Ute tight end C.J. Johnson won't repeat what he said to the doctor at UTEP on Oct. 5, 1996, after a defender had fallen on his leg, planted on the artificial turf, and dislocated his left ankle and broke the tibia, leaving his foot bent at a 90 degree angle to the side.

That enemy doctor told Johnson he'd never play football again.Johnson, a former Marine, would have none of that.

"The doctor and me had a confrontation. I can't say what I said, but that's why I was back in the stadium in the fourth quarter," says Johnson, back after rehabbing for more than a year and who may start Saturday as the Utes try to regain their dignity against Utah State in Logan.

"I was worried about the game, about us winning. I said, `Just wrap me up and send me back, and I'll let the Utah doctor decide.' The doctors did a great job on my ankle," says Johnson, vying for playing time at one of Utah's best-stocked positions, where Andy Kassotis, Matt Nickel and even freshman Tony Dickamore are competitive.

"I basically put myself through boot camp at 5 o'clock in the morning working stadium stairs, lifting weights," Johnson says, thanking roommates Omar Bacon and Robert Love, his mother and coach Ron McBride for talking him through the pain.

"Some days were hard, running those stadium stairs when my ankle hurt," recalls Johnson. "I'd hear a voice saying, `Maybe this is not for you; you can't play this game again.' But the bigger voice was my mother. She taught me that no matter what, you've got to put it in your mind that you've got to play ball again, and I knew for a fact I'd be back."

"Once I took the first lick, from Colby Knight, it just felt good to be back," Johnson says.

He says the tight ends are a close group that supports each other and each brings something different to the table. Johnson's faster, Kassotis is faster sideline to sideline, and Nickel has an "NFL body," says Johnson, and is a combination of Johnson and Kassotis.

"I'm probably a more aggressive blocker because I like to stay on my man. I was in the Marine Corps, so naturally, I have aggression," Johnson says, claiming he'll be satisfied with whomever the coaches choose to play. "All of us ready. We're battlers, but we're good friends."

Johnson hopes to become a screenwriter and go to film school upon his graduation.

TRUST: Johnson knows a bit about trust, having had clearance to handle top-secret material as a Marine communicator. He trusts his quarterbacks. "I've got a lot of confidence in Darnell (Arceneaux, the sophomore who will start). I may be 26 years old, and he's 19 or 20, but when he comes into the huddle, he commands attention. He's a leader. No doubt about that. Where he leads, I will follow.

"Same thing with Crosswhite," Johnson says of senior Jonathan, who started nine games last year. "Doesn't matter who's on that football field, those guys come into the huddle, they command attention, they command everything, like a drill sergeant."

TWO-DEEP: A change in the two-deep announced early this week has sophomore Ed Ta'amu starting at left defensive end.

Also, McBride said Tuesday that sophomore Kautai Olevao may start at linebacker soon. He's just back from an LDS mission, but he's 15 pounds heavier and in terrific shape, "like he hasn't missed a practice, so I don't know what he was doing on his mission," McBride jokes.

DART WATCH: McBride said defensive back Brandon Dart, who missed all of last season with an injury and injured a foot early in training camp this season, attended practice Monday but was still in a cast. He was to miss four to five weeks from the mid-August date of the injury, and McBride was unsure if that's still accurate.