Utah athletics: New drive has many athletes giving back to the U.

Published: Monday, June 25 2012 10:12 p.m. MDT

Having the University of Utah name on their chest, on their uniforms, creates a bond that Knuth believes ties them to the school for the rest of their lives. Competing for the Utes, he continued, translates into a lifelong affinity to the U., and a desire to give back.

"The University of Utah has made a difference in our lives and there's no way to say thank you than to return the favor and help out," said Sione Pouha of the New York Jets. "Whatever contributions that we can make help the university, whether it be financial or be a time or a shoutout or something like that. I tell you what it's made a difference in my life and that's the reason I think for the majority of us that make contributions because Utah has had an impact on our lives."

Pouha is among several professional athletes, including other NFL stars like Jordan Gross, Alex Smith, Steve Smith and Eric Weddle as well as Andrew Bogut and Andre Miller of the NBA, to make significant financial contributions in recent years.

"The University of Utah has made a difference in my life," Pouha said. "The lessons that I learned there with football and being a student-athlete ... . I think that's where I matured into the working world."

Utah offensive coordinator Brian Johnson agrees. The Most Outstanding Player in the Utes' Sugar Bowl win over Alabama also made a large donation to the "Invest in Exellence" drive.

"I think for the most part we provide a great student-athlete experience and we know that being in this place that people are obviously very passionate about it," Johnson said. "You somewhat become an adult here and you learn through our programs. It teaches you a lot of lessons that prepare you for life after that. So I think most of the people that come here end up leaving with a positive experience and are very passionate about our programs."

Many show their appreciation by making financial contributions.

"I think we're fortunate enough where multiple guys are feeling that way and finding ways to give back," Johnson said.

Hendrix considers it the ultimate compliment from a student-athlete.

"It speaks volumes to our coaching staff, it speaks volumes to our administrative staff and all the support, it speaks volumes to the university as a whole, and I think to the community," he said.

As such, Hill acknowledged that the athletic department is extremely grateful for the contributions and wants to thank them as much as possible. It conveys the message, he continued, that student-athletes have a wonderful experience at the University of Utah.

"It's good to share that, for our other donors to see that and get excited about it," Hill said while adding that people have been very generous over the past 10-11 years and it has created some wonderful opportunities for the university — putting Utah in the upper echelon of contributions by former athletes.

Knuth, who is overseeing the "Invest in Excellence" program, said things are going well. The number of donors, dollars raised and major gifts continue to increase.

"Everything's looking good and it's tracking along well. Obviously we need to keep growing and keep it going," Knuth said of the ongoing fundraising effort. "It's a tremendous goal. But for us to be competitive in the Pac-12 we've got to be — just like how coach (Kyle) Whittingham says we've got to be aggressive everyday in football — we've got to be aggressive everyday in fundraising if we want to be successful."

Giving back: A sampling of athletics

Department donations by former Utes:

Jordan Gross (football) — $500,000

Andre Miller (basketball) — $500,000

Alex Smith (football) — $500,000

Steve Smith (football) — $275,000

Eric Weddle (football) — $250,000

Andrew Bogut (basketball) — $125,000

Daniel Spinnazola (football) — $100,000

* Walt Deland (trainer) — $50,000

Brian Johnson (football) — $50,000

Sione Pouha (football) — $50,000

Keith Van Horn (basketball) donated $1 million to the Huntsman Cancer Institute in 2001.

*Deceased. Donation made in his honor by sons Gary and Lonnie Deland.

SOURCE: University of Utah

How do the Utes compare?

Operating budgets for Pac-12 athletic programs in 2010-11, prior to Utah and Colorado joining the conference.

School — Millions of dollars

Stanford — $81.1

Oregon — $76.3

USC — $75.7

Washington — $67.9

UCLA — $66

California — $64.5

Arizona — $60.3

Colorado — $59.2

Arizona State — $57.1

Oregon State — $49.9

Washington State — $40.6

UTAH — $36.8

Source: University of Utah

For more information on "Invest in Excellence: The campaign for Utah athletics," go to www.InvestInUtahAthletics.org.

Email: dirk@desnews.com Twitter: @DirkFacer

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