Utes are elated to get ‘supreme leader, alpha dog’ Cam Rising back for another season

Utes head coach Kyle Whittingham said that several factors — including a desire to prove he’s healthy and show his skills to NFL personnel — prompted the quarterback to return for a seventh year.

(Rick Egan | The Salt Lake Tribune) Utah Utes quarterback Cameron Rising (7) takes some snaps during warm-ups, before PAC-12 football action between the Utah Utes and the UCLA Bruins, at Rice-Eccles Stadium, on Saturday, Sept. 23, 2023.

Injured Utah quarterback Cam Rising made a lot of people happy this week when he posted a video on social media announcing that he would be returning to the Utes for one more year.

Head coach Kyle Whittingham acknowledged that he’s among those most thrilled.

“Cam has got to be one of the best — if not the best — returning quarterbacks in the country,” Whittingham said. “He’s won two [conference] championships for us, ultimate leader, the supreme leader, he’s the alpha dog. And I can’t tell you how excited we are and elated we are. It’s gonna be a big part of our outlook on next year’s season.”

Rising was injured in last season’s Rose Bowl game, with what was thought at the time to be a torn ACL.

The quarterback’s status was up in the air throughout fall camp and the first half of this season, with Whittingham initially saying Rising could be a game-time decision for the opener against Florida, and subsequently disclosing that the California native was a full participant in myriad practices.

However, Rising apparently never got close to actually playing, disclosing in October that he also tore his MPFL, meniscus and MCL.

Following the Utes’ win at USC on Oct. 21, Whittingham acknowledged that Rising (and injured tight end Brant Kuithe) had been shut down for the season.

The coach said that as he and Rising discussed the quarterback’s options, several factors came into play that made a return for a seventh season of college football reasonable.

“Cam wants to play in the NFL and I feel he’s perfectly suited for that, and coming back and proving that he’s healthy again and can perform at the same level … gives him an opportunity to prove that he belongs and that he’s one of the elite quarterbacks in the country,” said Whittingham.

The coach added that Rising’s familiarity and comfort level with the Utes’ program, his popularity with teammates and in the community, and the appeal of the challenge of facing Big 12 competition all played into the QB’s decision-making.

Whittingham said he agreed that a return was best for Rising, but also wanted it to be his decision, and attempted to leave self-serving reasons out of the discussion.

He expects Rising’s return to have a trickle-down effect on Utah’s future success.

“That’s huge going forward for our program,” Whittingham said. “That’s a huge component to our team — it’ll help in recruiting, it’ll help maybe a few guys that are on the fence: ‘Do I come out? Do I stay?’ Maybe a few of those guys decide to return because of that.”

Kuithe potentially could be one of them, though Whittingham said the tight end was still assessing his options for now.

Rising, who began his college career with a redshirt season at Texas in 2018, still must technically be granted a medical redshirt by the NCAA for his return to be official.

But given that he hasn’t played one snap this season, Whittingham said, “I don’t see that being a hang-up.”

Whittingham also doesn’t foresee problems with the Utes having an overcrowded quarterback room next season.

Bryson Barnes, a former walk-on who earned a scholarship this season, has gotten most of the reps in place of Rising this season, while redshirt freshman Nate Johnson also saw early action before struggling and ultimately being benched. Brandon Rose, meanwhile, was expected to be a contender to start in Rising’s place until suffering an injury during a scrimmage near the end of fall camp.

“The quarterback room has a way to settle itself and thin itself out. So I would say no, I don’t think it’ll be too crowded,” Whittingham said. “I think natural attrition, and with that being the most volatile position in football, it will sort itself out and we won’t have to make any tough decisions.”

As for when Rising might finally make his long-anticipated return to the field …

Is spring ball a possibility?

“We hope so, but again, that’s up to him and the medical staff,” Whittingham said. “From my vantage point, I don’t see any reason why he wouldn’t be. But I’m just an outsider on that part of it.”