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Utah football: Injured Utes likely can appreciate this Emily Dickinson poem

Taking inventory of Utah's injury and academic issues

Published: Friday, July 31 2015 11:35 a.m. MDT

Utah Utes quarterback Travis Wilson (7) throws under pressure from Utah Utes defensive lineman Stevie Tu'ikolovatu (97)  during a  team scrimmage in Salt Lake City  Friday, April 5, 2013. Tu'ikolovatu has since suffered injury and will be out for the season. (Jeffrey D. Allred, Deseret News) Utah Utes quarterback Travis Wilson (7) throws under pressure from Utah Utes defensive lineman Stevie Tu'ikolovatu (97) during a team scrimmage in Salt Lake City Friday, April 5, 2013. Tu'ikolovatu has since suffered injury and will be out for the season. (Jeffrey D. Allred, Deseret News)

After the death of Gaius Vaenuku and a few career-ending injuries, the Utah football team may appreciate Emily Dickinson’s “Exultation is the going”:

"Exultation is the going Of an inland soul to sea, Past the houses — past the headlands — Into deep Eternity —

"Bred as we, among the mountains, Can the sailor understand The divine intoxication Of the first league out from land?"

Players including sophomore safety Reshawn Hooker and redshirt freshman defensive end Moses Folauhola are handing that next step. With incessant tendinitis, senior linebacker Brian Blechen may too be looking out to sea.

Such “tough” situations, as coach Kyle Whittingham has recently described them, have afflicted several student-athletes since late July and into fall camp. Others like defensive tackle Latu Heimuli are making a comeback, perhaps putting proper perspective into a temporary setback.

Reshawn Hooker (Utah) suffered a concussion near the beginning of fall camp, and his playing career is over. (Tom Smart, University of Utah Athletics) Reshawn Hooker (Utah) suffered a concussion near the beginning of fall camp, and his playing career is over. (Tom Smart, University of Utah Athletics)

With Whittingham saying he'll no longer comment on injuries, here's a roundup of Utes who have faced setbacks in fall camp.

Season-ending: Stevie Tu'ikolovatu and Jarrell Oliver

Tu’ikolovatu has suffered a foot injury after first walking on in 2009 before serving a mission for the LDS Church. An impressive spring for Tu’ikolovatu (6-1, 320 pounds) had gone a long way toward assuring that he would play prominently this fall. He entered the week of Aug. 12 as a co-leader for a starting position on the offensive line, which is seeking to replace three NFL players. The former East High captain was competing with LT Tuipoulotu and Heimuli for a spot on the interior part of the unit alongside expected star Tenny Palepoi.

Oliver re-injured a broken foot he suffered last season. Among four games he appeared in last season, the sophomore’s highlight was a start in Utah’s crazy win over BYU, when he rushed for 52 yards on 23 carries.

Oliver (5-8, 213) had missed spring ball while recovering from his previous injury.

Temporary: Jason Whittingham and Travis Wilson

Whittingham has endured hand surgery that is expected to keep the sophomore defensive end out of action for two to three weeks. That will probably cause Whittingham (6-2, 240), the fastest end on the team, to miss the Aug. 29 season opener against Chuckie Keeton and Utah State.

Wilson’s mild ankle sprain that kept him on the sidelines on Aug. 14 didn’t seem to be much of a factor by the time the scrimmage rolled around later that week. Though he threw an interception, Wilson (6-6, 240), went 12-of-18 for 281 yards and two touchdowns on the 18th, solidifying his starting job. Now a team captain, Wilson had insisted earlier in the week that he would be fine.

But it’s always concerning when your projected starting quarterback has a physical infirmity of any sorts.

Uncertain: Brian Blechen and Tevin Carter

An All Pac-12 honorable mention, Blechen hasn’t practiced much this fall after being slowed by tendinitis in both knees but saw extensive action in the Utes’ Aug. 18 scrimmage, when he intercepted a pass.

When the Deseret News’ Dirk Facer asked Blechen (6-2, 225) if he planned on playing this fall rather than redshirting, Blechen expressed no doubt.

“Of course I do,” he said.

Whittingham said that’s up to him, adding that Blechen is benefitting from the long practice days he hasn’t experienced regularly since last season.

Blechen has declined additional comment about his situation.

Carter’s uncertain academic status prompted coaches to switch Reshawn Hooker, who was Blechen’s reserve at stud linebacker, to safety before yet another concussion ended Hooker’s career.

Clarence Smith (6-3, 215) is a 17-year-old freshman being brought to Salt Lake City earlier than expected to provide emergency relief following Hooker’s non-football-qualifying status.

What is certain: Carter (6-1, 213) will not be enrolled this fall because of academic issues. It’s not the first time the young man has struggled with his report card. He originally signed with Cal in 2010 after being named a four-star receiver by Rivals.com and Scout.com out of Santee High (Calif.). He instead transferred to Los Angeles Southwest College after troubles with grades.

Because of Carter’s immense athletic ability, it’s probably no surprise that he was a 2011 and 2012 first-team all-conference safety and the team’s leading defender last season, with 62 tackles and three interceptions.

Whittingham said his team was counting mightily on Carter. His absence likely means that sophomore Charles Henderson, a converted receiver, will likely start along with star junior Eric Rowe. Junior Tyron Morris-Edwards — with his nine games of experience — is also in the mix.

Rhett Wilkinson is a project manager for UtahPolicy.com and hails the true-blooded Aggies from Utah. The co-founder of magazine Aggie BluePrint.com, he's been an intern for the Deseret News and other publications. rhett.wilkinson@usu.edu | @wilklogan

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