SALT LAKE CITY — As Utah's seniors embark on their final week of practices up on the hill, they're doing so with mixed emotions. The Utes, who will wrap up Sun Bowl preparations next week in El Paso, Texas, have only four practices left on campus.
"It's kind of hit me. I just can't believe how fast it's gone by," said linebacker Matt Martinez, a senior captain along with offensive lineman Tony Bergstrom and middle linebacker Chaz Walker. ". . . Just looking at it now it's like the real world is out there and I'm just trying to hold it off."
Going to the Sun Bowl is going to be fun, he acknowledged, while adding that the seniors need to go out on a good note.
The 18 veterans preparing for their final game with the Utes are determined to do so, especially after the surprising 17-14 loss to Colorado in the regular-season finale Nov. 25 at Rice-Eccles Stadium. The setback gave the seniors a 40-11 record, one win shy of the class of 2010's school record for career victories.
"They've had a lot of success," said Utah coach Kyle Whittingham.
Prevailing one more time — Dec. 31 against Georgia Tech — is the top priority for the veterans.
"Getting that win is what's on our mind and hopefully we can go out there and do that," said Walker, who noted that it's "definitely crazy" to have his college career wind down. "I bet it will hit me once the game's over and then I won't be coming back here for offseason training and stuff like that."
Bergstrom, though, isn't thinking too much about the latter.
"Not yet. I don't know why. I'm not quite there for some reason in my mind," he said. "Hopefully I can just live in my own ignorance for a while. Ignorance is bliss. It's completely true. So I'm just going to keep avoiding the situation.
"I know psychologists will tell you that's a bad idea," Bergstrom added. "But I'll just go ahead and enjoy myself for a while."
Bergstrom said players reminisce throughout their time in the program. This year's seniors often gather for impromptu conversations in the locker room after practice. Bergstrom and left tackle John Cullen will start talking then teammates like Derrick Shelby and others will join in.
"It's always fun to have all the seniors together because we've been here so long. They've all been through four years of it," Bergstrom said. "You start throwing out names that only guys like us would ever know. So it's just how it is."
And there's more to it — including a comment that Whittingham, a classic rock connoisseur and fan of the Eagles, can appreciate.
Bergstrom said there's something special about the Utah football program.
"It's like the Hotel California. You can check in anytime you like, but you can never leave," he explained. "This place just keeps bringing you back. So you spend a lot of time here reminiscing about everything."
Whittingham understands. He knows what the seniors are going through as their college careers conclude.
"I think they're kidding you if they say they're not thinking about it. Because I think it enters their mind," Whittingham said. "For a lot of them it's the end of their football career, which is a pretty traumatic thing. But the primary focus is the game, obviously, and the preparations have been good so far. Finals are behind us, so it's all football from this point forward."
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