SALT LAKE CITY — Lost in the shuffle of Utah's impending graduation departures is the program's starting quarterback with the most Pac-12 victories — Jon Hays.
The senior, who has seen little action since being replaced as the starter by true freshman Travis Wilson on Oct. 13, will dress for his final game with the Utes Friday afternoon at Colorado.
"It's tough to see it come to an end, but I'm definitely grateful for the whole experience," said Hays, who started in four of Utah's six Pac-12 wins the past two seasons.
Hays, who wound up at Utah after his original destination, Nebraska-Omaha, dropped football, has quite a story to tell.
Despite not participating in spring ball, Hays wound up stepping in for the injured Jordan Wynn last season and made nine starts. The Utes went 6-3 during that stretch, including a win over Georgia Tech in the Sun Bowl.
Hays was also called into starting duty this season when Wynn went down with another shoulder injury. He led Utah past rival BYU, but was replaced by Wilson after the Utes lost to Arizona State and USC. Since then, Hays' playing time has been limited to one crucial play (a fourth-down touchdown throw at UCLA) and mop-up time in a blowout win over Washington State.
"It's definitely the hardest thing I've ever had to do," Hays said. "It's really a humbling experience."
Although Hays noted that it's been crazy, he's grateful for the group of guys that have been his teammates at Utah. He's made some lifelong friends.
Playing in the Pac-12 is also something Hays treasures.
"It was definitely a cool experience. I'll definitely take it with me the rest of my life," he said. "I'll use a lot of the things I learned here when I'm a coach."
Patience and hard work are among the things Hays has learned to appreciate during his time with the Utes.
"A lot of people don't see what goes on behind the curtain," Hays said, while noting that Utah's quarterbacks study film and prepare each night until 7:30.
That, in itself, has taught him a life lesson about any challenge.
"If you want to master your craft you've got to put in the time," Hays said.
Hays leaves the program with mixed emotions about this past season. However, he said his overall experience was positive and he "was happy to spend it at Utah."
Of his special moments as a senior, Hays enjoyed coming into the UCLA game the week he was benched and throwing a 1-yard touchdown pass to Dres Anderson on fourth down in the fourth quarter. Hays stepped in because Wilson's helmet had come off on the previous play and by rule Wilson had to sit out the next play.
Being able to come through in that situation, Hays acknowledged, was rewarding.
"That was nice. I'm not going to lie," he said. "It felt good, especially with what I had been through that week. So it was definitely a cool deal."
ABOUT THEM BUFFS: Colorado is suffering through a 1-10 campaign in Jon Embree's second season as head coach. The Buffaloes' lone victory was a 35-34 decision at Washington State on Sept. 22. Setbacks include non-conference games to Colorado State, Fresno State and Sacramento State, as well as league losses to UCLA, Arizona State, USC, Oregon, Stanford, Arizona and Washington by a combined score of 355-85.
BACK IN THE MIX: Senior receiver DeVonte Christopher worked his way back into the rotation last week against Arizona. Christopher made three catches for a season-high 84 yards in his final game at Rice-Eccles Stadium, including a 36-yard touchdown grab.
"It definitely felt good to be back out there and to be playing," Christopher said, while noting his displeasure that the Utes didn't win the game. "But to just get the chance to go out and play (in the) last home game — Senior Night — was definitely a good experience."
QUIET CONTRIBUTOR: Utah coach Kyle Whittingham acknowledged the contributions of snapper Patrick Greene over the past four seasons.
"Those guys go unnoticed until they screw up," Whittingham said. "If they're unnoticed that's a good thing because that means they're doing their job exactly as it needs to be done. Patrick has been a very solid, steady performer for us."
EXTRA POINTS: Junior running back Kelvin York, who has missed the past three games with a high ankle sprain, returned to practice this week. ... Freshman running back Jarrell Oliver had foot surgery Monday. ... Linebacker/defensive end Trevor Reilly leads safety Eric Rowe, 64-59, for the team lead in tackles.
Copyright 2015, Deseret News Publishing Company