Utah Utes to face familiar faces in football season opener

Published: Wednesday, July 9 2014 4:35 p.m. MDT

Updated: Wednesday, July 9 2014 4:37 p.m. MDT

Idaho State football assistant coaches Steve Fifita and Spencer Toone at the All Poly Camp in Layton. The former Utes will be on the visiting sideline when Utah opens the season Aug. 28 at Rice-Eccles Stadium against the Bengals.

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SALT LAKE CITY — There will be a couple of familiar faces on the opposing sideline when Utah opens the football season against Idaho State in seven weeks. Former Utes Spencer Toone and Steve Fifita will be working with the Bengals at Rice-Eccles Stadium that night.

Toone is Idaho State’s co-defensive coordinator and safeties coaches, while Fifita oversees the defensive line. Both completed stellar careers for Utah’s defense in 2005 before heading to the NFL.

“It’ll be interesting being on the other sideline and looking around. It’s a place you’re very familiar with — yet, you’re all of a sudden the visitor,” Toone said. “So it’ll be a different experience but one that both myself and Steve Fifita will enjoy.”

Toone, a linebacker who made 113 tackles for the Utes as a senior, acknowledged that he’s looking forward to revisiting his alma mater where he has a lot of special memories.

“It’ll be a fun game, a fun atmosphere,” Toone said. “It’ll be great to see the stadium again.”

Fifita, a lineman who was the defensive MVP in Utah’s Fiesta Bowl win over Pittsburgh in January 2005, isn’t sure how it’ll feel to be back on the hill. However, he’s excited to come back and be part of that atmosphere — emphasizing that “there’s nothing like going back to your alma mater.”

The Aug. 28 season opener has been circled on his calendar from the get-go.

“I don’t reminisce too much. I don’t dwell on stuff from the past too much. But it’ll be tough to come out there and be in different colors,” Fifita said. “I’ve never cheered against Utah. So this will be the first time. It’ll be an interesting deal. So we’ll see what happens.

“You don’t know what you’ll go through until you step out there and do it,” he continued.

Utah coach Kyle Whittingham said it’s all just part of the business. He noted that in the world of coaching a lot of paths get crossed — friendships, associations and alma maters.

“In this profession that happens all the time,” Whittingham said.

Ironically, the game will also feature Whittingham and new Utah offensive coordinator Dave Christensen on the same sideline for the first time since the coaches worked together as assistants at Idaho State in 1990.

“It’s been awhile,” Whittingham acknowledged.

Now, it’s Toone and Fifita working together in Pocatello. They both joined Mike Kramer’s staff at Idaho State in 2013.

Toone, a Blackfoot, Idaho, native who played for the Tennessee Titans, prepped for his current position with graduate assistant stints at Florida and Utah State. Fifita’s professional playing career included stops with the Frankfurt Galaxy (NFL Europa), Miami Dolphins, New England Patriots and Alabama Vipers (AFL). He helped coordinate Utah football academics before moving north to coach.

“It’s great to see those guys doing so well with their careers this early on,” Whittingham said.

Toone and Fifita, though, are busy helping to building a program. Idaho State went just 3-9 in 2013 and lost its last six games, including season-ending setbacks at BYU (59-13) and Weber State (32-7).

Now comes a Pac-12 opponent.

It’s a challenge the Bengals relish.

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