SALT LAKE CITY — At every University of Utah football practice, you can spot two cheerful faces constantly beaming with Ute pride. They're not players or coaches. They're the team's managers, Drew Johnson and Austin Lewis.
"Our players appreciate how hard they work," said head coach Kyle Whittingham. "They're just a part of what we do. They're a part of our system."
Johnson and Lewis haul equipment, grab footballs and hold yard markers, but most importantly, Whittingham says they set a great example for his players. Both have developmental disabilities, but they're some of the hardest workers on the field — sometimes pushing crates of equipment bigger than they are.
"It could be pretty much like today, freezing cold, and they've always got a smile on their face, always happy to go. ... It makes everyone else kind of (feel) the same way," said Tony Bergstrom, Ute offensive line right tackle.
The players love the duo and respect them for their dedication to the team. Defensive end Christian Cox says Johnson goes out of his way to greet him at each practice and game.
"Every day Drew says, 'Hey, Christian Cox,' " Cox said. "It just really makes my day to see Drew and Austin. They rep the U. gear well."
"They bring a great spirit to what we do," Whittingham said. "They both are exceptionally hard workers. They're reliable, they're here every day."
Both Johnson and Lewis are athletes in their own right. Johnson is a 13-time Special Olympic gold medalist in basketball, and Lewis plays soccer. And there's no doubt they're Utah men.
"I like helping the Utes because they are my favorite team," Lewis said.
"I just like being on the field for all of the home games," Johnson added. "It's fun to be at practices and everything. I like Coach Whitt. He's my idol and everything. I look up to him."2 comments on this story
When the Utes win, Johnson and Lewis rejoice. When they lose, they are still there to cheer on their team.
"They make me so proud," Lewis said. "I get to help them do whatever they want me to do."
The players and coaches agree, they're more than fans, they're a part of the team.
"They are there with us every step of the way, they feel everything we do, and they're a part of everything," Bergstrom said.
"I would say, 'Thank you very much because you guys make me proud as the football manager,' " Austin said.