Utah Utes football: Quade Chappuis making most of his chance to start
Former walk-on set to start 1st 3 games in place of Blechen
Tom Smart, Deseret News
SALT LAKE CITY — There were definitely days that Quade Chappuis didn't know if walking on with the Utah football program was worth it.
"There are always doubts," said the Lone Peak graduate who will get a shot at being a starter for the Utah defense after starting safety Brian Blechen was suspended for three games earlier this month. "There are days when there is so much talent on the team that, yeah, you get discouraged. But you've got to keep grinding. … You're battling with so many kids, you've just got to keep motivated."
The decision to walk on with a college athletic program is always risky. But as a life-long Ute fan, the redshirt junior felt it was worth the gamble.
"It was a big risk, but like I said, my dad's a big Utah fan," said Quade Chappuis, who has spent the past two seasons on special teams after redshirting his freshman year. "It's just as big a dream for him as it is for me."
The decision to walk on at Utah, rather than play at a junior college or Division II program, came down to two things — he was a life-long Utah fan and he had a great relationship with Utah assistant coach Morgan Scalley.
"My mind was set on Utah since I was a freshman in high school," he said. "This is the place I wanted to go. In high school I thought I would get an offer, you plan on that. When it didn't come, I decided I was going to come here no matter what and follow my dreams."
In fact, Chappuis' only offers were junior college options, and while he considered that route, he decided to take a chance on earning a scholarship through hard work.
Scalley, who coaches the safeties and recruits for the Utes, said it is tough to ask players to consider walking on because it means they're paying their own way through college while trying to compete in a Division I football program.
"It's tough because of the financial burden," said Scalley. "But as competitive as he is, he's a guy who believed he could walk on and earn a scholarship. And he did it. It's a credit to who he is, and we're excited for his opportunity."
Scalley said Whittingham has offered three to four scholarships each year to walk-ons.
"So it's not rare," he said. "But guys have to earn it. It doesn't matter who you are, if you're the best guy for the job and you've proven it, you're going to be rewarded."
That includes starting spots.
Blechen, who had started 26 straight games and earned freshman All-American honors, as well as honorable mention Pac-12 honors last season, will have to out-perform Chappuis once he's eligible to play again.
"We love Brian," said Scalley. "He's going to work himself back. But in the meantime, we're not batting an eye; we've got guys who care, who want to play and who are going to be successful."
Scalley said the safety spot seems to be a question mark for the Utes at the beginning of every season. And yet, the defensive corps is deep enough each season that several players have been able to make significant contributions.
"We've got depth, and we've got guys who care," said Scalley. "And we're really not that worried."
Even Chappuis, who has to fill Blechen's considerable shoes (at least for three games), said the pressure in his new starting role is no different than the pressure he's felt every time he entered a game for the Utes.
"There is always pressure playing in any situation," he said, "and you're on such a big stage here in the Pac-12 now, that any role on the team, special teams, whatever, is a big role and comes with a lot of pressure."
He said one of the reasons the Utes seem to have guys who can fill in when key players get hurt or can't play is that Whittingham's system rewards players for their work — regardless of their place on the depth chart.
Chappuis said he gets the reps he earns and he doesn't feel he's been treated any differently as a walk-on than guys who were highly touted recruits. Scalley said coaches do not treat all players the same.
"You treat them how they deserve to be treated," Scalley said. "Some are late to class; some guys don't understand that doing things off the field matters; Some do. I give them four criteria for what it takes to play here: No. 1 is take care of business off the field; No. 2 is know the defense; No. 3 is make plays; No. 4 is contribute on special teams. If they wonder why they're not playing, I can point to one of those four things, and they understand."
Chappuis said that kind of system allows anyone to achieve if he is willing to put in the work.
"We all know our role on the team," he said. "You get what you earn. There's always going to be someone better than you, so that's something we've got to understand. He doesn't have to get us motivated to deal with that."
He's excited to be starting, but not starry-eyed. Although, he admits that just wearing the uniform is still a little unbelievable at times.
"It's never enough," said the youngest of five children. "It's surreal."
As for starting, well, that takes the dream to a whole new level.
"I guess it hasn't set in yet," he said.
And despite his recent success, and the potential to have the kind of year he's been preparing for and dreaming of, he said he's far from satisfied.
"You've never arrived," he said. "Hopefully I'll always try to get better. You get what you earn, so if you're good enough to get reps, you'll be getting reps."
Chappuis is looking forward to the entire experience, but of course, he's happy to get the start against BYU.
"I got to play a lot in (the BYU) game last year," he said with a grin. "I've been dreaming about that since I was a little kid. So it was awesome. I'm just excited to have a role on the team, whatever I can contribute. It's been awesome."
Utah camp report
Day 10: Camp resumed after a day off with a morning practice at Rice-Eccles Stadium and a late afternoon session at Ute Field.
Standouts: Utah coach Kyle Whittingham liked how the tight ends and defensive line performed. Sophomore defensive back Joseph Smith was singled out for having a good day.
Injuries: Offensive lineman Sam Brenner dinged his shoulder in the morning practice and is expected to be back at practice in a couple of days. Linebacker LT Filiaga injured his left knee and will be out for a couple of weeks. Offensive tackle Miles Mason (high ankle sprain) could be back by week's end.
Overheard: "Coming off an off day there's always a little bit more bounce in their step and a little more energy." — Whittingham
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