most opportune time to accomplish that.

“I don’t want to leave. It’s not something I want to do. I want to stay here as long as I can, but like I said, the clock is against me. If I was 20 years old, I’d be here for the next three years.”

This is where we point out that there has been renewed optimism in recent weeks that Cam Rising may opt to return as a sixth-year senior in 2023, while Brant Kuithe, who was lost for the season to a torn ACL after four games, could come back for a sixth year via redshirt.

If, and we stress, IF Rising were to come back, it would give Utah a legitimate shot at a third straight Pac-12 championship. If that is the case, it stands to reason that at least some veterans on the current roster that may be on the fence about leaving would come back.

The question begs, if Vele is now stating he is leaning toward returning in 2023, how much of that has to do with what Rising may have already shared with his teammates?

For what it’s worth, Rising has been asked about his future a couple of times since the Pac-12 championship game, and has given the same answer both times.

“You never know.”

That’s not a no.

Vele said Tuesday he plans to announce his decision before the Rose Bowl.

Whatever Vele says, it could wind up being merely the first domino.

Other things on my mind

• Saturday afternoon’s Utah-BYU basketball game in Provo was the third meeting of the current four-year agreement between the sides, which predates Craig Smith’s arrival. Not that there should be any doubt, but the expectation, per sources on both sides, is that the contract will get renewed, potentially as early as this offseason with one game still on the books. Mark Pope has said publicly he wants the series to continue as BYU transitions to the Big 12. More quietly, Smith is a fan of playing BYU and is on board with continuing to do so. Whenever the series is renewed, don’t be surprised if the terms are similar to the current four-year agreement, not just a straight two-year home-and-home.

• The 13th-ranked Utah women’s basketball team beat up on Colorado earlier this week in its Pac-12 opener to move to 9-0. It’s hard to look at the schedule and not envision Lynne Roberts’ team not being 12-0, and potentially in the top 10, when it plays at the Washington schools during New Year’s weekend.