SALT LAKE CITY — Quarterback Jon Hays is a cool customer who doesn't get riled up. That's how Utah coach Kyle Whittingham describes the junior college transfer, who will make his first career start for the Utes Saturday against Arizona State.
Hays stepped into the top spot in the second half of last week's 31-14 loss to Washington after starter Jordan Wynn was sidelined with an injury to his non-throwing shoulder.
When offensive coordinator Norm Chow approached Hays with the news, he responded confidently.
"Coach, that's why you brought me here," Chow recalled.
It's something, the coach added, that you have to feel good about.
Hays said it's just who he is.
"That's the mentality I've had since I've been here," he told reporters after Tuesday's practice. "You never know what's going to happen. Unfortunately for Jordan, he got hurt and I've just got to step up."
Hays completed 10-of-16 passes for 156 yards and a touchdown against the Huskies. He had two turnovers, however.
"We're tweaking things a little bit, taking advantage of (Jon's) skill set," Whittingham said. "He's throwing the ball well and he's our guy. We're going to rally behind him."
Moving up to No. 1 has led to an increase in Hays' workload. Besides getting a lot more reps in practice, he said the coaches are getting on him a little more.
Hays is fine with it.
"I'm excited to work all week long and see what the result is on Saturday," he said.
The opportunity to start in a big game is something Hays has thought about over and over while growing up. He's excited to get out there.
"It's something you dream of when you're a little kid," Hays said before insisting he's not nervous about it. "No. I've been playing football since I was young … It's a football game, there's just 50,000 people watching."
Whittingham calls it a scenario, an exact one, that Hays was recruited to fill.
"Now it's his turn to step up and see what he can do," Whittingham said.
Quarterbacks coach Brian Johnson is confident Hays will succeed. The whole situation with Wynn's injury, he explained, is just part of the game.
"It's something that you have to deal with, unfortunately," Johnson said. "But our team has got a lot of faith in Jon that he can go out there and get the job done."