Utah Utes football: Return to center position feels good for Tevita Stevens
Mike Terry, Deseret News
SALT LAKE CITY — Tevita Stevens is a natural. After two seasons at right guard, the junior is sliding over to his position of choice. He's replacing Zane Taylor as Utah's starting center.
"I like it. It definitely feels a lot better just being in there and in control of things and everything like that," said Stevens, who admits he loved playing guard as well. "But definitely it feels more natural playing center."
It's a position he played at Hemet High School in California, earning MVP accolades and leading his team to a pair of league championships.
Stevens also stepped in for the injured Taylor last season at New Mexico and was the man in the middle of the offensive line in the Utes' 56-14 win over the Lobos.
"He is a natural. It's more of a natural position for him," said Utah coach Kyle Whittingham. "He's smart. The center in our system makes a lot of the line identifications and the middle linebacker identifications and he does a good job of that."
The two-time academic all-conference honoree graduated from high school with a 4.1 grade-point average. He'll be an educator of sorts at center, especially with new starters playing alongside him at both guard positions.
"I definitely help the guys that play guard because I was playing there for two years," said Stevens, who is assisting the newcomers with some techniques he picked up while playing the position. "The guys there that are coming in, they know their stuff, but little things I can help them out with I try to do that."
The latest depth chart has junior Sam Brenner ticketed to start at left guard and sophomore Jeremiah Tofaeono on top at right guard. They were reserves last season.
Besides having Stevens next door to assist, the new starters will have senior tackles Tony Bergstrom or John Cullen next to them as well.
"That's always a good thing when you've got guys right next to you that are seasoned veterans that can help you out," Whittingham said, while noting that Stevens' extensive knowledge of the guard position is "very valuable" as well.
It all comes in handy as the Utes replace offensive line starters Taylor and Caleb Schlauderaff, who are now in NFL camps.
"Filling their shoes is going to be real hard. They were definitely good players, but definitely we have trust and hope that we're going to get things done," Stevens said. "We believe in ourselves and we've got confidence."
The best five players will play, he added, as Utah embarks upon its inaugural season in the Pac-12.
"We've got to step up to the occasion, rise to it," said Stevens, who vows to do his part as a leader up front, making calls at center. "I've got to be vocal."
Joining Bergstrom and Cullen in helping bring the new starters up to speed, he explained, is something they're working on and getting accomplished in camp — even with injuries to the line.
New offensive line coach Tim Davis is also playing a pivotal role, especially through two-a-days and the daily grind
"He's just a ball of energy. It's great," Stevens said. "With that guy there's no starting slow. It's move, move, let's get going. It's great to have that motivation from a coach."
Utah camp report
DAY 8 (Practice No. 1): The Utes practiced in full pads Friday morning.
STANDOUTS: Utah coach Kyle Whittingham said wide receiver Dres Anderson and linebacker Trevor Reilly had strong showings.
INJURIES: OL Daniel Nielson and RB Shawn Asiata are out with concussions. DT LT Talamaivao is sidelined with an ankle sprain.
NEXT UP: The Utes will have a single practice Saturday morning.
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