SALT LAKE CITY — Although it was almost 31 years ago, Utah coach Kyle Whittingham still has fond memories of his final home game as a college football player. On Nov. 21, 1981, Whittingham and the BYU Cougars handed the Utes a 56-28 setback in Provo.
"That's the one you remember most. To this day I remember the last game of my senior year," Whittingham said as the Utes prepare for Saturday's home finale against Arizona. "It's something that will stick with you forever."
Whittingham is mindful of that as 25 seniors gear up for their final game at Rice-Eccles Stadium. He said it is of the utmost importance to send them out the right way and have them end things on a positive note.
At 4-6 overall, Utah needs wins over Arizona this week and at Colorado the following Friday to become bowl eligible. The Utes are hopeful they'll get that done and have an opportunity to go bowling for a 10th consecutive season.
"We've got to play with passion and energy and we've got to play with juice," said senior running back John White, who isn't reminiscing about his final appearance at home. "Nah, nah. It's not about that. It's all about coming out of this game with a win."
The Utes need to play their best football, he added, with every player on the field doing their 1/11th.
Senior Night, though, is loaded with variables. The departing players will be honored in pregame ceremonies.
"Emotions are going to definitely run high but you've got to keep those tied down and play good ball," said senior cornerback Reggie Topps.
The season is riding on it.
As such, senior offensive lineman Miles Mason said: "It's going to be a special night to get the win and get everybody going."
Utah's senior class of 2012 enters this week's game with a 32-17 record and three bowl appearances.
Defensive tackle Star Lotulelei, who won the Morris Award last year as the Pac-12's top defensive lineman, headlines a group of standouts that includes White, Topps, Mason and several others with starting experience — linebacker Boo Andersen, offensive lineman Sam Brenner, wide receiver DeVonte Christopher, record-setting kicker returner Reggie Dunn, linebacker Dave Fagergren, snapper Patrick Greene, quarterback Jon Hays, defensive tackle Dave Kruger, cornerback Ryan Lacy, cornerback Moe Lee, wide receiver Luke Matthews, tight end Kendrick Moeai, kicker Coleman Petersen, tight end Dallin Rogers, tight end David Rolf, punter Sean Sellwood, offensive lineman Tevita Stevens and defensive back Lewis Walker.
Defensive end Lorenzo Ford, fullback Max Moala and defensive tackle Joape Pela round out the departing players.
"It's been a great senior class. They've won a lot of football games for us," Whittingham said. "They have great leadership and attitude. I probably sound like a broken record because every year you're really feeling the same way about your seniors."
This class, though, is a bit different. Whittingham noted that 18 of 21 seniors on scholarship are scheduled to graduate mid-year — a high-water mark according to the coach.
"I think it's a tribute to the seniors, their work ethic off the field and everything they've done during their time here," Whittingham said. "… This has been a great senior class. I'm extremely proud of what they've accomplished, not only on the field but off the field."
Whittingham noted that it'll be tough to see them go because of the quality of people they are and the character they have.
"It makes coming to work enjoyable," he said.
As the association comes to a close, several of the seniors have mixed emotions about it.
"It's crazy just looking back on my career here and thinking that this is my last game in this stadium. So it's kind of just shocking that its all coming to this right now," Matthews said. "But I'm definitely just embracing it and just trying to enjoy every game."
Kruger has similar thoughts.
"Time flies and it's tripping me out. I don't know how else to explain it," Kruger said. "It's weird but I'm excited. It's going to be Senior Night and I'm excited to play for my last time in the home stadium."
So, too, is Dunn.
"It'll be fun. I'm really excited for it," he said. "It'll be real emotional for the seniors but also it's just a way to go into a new chapter in your life."
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