Kristin Murphy, Deseret News
SALT LAKE CITY — The unflappable, imperturbable Jon Hays was all by himself, nobody within earshot, after the first day of fall camp.
If you listened closely, you could hear crickets chirping. Where were all the cameras, iPhones and microphones? Trained on Jordan Wynn, of course, the University of Utah's starting quarterback.
Hays attracted fewer requests than the blocking sleds.
You remember Hays. Sparse, blondish goatee, low-key approach. Surprised he's here, but not overwhelmed. He's the guy who led the Utes to a comeback win in the Sun Bowl last year. He came on midway through the fourth game and held the reins through an 8-5 season.
You wouldn't know it now. He was there but he wasn't on Thursday, as unassuming as a golden retriever. Hays was named the No. 2 signal-caller for opening day, but it's a mystery how long that will last. At one point last spring he was No. 4, behind Wynn and freshmen Travis Wilson and Chase Hansen. He was still listed at No. 3 as recently as last week.
This from a guy who is 6-3 as a starter for a Pac-12 team.
Doesn't the uncertainty ever get to him?
"No," he said. "Thoughts can creep in your head, but you've just got to work hard and try to move your way up the depth chart."
If ever a player were entitled to get huffy, it would likely be Hays. To be honest, he doesn't have Pac-12 talent, but he does have big league resiliency. He jumped aboard last summer when it became clear Tyler Shreve wasn't working out, and thus the Utes were dangerously shallow at quarterback. He had originally planned to transfer from junior college to Nebraska-Omaha. But that went south when he learned the school was jettisoning its football program.
So Hays and the Utes struck a deal. He would bail them out on the depth chart and they'd provide the scholarship. The Utes would get some wiggle room and he'd get a home. Although Hays was overmatched in some games, he won others by doing just enough.
He never dominated, yet somehow got through, completing a fourth-and-14 TD pass at the end of regulation to send the Sun Bowl into overtime. Moments later, the Utes had the win that separated a nice season from a mediocre one.
This year's story is different. Hays is acres ahead in his knowledge of the offense, and in his confidence, too. Yet he's still far from being the starter — barring another Wynn injury.
Some have speculated Hays is only listed No. 2 to challenge Wilson, who has the talent — but not experience — to start. No matter to Hays, who is an in-the-moment sort of guy that offensive coordinator Brian Johnson labels "exemplary."
"You just prepare the same, because quarterback is a position where you could be third in the depth chart, but if guys go down, you're starting," Hays said.
When talk of doom arose last year after Wynn got hurt, Hays ignored the skeptics. When he slipped back in the depth chart in the spring, he didn't go to the press or claim he felt like last week's meat loaf.
"If you start running your mouth and teammates hear that, it's not going to go over very well," Hays said. "Any questions, comments or concerns I have … are directly between me and coach Johnson."
So it went for Hays on the first day: not much fanfare, zero hype. But the Omaha-bound guy who landed in the Pac-12 may yet rise again.
Could he handle starting duties again if needed?
"Absolutely," Johnson said. "He's .666 in the Pac-12. I'm sure he'll be ready if his number is called."
He'll be the guy quietly in the background, minding his business.
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