Utah football notes: Utes roll out the red carpet

Published: Saturday, April 19 2014 8:05 p.m. MDT

University of Utah running back DevonTae Booker collides with Alex Wittingham during the Red vs White game at Rice-Eccles Stadium Saturday, April 19, 2014 in Salt Lake City.

Hugh Carey, Deseret News

SALT LAKE CITY — As usual, the Utah Utes rolled out the red carpet for their annual spring game at Rice-Eccles Stadium. Among the estimated crowd of more than 12,000 fans on hand Saturday afternoon were several former players who either participated in associated events or just checked things out from the sidelines.

“I love it. It’s great,” said Utah coach Kyle Whittingham. “Our alumni, they come back and they really give us a great deal of support, and that’s something that is a strong suit for our program.”

The feeling they have for the team and the desire to continue wanting to be a part of it, Whittingham added, speaks well to the experience that they had at the U.

“I love coming back,” said Stevenson Sylvester, a linebacker with the Pittsburgh Steelers since 2010. “I love everything about it.”

Sylvester, who recently purchased a home in Kaysville and trains at Utah’s new football facility, added that there’s nothing like Utah’s Red-White Game.

“We love it. I wish I was here during the season. So maybe when I retire from the league I’ll be able to come to more games during the season,” he said. “But this is awesome. I love the fans. I support this team and this university so much.”

Former teammate Robert Johnson, an NFL free agent who played safety for the Tennessee Titans from 2010-12, also enjoys his trips back.

“It’s always fun. Every time I come there’s always something new that is going on,” said Johnson, who checked out the Spence and Cleone Eccles Football Center for the first time on Friday. “It’s just a good feeling to be here and see the fans still recognize me and I still recognize certain fans. I’m just glad to be a Utah Ute.”

Tony Bergstrom, a guard for the Oakland Raiders, had similar thoughts — even though he expressed a little good-natured jealousy about Utah’s state-of-the-art football complex, complete with a chef overseeing the meals.

“It’s always good to be back,” he said. “Everything changes now. I come up here and get really annoyed because they didn’t have any of this great stuff when I was here.”

DEFENSIVE STANDOUTS: While much of the focus was on the offense, the defense had some bright performances despite being limited to a “base” scheme in the Red-White Game.

“I thought we did some good things,” said defensive coordinator Kalani Sitake. “It was nice to see us make some big plays today.”

Freshman linebacker Alex Whittingham led the victorious Red team with a game-high 12 tackles. Sophomore linebacker Sharrieff Shah Jr. topped the White squad with 11 stops. Redshirt freshmen Sal Velasquez and Filipo Mokofisi made interceptions and Daniel Nielsen recovered a fumble.

ALUMNI GAME: Before the spring game, the program’s alumni held their annual flag football game.

“It was a lot of fun getting together with these guys. A lot of us don’t know each other but with football comes kind of a built-in fraternity,” said former Utah safety Steve Tate. “So you always enjoy seeing these guys. It’s good carrying on and networking. There’s a brotherhood here that will remain for a long time.”

Scott Mitchell once again quarterbacked one of the teams.

“It’s a riot,” he said. “It’s really fun. We lost this year, which is the first year I’ve lost, so I’m not happy about that. I might have to have practices to get ready next year.”

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