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Utah Utes football: Utes mood somber, but team moves on

Published: Monday, Sept. 5 2011 11:25 p.m. MDT

SALT LAKE CITY — It's been a tough couple of days for the University of Utah football team.

"The mood has been somber in our building due to the death of (defensive lineman) Ron Tongaonevai's wife Janelle, but our obligations as coaches and players continue, even as we deal with this tragic event," Utah coach Kyle Whittingham said in a released statement on Monday. "We're looking forward to our inaugural Pac-12 game against an outstanding USC team. The Trojans have one of the most storied programs in all of college football."

USC is as talented as any team in the country, he added, year in and year out.

"We obviously have a lot of work to do in the next few days as we prepare for our Saturday contest in the Coliseum," Whittingham said.

NCAA APPROVAL: Utah officials have received permission from the NCAA to cover the costs of Janelle Tongaonevai's funeral expenses. She was killed in a car accident in West Valley City Thursday night, less than two hours after Utah's 27-10 win over Montana State.

LOCAL CONNECTION: USC starting right guard John Martinez, a Cottonwood High alum, is just the third Utahn to ever letter in football for the Trojans. The 6-foot-2, 290-pound sophomore is joined by right end Joe Davis (1940-42) of Bountiful and fullback Stanley Havili (2006-10) of Salt Lake City.

On the flip side, Utah offensive coordinator Norm Chow and offensive line coach Tim Davis worked together on the USC staff from 2002-04, helping the Trojans win a pair of national championships along the way.

BEFORE THE GAME: Former USC and Olympic track star Louis Zamperini will serve as USC's honorary captain for the game. The 94-year-old World War II hero is back for the Trojans' celebration of "Joint Forces Day."

EXTRA POINTS: Starting left tackle John Cullen, who missed the Montana State game with a concussion, is expected to return to action this week . ... Utah athletic ticketing has sold 5,000 tickets to the Pac-12 opener. Thousands of other Ute fans have reportedly bought tickets from other sources ... The Utes have 32 Californians on their current roster.

Email: dirk@desnews.com

Twitter: @DirkFacer

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