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Tom Smart, Deseret News
Quarterback Jon Hays and coach Norm Chow at the University of Utah football team practice Thursday, Aug. 18, 2011, in Salt Lake City, Utah.

SALT LAKE CITY — Back in the late 1940s when the Boston Braves had two great pitchers in Warren Spahn and Johnny Sain and little else, a sportswriter coined the famous phrase, "Spahn and Sain and pray for rain."

If you're looking for a way to describe the Utah football team's quarterback situation this year, it could be "Jordan Wynn . . . just pray he never takes it on the chin."

OK, that's a mouthful, which won't ever be repeated after today. The point is, Ute coaches, as well as fans, must be a bit nervous about the U. quarterback situation this year considering Wynn's fragility during the past couple of years and the lack of experience backing him up.

The gap between the starting quarterback and the backup at Utah looks to be the widest in the seven-year tenure of Ute coach Kyle Whittingham, who's had solid backup quarterbacks such as Brett Ratliff, Tommy Grady, Corbin Louks and Terrance Cain.

That's nothing against Ute backup Jon Hays, who has been making daily progress since the start of fall camp.

However, the simple fact is, Hays is an unheralded JC transfer who joined the team earlier this month. The other two quarterbacks in camp are redshirt freshman Tyler Shreve and a walk-on from Wisconsin named Adam Schulz, who are "clearly" behind Hays at this point, according to Whittingham. And Hays is just as clearly behind Wynn.

Hays was actually headed to a Division II school before it suddenly dropped its football program five months ago. He was more than happy when he got a surprise call from Utah.

Coming off a good year at Butte College, where Ratliff played, Hays was slated to go to Nebraska — uh, that is, Nebraska-Omaha, a Division II school, 55 miles away from the traditional football power in Lincoln. However, when the school suddenly dropped football in mid-March, just a month after he signed a letter of intent, Hays was a quarterback without a college.

Hays never had another Division I offer, either out of high school, out of junior college or even after Nebraska-Omaha dropped its program, except for Utah.

His numbers at Butte weren't eye-popping — 10 touchdowns, 10 interceptions, 54 percent completion rate for 1,823 yards in 11 games. But after converting reserve quarterback Griff Robles to linebacker and not being impressed enough with Shreve in spring ball, the Utes needed another QB and grabbed Hays.

"Coach (Norm) Chow called me one day and after talking with him and seeing what he's done with other quarterbacks, there was no decision in my mind," said Hays, a native of Paradise, Calif.

Chow said Hays was highly recommended by people at Butte and Nebraska-Omaha and he calls Hays, "a high-character guy."

As for his supposed lack of credentials, Hays isn't concerned, saying, "I've been overlooked my whole life."

Hays got off to a rocky start with three interceptions and was sacked several times in Utah's first scrimmage. However, he has come back in the last two scrimmages with strong numbers, earning praise from the coaches.

"Jon Hays has gotten better every single day and he works at it," says U. quarterbacks coach Brian Johnson. "Everybody starts off without experience. We've got three young guys and they've been a really good group so far."

Based on Wynn's history, Hays is likely to be taking some game snaps at some point this year.

Wynn is coming off shoulder surgery in the off-season after playing the final seven regular-season games in apparent pain. Earlier in the season he missed two games with a sprained thumb.

During fall camp, his passing has been kept to a minimum as a precaution and then last week he sat out two days with some sort of virus.

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Whether Hays will prove to be a capable backup while seeing important time on the field remains to be seen. But he says he's ready for the challenge.

"I was a little overwhelmed at first, but I'm starting to get more comfortable with everything," Hays said. "I'm taking reps every day and working hard at it. I feel like once I get comfortable we can really click as an offense That's all on me."

If Wynn can stay relatively healthy and Hays can fill in when needed, perhaps by the end of the year everyone will be saying of the Ute quarterbacks, "Wynn and Hays deserve all the praise."

Email: sor@desnews.com