SAN DIEGO As soon as Eric Weddle knew the Utes were going to the Poinsettia Bowl, he started making plans and checking schedules.
To his delight, the San Diego Chargers rookie learned he had plenty of time to hang out with his former teammates and coaches during bowl week.
"It all worked out perfect," Weddle said while watching Utah's practice at the University of San Diego Monday morning. "I'm excited stoked I can be around the team this much."
Weddle and wife, Chanel, are spending three nights at the Utes' team hotel in a room on a floor where the players are staying.
"It's great. He's going to be with us this whole week, and it'll be nice to be with him," senior safety Steve Tate said. "It's always good to have your brother, so to speak, back."
The reunion is special for Weddle as well.
"I'm loving it," he said. "It's been a long time since I've seen them."
Weddle arrived at the San Diego Sheraton Hotel and Marina a few hours after the Utes watched him play in the Chargers' 51-14 victory over the Lions Sunday at Qualcomm Stadium.
"It's just been amazing to see everyone all the players and coaches. This is like my extended family," he explained. "I feel close to a majority of all of these guys here. They're like my family, like my brothers. I really treat it like that."
As such, Weddle noted, he values any opportunity to be around them and to show his support.
"That's the way this team is," Weddle said. "We're just a close-knit group, and we're always there for each other."
Weddle hopes to shed light on his ex-teammates to cherish the moment and realize that there's nothing like the relationships built in college football.
"I'm just hanging out with them and trying to spend as much time as I can," he said.
Weddle, in fact, may even join the Utes at Sea World Tuesday a place he hasn't seen since he was 5-years-old or so.
Life in the NFL hasn't changed his support for the program.
"I'm still the same old guy," he said. "I've still got my Honda.
I'm the same Eric that went up to Utah four years ago."
As such, Weddle is confident the Utes will prevail on Thursday.
"I think they're going to do well," he said while praising his alma mater's speed and athleticism. "I think Navy is going to have some problems matching up with this team."
THE GREAT OUTDOORS: For the first time in several weeks, the Utes were able to practice outdoors. Typical San Diego weather prevailed Monday morning.
"It's great to be back outside," Utah coach Kyle Whittingham said. "It's always good to be outdoors."
Conditions at the University of San Diego's football stadium were a little damp, so practice was moved to the adjacent practice fields and its artificial turf.
"It's nice to be here and finally get closer to game time," Tate said while noting the weather, a striking contrast to chilly Salt Lake City. "It's getting kind of repetitive these practices we're kind of getting to the point where we are itching to play now."
PROPER PERSPECTIVE: Utah quarterback Brian Johnson insists the Utes have the maturity necessary to maintain their focus during a bowl week filled with activities off the field.
"It can be tough, but that's the challenge of being in a bowl," he said. "You want to have fun, but at the same time you want to stay sharp and be ready to play."
Tate, like Johnson, is confident Utah will meet the challenge.
"We always have a good handle on things," Tate said. "We know we're here for one purpose and that's to win the game. At the same time we find ourselves having fun."
It's a reward, he added, for having a good season.
"You've just got to flip the switch," senior center Kyle Gunther explained.EXTRA POINTS: Starting cornerback Brice McCain banged his knee in Monday's practice. Whittingham said it did not involve a twisting or ligament situation and expects the junior to be just fine. McCain, who acknowledged suffering a bruise, returned to practice and said he will play Thursday night ... A Navy official told the San Diego Union-Tribune that the academy has sold 14,000 tickets to the bowl game. Utah's estimated ticket sales are around 5,000 ... The Midshipmen attended Tuesday night's basketball game between Navy and San Diego State.
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