SALT LAKE CITY — Consistent play and hard work are paying dividends for Utah defensive back Michael Walker. He’s expected to start at strong safety when the Utes take on Utah State in Thursday’s season opener at Rice-Eccles Stadium.
“He’s a guy that understands work ethic and how to practice since the day he stepped onto the field for us,” said Utah coach Kyle Whittingham. “It’s his senior year. I know he wants to go out on a positive. He’s worked hard and he’s earned and deserves the starting role.”
Whittingham added that Walker has been consistent in his play throughout camp. The 5-foot-9, 182-pounder from Brenham, Texas, was on the depth chart at nickel back earlier in camp, but has made a smooth transition to safety.
Walker doesn’t mind where they put him. He’s game for “any position, any spot.” Moving back and forth isn’t a problem.
“I’ve been working hard,” Walker said. “I’m trying to enjoy my senior year and go all out because you know when it’s your last time to play.”
Football is always a competition, he added, and the cream will rise to the top. It’s all about competing and working hard.
In 33 games at Utah, including starts against BYU in 2011 and Arizona in 2012, Walker has made 28 tackles (12 solo). Teaming up with fellow Texan Eric Rowe as a starting safety this season is something he’s looking forward to.
“I like Eric. He came in a year after me. We got close. We study together and we know the defense,” Walker said. “He knows the defense pretty good and I know the defense pretty good. Being here, going on my fourth year, we work pretty good together.”
STAYING IN THE STATE: Thursday’s opener against Utah State kicks off a favorable scheduling stretch for the Utes. They’ll play five of their first six games at home — Weber State (Sept. 7), Oregon State (Sept. 14), UCLA (Oct. 3) and Stanford (Oct. 12). The lone road contest in that stretch is a trip to BYU on Sept. 21.
“We don’t leave the state of Utah for quite some time,” said quarterback Travis Wilson. “So it’s definitely a huge advantage and we’ve definitely got to make sure we make the most of it.”
The Utes don’t play outside the state until an Oct. 19 game at Arizona.
EXTRA POINTS: Whittingham and three players will attend the first press conference in the new Spence and Cleone Eccles Football Center Monday at noon. ... Utah’s practices on Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday will be closed to the media. ... The Utes have prepared to face USU quarterback Chuckie Keeton by having athletic freshman Brandon Cox run the scout team.