SALT LAKE CITY —
Kyle Whittingham has heard the same question dozens of times since June 2010: Does it feel like he's in the Pac-12 now? How about now? Or maybe nnnnnnnow!
He was asked about it on the day the Utes announced they were moving to a new conference. And during the season last year, even though the Utes were still in the Mountain West. And again following the Las Vegas Bowl. It was practically the first question of spring practice this year, too, as well as the Red-White game.
So when a TV reporter asked him Thursday whether it felt any different, now that the Utes are officially (surprise!) in a new league, Whittingham said, "Not really."
No disrespect intended. It's just that Pac-12 practice is a lot like any other practice. It's also like the first day of grade school. At first you're excited, nervous, happy and maybe a little bit scared. A week later, you realize you're back in school, same as always.
"I'd say after the first week (of practice), it hits you," said defensive end Dave Kruger. "I don't know how to describe it. You just get used to it and just go through it. Before you know it, it's over and you've gone a full season."
Some things just aren't glamorous, no matter how you polish them: flossing your teeth, purchasing groceries, mowing the lawn. Neither are two-a-days, which begin this week.
The Utes wrapped up their third practice session Saturday, looking curiously like they did last year after three practices ... and the year before that ... and the year before that. There are a few minor changes, such as the rock music bleating from the sound system all workout long. Among the other differences: The opening-day media contingent was as large as some bowl games, and workouts now include legendary offensive coordinator Norm Chow.
Still, the Utes could just as easily have been preparing for another season of games against New Mexico, UNLV and Colorado State. Same stuff, different year. The defense avoids tackling the quarterback; the kickers go off by themselves; the segment horns sound right on schedule; whistles blow.
Blocking, passing and agility drills proceed, just as they do on every field, with every team. They lift weights, stretch, scrimmage, watch film, study plays, polish technique. It's so familiar, most of them could do this in their sleep.
The most interesting occurrence so far this year came when linebacker Brian Blechen swallowed a bee on the first day and had to get treated at a hospital. Otherwise, it's been as routine as an oil change.
First comes the exhilaration of a new season, or as linebacker Chaz Walker notes, "everyone wants to be out here flying around."
But soon it turns into work.
"As far as the Pac-12 (talk) goes, that's done already," Chow said. "Now it's a grind. We've got to grind away."
"We're grinders," quarterback Jordan Wynn noted on Thursday.
It really will be different when the games are played. As Kruger put it, "The Pac-12 is going to be different, the teams will be different, but as far as the way we practice, it's all the same."
Same as it's been for eons, no matter what the conference or season. So how do they stay interested?
"Just thinking about those games, how you're going to do, imagining yourself in those games. Am I going to go half speed in two-a-days, because it's hard and I don't want to be here, or are you going to go full speed and try your hardest?" Kruger said.
The whole business brings to mind the observation by noted philosopher Allen Iverson, who once said: "I mean listen, we're sitting here talking about practice. Not a game, not a game, not a game ... but we're talking about practice."
You have to admit, the man had a point.
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