SALT LAKE CITY — Don’t call Sean Fitzgerald and Mike Honeycutt old. Experienced, mature or wise might be better words.
Fitzgerald and Honeycutt are two of the oldest players on the Utah football team, among five who are 25 years old. Offensive tackle Junior Salt is the oldest, followed by team captain Trevor Reilly. Fitzgerald is a few months younger than Reilly, while Honeycutt, who just turned 25 on Sunday, is slightly younger than tight end Westlee Tonga.
All are returned LDS missionaries who have been around the program so long that a lot of their teammates were still in grade school when each signed with Utah. While their fellow 25-year-olds are listed as starters, reserves Fitzgerald and Honeycutt are still valuable members of the team, even if they are backups at their respective positions.
“They are very unselfish and they play a vital role for us.’’ said coach Kyle Whittingham of the players. “They’ve been here a lot of years — returned missionaries — so they’re both older. They know our system and program as well as anybody and what’s expected and they both bring a great attitude and great work ethic every single day.’’
Fitzgerald acknowledges being one of the oldest on the team “physically,” but adds “I also feel like I’m looking after the younger guys and helping them. It helps being around awhile. I feel like the younger guys kind of look up to the older guys. I feel like the eyes are on me and I have to set the example for the tone and the pace of how we do things around here.’’
“Naturally because you’re older, you have more maturity and know how to conduct yourself on and off the field,’’ adds Honeycutt.
Both Fitzgerald and Honeycutt are stalwarts on the Utes' special teams, roles they don’t take lightly.
The 5-foot-10, 181-pound Honeycutt, who prepped at Lone Peak High School, has been on special teams most of his career at Utah and will play on three of the four this year — punt, punt return and kickoff return teams.
“I love it,’’ he says. “It’s a good chance for me to show my athleticism to go all out 100 percent. At Utah, special teams are held really high, so before you can make your name known on offense or defense, you have to make it on special teams. It’s an honor to play there.’’
“He’s been a great special teams player ever since he arrived,’’ Whittingham said. “Great attitude, great work ethic. Same thing can be said about Fitz.’’
Fitzgerald (6-3, 200) came to Utah from Mission Viejo, Calif., and plays on both kick return teams, but may see a lot of action as a wide receiver this year after the Utes lost several receivers from last year’s team.
Right now, Kenneth Scott, Dres Anderson and Anthony Denham are penciled in as the starters, but Fitzgerald isn’t far behind.
“He’s worked his way into the rotation,’’ said Whittingham, who singled him out after a practice earlier this week for his solid play. “Experience is great, but he’s playing well. He was an excellent high school receiver and has some great ability.’’
“We’ve got a lot of good receivers — Dres, Scott and A.D., and some new guys that came in like Andre Lewis — a lot of guys that can contribute,’’ Fitzgerald said. “I feel like I’m one of those guys. I’m going to contribute any way I can, on special teams and as a receiver too. I just play football. I’m here to help the team and have fun out there. I’m looking forward to contributing a lot more than I have before.’’
Honeycutt isn’t expected to break out of a crowded group of cornerbacks, but he’s happy to contribute, like Fitzgerald, any way he can. He expects a great season for the Utes.
“We’ve worked harder than any year since I’ve been here,’’ he said. “I’ve definitely pushed myself and seen the team push themselves harder than any other year and I definitely think we’re ready. I think we’re ready to tackle any challenge any team can give us.’’
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