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Utah Utes football: Matthews hopes for many happy returns

Published: Sunday, Aug. 9 2009 1:32 a.m. MDT

Luke Matthews is eager to get back on the field. After spending his first collegiate season as a redshirt, the 6-foot-1, 205-pound receiver is set to fill at least two roles for the Utah Utes this fall.

Besides being part of the receiving rotation, Matthews is slated to return punts.

"I like being in that role — somewhere where I can make plays," Matthews said. "Anywhere on the field I can make plays I'm happy."

Even, as it turns out, at a position where Utah struggled last season. Fielding punts became an adventure as the Utes finished 96th in the nation with 6.4 yards per return.

"We hope that's not as adventurous this year," head coach Kyle Whittingham said while expressing confidence that Matthews is the right man for the job.

"I don't foresee that changing unless someone comes in and beats him out," he explained. "Right now ... he's the guy."

Matthews, who returned a kickoff 98 yards for a touchdown in high school, is making the adjustment to punt returns.

"You've just got to be able to react," he said. "Just make sure you catch the ball. That's the first thing. You've just got to focus on getting the ball first."

And thus far, things are working out just fine.

"He's done a great job with that all throughout spring. We haven't done much of it this fall but he's got a great knack for catching punts," Whittingham said. "He does a great job tracking the ball. The No. 1 thing with a punt returner is you want them to catch the ball first and foremost and he does a great job of that."

Matthews is determined to make his mark wherever he can, whether it be on special teams and/or offense. He's currently listed as a No. 1 at both receiver and punt returner.

"It's good to be on the depth chart, finally, after redshirting last year," Matthews said. "I love that. Wherever I can get on the field. They can put me on everything and I'd be happy with it."

While Matthews is nailing down the punt return job, he's also a projected starter on offense.

"Luke is one of our top receivers," Whittingham said. "... He may end up being one of out top four. He's a big part of our receiving corps."

And with four years of eligibility remaining, Matthews has a lot of football ahead of him.

"He's made tremendous strides since he arrived on campus a year ago," Whittingham added.

Matthews, meanwhile, is embracing his work environment.

"All the receivers are going to go hard every day," he said. "So every day, you've just got to come out ready to play."

Utah camp report

Day 3: Utah coach Kyle Whittingham said the Utes had "very good tempo" in Saturday morning's practice. The defense made some big plays in the first group practice of camp.

Standouts: Koa Misi, Stevenson Sylvester, Robert Johnson and Joe Dale highlighted the defense, while David Reed, Jereme Brooks, Matt Asiata and Zane Beadles shined for the offense.

Injuries: Linebacker Mo Neal (muscle cramps) is expected to be back on the practice field next week.

Next: The Utes are off today. They'll resume practice Monday morning.

e-mail: dirk@desnews.com

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