Utah Utes football: Talented trio of newcomers battling for reps at running back
SALT LAKE CITY — Yes and no.
That, in a nutshell, aptly describes Utah's situation at running back.
Yes, the Utes have a trio of talented competitors occupying the top of the depth chart. And no, none of them have a single down of major college football experience.
Even so, there's a quiet confidence that true freshman Harvey Langi, rugby star Thretton Palamo and junior college transfer John White IV, or a combination thereof, will get the job done in Utah's first season in the Pac-12.
Langi, the true freshman, acknowledged it's a bit crazy that there's only newcomers to the program competing for the ball-carrying job this year.
That, however, is where things sit after co-starters Matt Asiata and Eddie Wide graduated and heir apparent Sausan Shakerin was forced to give up football because of injuries.
"They're all three working hard," Utah coach Kyle Whittingham said while noting all three are doing good things early in camp. "You're really not going to be able to separate those guys until we start to get some physical contact going. That's when the separation should start to take place."
Utah is still in the midst of the NCAA's acclimatization period and won't don full gear until next week.
"We'd like to see one or two guys separate themselves. There's just not enough reps for three, in my opinion," Whittingham said. "Featuring one or two backs is fine, but you just can't do it with three. So we'll see what happens."
The competition is laced with intrigue. Each back brings a different background to the situation:
Langi is a highly touted All-American out of Bingham High. The 6-foot-1, 225-pounder ran for 4,289 yards and 55 touchdowns in his prep career with the Miners. He graduated early and enrolled at Utah in January.
Palamo is an international rugby star who has participated in World Cup competitions for the United States and Samoa. The 6-foot-4, 240-pound walk-on, whose previous football experience includes two seasons at Davis High in Sacramento, Calif., made an immediate impression at Utah in spring ball.
At 5-foot-8 and 186 pounds, White is the smallest of the trio. However, he put up some big numbers during his career at Los Angeles Harbor College. White set school records for career all-purpose yards (3,767), career rushing yards (2,527), points (248), total touchdowns (41) and rushing touchdowns (34).
Utah quarterback Jordan Wynn said all of the running backs are doing a pretty good job in camp. After two days in helmets and shorts, however, the deadlock has yet to be broken. That could change soon, though, when things get more physical with the addition of pads as the Utes work through the NCAA-mandated acclimatization period.
"We're awfully anxious to have somebody step up — one or two guys step up — and they haven't done that yet," said offensive coordinator Norm Chow. "It's only the second day. We get very impatient, and that's what you do as a coach."
The candidates, who have become friends and root for one another, are eager to show what they can do.
"Everyone knows we have the competition up for running back right now," Langi said. "The stakes are high and we need the perfect guy for that. But we have a lot of talent at this spot."
While noting he has a lot of work to do, Langi vows to give everything he's got to the team. So, too, he added, are the other backs. Although they're helping each other, all are gunning for the top spot on the depth chart.
"That's the fun of the game — to compete," Langi said.
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