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Laura Seitz, Deseret News
Sealver Siliga thinks experience as a starter at defensive tackle will allow him to take a step forward this season.

SALT LAKE CITY — Utah defensive tackle Sealver Siliga is seeing things a little different now. The game has "slowed down" for the junior.

Kyle Whittingham said it's a term the coaches use when a player starts to get it.

And Siliga, he explained, gets it.

"His head's not spinning. He can process what he sees, and he's able to react and be a player instead of just trying to survive," Whittingham said. "When the game is going fast you're in survival mode, which most of our freshmen are in still."

Sometimes it takes a year or two for the game to slow down, he added, "But once that does happen a player really seems to settle in and come into his own."

After playing in 25 games and making nine starts over his first two years at Utah, Siliga is positioned to make an even bigger impact this season. The Copper Hills alum, who was recently elected to be a team captain, has been one of the stars of camp.

"No question. In fact, right now, he's unblockable by our offensive linemen," said Whittingham, who compares him to former Ute standout Steve Fifita. "He's doing really good things and we need him to play at that level all year long."

Siliga, an all-conference candidate, is building on last year's success when he made 49 tackles, including 6.5 behind the line of scrimmage.

"I'm 100 percent more focused," he said. "I mean, everything has slowed down so much for me since my freshman and sophomore years that it just feels like now I can go out there and contribute my best."

As the full-time starter at defensive tackle, Siliga and his 6-foot-3, 299-pound frame will be a force to reckon with up front. He's excited for the opportunity and his newfound vision for the game.

"I'm having a blast. Now I see how Paul (Kruger) and Koa (Misi) and them saw the game. I mean how slow it went down when they started getting older," Siliga said. "It seems like every year that goes by the game slows down more and I can recognize things better."

John Pease, Siliga's position coach, noted that it comes with experience. Some guys take advantage of it and become great players.

"The thing about Sealver right now is he understands the game," Pease said. "More than just the one piece of the chessboard, he understands the whole chessboard."

That includes knowing what formations can do to him, he added, as well as being aware of where plays and blocks can come from and the type of protections he's going to get.

Such understanding is the result of a growth process, Peace explained.

"I'm excited about his future," he said.

Siliga acknowledges it's been a journey. He's using his experiences to help others come along.

"I look at them as how I was when I came in my freshman year. I didn't know what the heck was going on. Everything just went 100 times faster than high school. It was just all discombobulated and stuff," Siliga said. "I try to help out with the younger guys and establish myself as a leader, so they can look up to me and I can help them out when they don't know anything or they make a mistake or something."

All the while, however, Siliga is focusing on the task at hand — Pittsburgh, Sept. 2 at Rice-Eccles Stadium. He and his teammates have been watching film of the Panthers since summer.

"We've been trying to get ourselves prepared for this game," he said while emphasizing that the Utes will be able to replace seven starters on defense. "I'm 100 percent confident. I would go to war with these guys any day. I see these guys work everyday."

Siliga, the only non-senior chosen to be a captain, knows a thing or two about hard work. His 525-pound squat is the best on the line.

Preparation in the weight room and on the practice field have him eager to start the season.

"Ever since that first day of spring ball, we've been looking forward to this," Siliga said.

"I just want to get in and start football already, start hitting someone else instead of my own teammates."

e-mail: dirk@desnews.com