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Brothers divided: Sitakes will be on opposite sides of rivalry on Saturday

Published: Wednesday, Nov. 16 2005 9:15 a.m. MST

Utah assistant coach Kalani Sitake, a former Cougar player, keeps a close eye on his Utes at a recent game. (Tom Smart, Deseret Morning News) Utah assistant coach Kalani Sitake, a former Cougar player, keeps a close eye on his Utes at a recent game. (Tom Smart, Deseret Morning News)
When Kalani and T.J. Sitake were kids growing up in Provo, they used to play a game they called "Down, Set, Hike."
"We'd stand about five yards apart," T.J. explains. "We'd get four downs each and try to run past each other, and we'd practice tackling each other."
The Sitake family didn't have much money, so instead of a football, they used a shoe.
"He was 9 and I was 5," T.J. says. "That's when we generated our love together for football. He's always been my mentor."
"We were best friends since we were little," Kalani remembers. "We got bloodied up playing every day for years. We did that until I was a senior in high school. I was older, but he was bigger or the same size as me. We were taught by our dad to be competitive. We would kill each other."
Utah's Kalani Sitake and Joe Jiannoni at last Saturday's game. Sitake is in his first year as the Utes' inside linebackers coach. (Tom Smart, Deseret Morning News) Utah's Kalani Sitake and Joe Jiannoni at last Saturday's game. Sitake is in his first year as the Utes' inside linebackers coach. (Tom Smart, Deseret Morning News)
Over the years, the brothers have remained close. "It's hard for us to be separated. Our voices, and the way we laugh, are similar," Kalani says. "People can't tell us apart on the phone. We're a lot like twins." On Saturday, when BYU hosts Utah in the annual grudge match, the Sitake brothers will be separated like never before as they compete on opposite sides of this bitter rivalry. It's just a different version of "Down, Set, Hike" but on a much larger stage, with much more at stake.
"I just wish I were playing on Saturday," Kalani says.
T.J. Sitake is a senior defensive lineman for the Cougars and Kalani Sitake, who played running back at BYU from 1994-2000, is in his first year as the Utes' inside linebackers coach.
Prior to the season, knowing that this game was looming on the horizon, they discussed it. "We wished each other the best. Our dream was for BYU and Utah to be undefeated going into this game," T.J. says. "I want us to win all the way. Both of us want to demolish each other. We've always been that way in anything. We're really competitive. And supportive, when we're not face-to-face."
BYU's T.J. Sitake carries the team colors at last Saturday's Wyoming game in Laramie. His brother was his role model growing up; now they'll oppose each other. (Scott G. Winterton, Deseret Morning News) BYU's T.J. Sitake carries the team colors at last Saturday's Wyoming game in Laramie. His brother was his role model growing up; now they'll oppose each other. (Scott G. Winterton, Deseret Morning News)
Kalani says he's trying not to think about the fact he's facing T.J.
"It doesn't matter that my brother's on the other side," Kalani says. "It doesn't change the way I prepare my players and it doesn't change the way I coach. For four hours on Saturday, it's all about winning. Afterwards, we'll hug and tell each other we love each other. There are a lot of divided homes in this state. That's what makes the rivalry great. It's a huge game."
T.J. and Kalani say they haven't talked much this season. "It's been very little, compared to how much we normally talk to each other," T.J. says. "We usually don't talk much during football season. He is a dedicated coach, like he was a player. Mostly, it's to congratulate or console each other after games."
Heavily recruited at Timpview High, T.J. decided to sign with BYU — in large part because he wanted to follow in his older brother's footsteps.
"I came to BYU pretty much because of him," T.J. says. "I looked up to him and watched him play. BYU's been a part of my life even before I came here. He's been my biggest inspiration."
The Sitakes were actually teammates for one season at BYU, in 1998. "Sometimes I sit in the locker room and try to remember what it was like hanging out with him," T.J. says.
After he finished up at BYU, Kalani began his coaching career at Eastern Arizona in 2001 before returning to Provo to serve as a graduate assistant at BYU in 2002. Then he spent two seasons as an assistant coach at Southern Utah. When Kalani accepted the job at Utah last winter, T.J. was thrilled for his brother, overlooking the fact that he would be working for the enemy.
"I have no mixed feelings at all," T.J. says. "I'm just happy for him. My brother will always love BYU, no matter where he works. I just look at it as him making progress as a coach. This is his first Division I job. It's a great situation for him. When it comes to football, the rivalry's still there. My loyalty's to BYU, of course. That doesn't change how hard I'm going to play for BYU. My heart and my loyalty is with BYU and this team."
For Kalani, taking a job at Utah was an easy choice, doing what was best for him and his family. He also realizes he's not the only one who has jumped from one side to the other in this rivalry. Former BYU wide receiver Aaron Roderick is in his first year as Utah's receivers coach, and Ute head coach Kyle Whittingham was a star linebacker for the Cougars in the 1980s.
"Life is about adjustments. Aaron and I are stuck in the middle," Kalani says. "We have a great role model in Kyle Whittingham. He's handled the situation well. I had a great experience down there (at BYU). Now it's a different chapter in my life. The rivalry is for fans. Football is my life. Right now, I'm a Ute. This is where I'm wanted."
Kalani does acknowledge that it will be strange to be with the opposing team at LaVell Edwards Stadium. "I've never been to the visitor's locker room," he says. "I have no idea what it looks like. There's a first time for everything."
As for the Sitake family, rivalries are nothing new.
"My family's always been the supportive type. They always cheer for people, they don't cheer against people," T.J. says. "This just gives them more people to cheer for. Kalani and I have a brother and sister that went to Utah. We've been in this situation before. Even here in Provo, I went to Timpview High and my sister went to Provo High. We always end up on opposite sides. But it definitely makes it interesting."
There is another family connection in this year's Ute-Cougar matchup. Utah quarterback Brian Johnson and BYU wide receiver Michael Reed, who both hail from Baytown, Texas, are cousins.
Of course, Johnson won't play this week due to a season-ending knee injury.
"We're pretty close. We talk two or three times a week," Johnson says. "I try to keep in contact with him to see what's going on and stuff . . . So it's a pretty close relationship between the two of us."
Prior to this week, the two hadn't talked much about this weekend's showdown.
"We've just been kind of taking the season one game at a time," Johnson says. "And now, obviously, I'm pretty sure we'll get a couple of trash-talking phone calls in between during the week. We really haven't talked about the rivalry, but it ought to be a fun experience."
Johnson is hoping that Reed doesn't have a good game this week.
"I don't want to see him do well at all," he says. "That's my cousin, but I do want to see the Utes win."


Utah - BYU on the air

Utah (5-5, 3-4) at BYU (6-4, 5-2)
Saturday, 1 p.m., LaVell Edwards Stadium
TV: Ch. 14
Radio: 1160 AM, 102.7 FM, 700 AM


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