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Utah Utes football: Talented trio of newcomers battling for reps at running back

Published: Saturday, Aug. 6 2011 12:25 a.m. MDT

John White IV (Tom Smart, University of Utah Athletics) John White IV (Tom Smart, University of Utah Athletics)

SALT LAKE CITY — Yes and no.

That, in a nutshell, aptly describes Utah's situation at running back.

Yes, the Utes have a trio of talented competitors occupying the top of the depth chart. And no, none of them have a single down of major college football experience.

Even so, there's a quiet confidence that true freshman Harvey Langi, rugby star Thretton Palamo and junior college transfer John White IV, or a combination thereof, will get the job done in Utah's first season in the Pac-12.

Langi, the true freshman, acknowledged it's a bit crazy that there's only newcomers to the program competing for the ball-carrying job this year.

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That, however, is where things sit after co-starters Matt Asiata and Eddie Wide graduated and heir apparent Sausan Shakerin was forced to give up football because of injuries.

"They're all three working hard," Utah coach Kyle Whittingham said while noting all three are doing good things early in camp. "You're really not going to be able to separate those guys until we start to get some physical contact going. That's when the separation should start to take place."

Utah is still in the midst of the NCAA's acclimatization period and won't don full gear until next week.

"We'd like to see one or two guys separate themselves. There's just not enough reps for three, in my opinion," Whittingham said. "Featuring one or two backs is fine, but you just can't do it with three. So we'll see what happens."

Harvey Langi (Tom Smart, University of Utah Athletics) Harvey Langi (Tom Smart, University of Utah Athletics)

The competition is laced with intrigue. Each back brings a different background to the situation:

Langi is a highly touted All-American out of Bingham High. The 6-foot-1, 225-pounder ran for 4,289 yards and 55 touchdowns in his prep career with the Miners. He graduated early and enrolled at Utah in January.

Palamo is an international rugby star who has participated in World Cup competitions for the United States and Samoa. The 6-foot-4, 240-pound walk-on, whose previous football experience includes two seasons at Davis High in Sacramento, Calif., made an immediate impression at Utah in spring ball.

At 5-foot-8 and 186 pounds, White is the smallest of the trio. However, he put up some big numbers during his career at Los Angeles Harbor College. White set school records for career all-purpose yards (3,767), career rushing yards (2,527), points (248), total touchdowns (41) and rushing touchdowns (34).

Thretton Palamo (Tom Smart, University of Utah Athletics) Thretton Palamo (Tom Smart, University of Utah Athletics)

Utah quarterback Jordan Wynn said all of the running backs are doing a pretty good job in camp. After two days in helmets and shorts, however, the deadlock has yet to be broken. That could change soon, though, when things get more physical with the addition of pads as the Utes work through the NCAA-mandated acclimatization period.

"We're awfully anxious to have somebody step up — one or two guys step up — and they haven't done that yet," said offensive coordinator Norm Chow. "It's only the second day. We get very impatient, and that's what you do as a coach."

The candidates, who have become friends and root for one another, are eager to show what they can do.

"Everyone knows we have the competition up for running back right now," Langi said. "The stakes are high and we need the perfect guy for that. But we have a lot of talent at this spot."

While noting he has a lot of work to do, Langi vows to give everything he's got to the team. So, too, he added, are the other backs. Although they're helping each other, all are gunning for the top spot on the depth chart.

"That's the fun of the game — to compete," Langi said.

White agrees.

"It's pretty wide open. But you know we all compete and whoever works hardest gets the position," he said, while noting the players are keeping it all in proper perspective. "We all love each other. We all back each other up. We're a big family. So when someone's in, we're rooting for them. So it's not too bad."

As the self-proclaimed "stranger" who entered the race as a walk-on, Palamo knows the other two backs have highlights and are well known as running backs.

Even so, he considers it a healthy competition. It's also quite competitive.

"We all want to play," Palamo said. "But we're all willing to share the rock. We've all become pretty good friends."

Running back race

Utah opens camp with three running backs sharing the top spot on the depth chart.

HARVEY LANGI (6-1, 225, freshman): Former Bingham High star graduated early and enrolled at Utah in January.

THRETTON PALAMO (6-2, 240, sophomore): International rugby star walked on to the football team in spring ball.

JOHN WHITE IV (5-8, 186, junior): Transfer rushed for 2,527 yards and 34 touchdowns at L.A. Harbor (Calif.) College.Utah camp report

DAY 2: The Utes practiced in helmets and shorts Friday morning at Rice-Eccles Stadium.

STANDOUTS: Utah coach Kyle Whittingham said quarterback Jordan Wynn was solid once again. He also praised the play of wide receivers DeVonte Christopher and Reggie Dunn. On defense, Whittingham said lineman Joe Kruger and safety Keith McGill continued to improve and show a lot of "positive things."

INJURIES: Linebacker Brian Blechen returned to practice after suffering a bee sting in his throat Thursday. Wide receiver Anthony Denham, however, could be out for weeks with a hamstring injury.

NEXT UP: Practice resumes Saturday morning with the addition of shoulder pads.Utah camp report

DAY 2: The Utes practiced in helmets and shorts Friday morning at Rice-Eccles Stadium.

STANDOUTS: Utah coach Kyle Whittingham said quarterback Jordan Wynn was solid once again. He also praised the play of wide receivers DeVonte Christopher and Reggie Dunn. On defense, Whittingham said lineman Joe Kruger and safety Keith McGill continued to improve and show a lot of "positive things."

INJURIES: Linebacker Brian Blechen returned to practice after suffering a bee sting in his throat Thursday. Wide receiver Anthony Denham, however, could be out for weeks with a hamstring injury.

NEXT UP: Practice resumes this morning with the addition of shoulder pads.Running back race

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