Scott G Winterton, Deseret News
SALT LAKE CITY — Utah coach Kyle Whittingham said when it comes down to it, coaching is all about being around quality people.
“And this group of seniors are quality people,” he said as the Utes prepare to send off 19 seniors in Saturday’s season finale against Colorado at Rice-Eccles Stadium.
“They’ve provided great leadership for us all season long,” Whittingham said. “I’ve bragged on them in that respect all year as far as making sure things are done the right way as far as practice and how we conduct ourselves off the field.”
And now, despite a disappointing 4-7 season, the team is determined to send them off in a positive manner — with a win.
“It’s been a fun group to be around. We’re going to miss them,” Whittingham said. “There’s a lot of good football players in that group.”
All of the seniors are going to graduate by May or perhaps December.
“We’re very proud of that,” Whittingham said. “That’s the main reason they’re here is to get their degree and have a future for themselves and the degree gives them that future. And so, they’ve all taken care of business.”
The players will be honored in pregame ceremonies Saturday. The list includes: linebacker Quade Chappuis, receiver Anthony Denham, receiver Sean Fitzgerald, defensive tackle Latu Heimuli, receiver Phil Hinson, defensive back Mike Honeycutt, center Vyncent Jones, running back Soni Kinikini, cornerback Keith McGill, defensive end Thretton Palamo, defensive tackle Tenny Palepoi, defensive end/linebacker Trevor Reilly, offensive lineman Percy Taumoelau, offensive lineman Jeremiah Tofaeono, receiver Tanqueray Towns, defensive tackle LT Tuipulotu, safety Michael Walker, running back Karl Williams and running back Kelvin York.
“Oh man, it’s crazy. Time flies by. I still remember the first day I came in. I never thought I would make it through but time flew by,” Tofoeono said. “Things didn’t really work out the way (they were) planned for my last year. But we’ve got to go out with a bang. We’ve got to go out with a victory.”
Finishing on a good note, obviously, is of the utmost importance at the end of a tough season.
“It’s rough. It’s not a position I expected us to be in and neither did anyone else,” Palepoi said. “But it is what it is. We have to make the most of what we have in front of us and that’s going out with a ‘W.’”
MURPHY’S FUTURE: When asked if he’s considering turning pro at season’s end, junior tight end Jake Murphy didn’t exactly answer the question.
“I haven’t really thought about that much right now. I don’t really have a comment on that, specifically right now,” he said. “My main focus is just Colorado right now. That’s the main focus for me. So that’s all I’ve got to say right now.”
Murphy, who has 17 catches for 324 yards and four touchdowns this season, acknowledged it’s a situation he would have to talk to his family and coaches about. He missed four games with a broken wrist.
“It’s something that I haven’t really thought much about right now,” Murphy said. “But if it comes up my injury would definitely be something that I’d have to take into account.”
Whittingham, meanwhile, declined to discuss the situation.
“I don’t even think about that right now. We’ll have those conversations later on,” he said. “But we’re just happy that he’s back with us now and contributing in a big way.”
ACADEMIC HONOREES: Offensive lineman Marc Pouvave and linebacker V.J. Fehoko were named to the Pac-12 All-Academic first team. Fitzgerald and Honeycutt earned second-team recognition. Honorable mention honorees include: Dres Anderson, Denham, Hunter Dimick, linebacker Jacoby Hale, receiver Delshawn McClellon, linebacker Jared Norris, running back Bubba Poole, offensive lineman Jeremiah Poutasi, running back Lucky Radley, defensive back Eric Rowe, linebacker Jason Whittingham, quarterback Travis Wilson and York.
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