HENDERSON, Nev. — Utah quarterback Brian Johnson has fond memories of last year's Mountain West Conference football meetings at the Green Valley Ranch Resort & Spa. While walking through the facility with Steve Tate, he watched his teammate scoop up a $100 casino chip off the floor.

"Steve was really lucky he found that chip last year," Johnson said. "Hopefully, it'll be my turn to find one."

Johnson and kicker/punter Louie Sakoda will represent Utah at this year's gathering. The players will join head coach Kyle Whittingham for a series of interviews with the print and electronic media over the next two days.

The BYU delegation includes head coach Bronco Mendenhall, quarterback Max Hall and defensive lineman Jan Jorgensen.

"It's always fun. I had a great time last year," Johnson said.

"It's nice to put a face to the name that you see and guys that you play with every week. You just hang out with the guys, exchange stories with them and have a good time. We usually have a lot of fun."

While most teams usually bring one offensive and one defensive player to the event, Utah opted to send Sakoda with Johnson.

"The bottom line is the kid is an All-American and he deserves to go," Whittingham said. "It's a little bit unique bringing a specialist."

The invitation took Sakoda by surprise.

"I never really heard much about it the last few years and how the coaches chose the players," he said. "After Coach Whit told me it was usually an offensive and a defensive player, I kind of realized how cool it was that he asked me to do it. It's definitely an exciting thing to be able to do."

It's also a lot of work.

"You want to make sure you bring guys who are going to represent your program well and can deal with the media and things," Whittingham said. "It's quite a rigorous couple of days for those guys. There are a lot of interviews in front of a lot of cameras. So you want guys that feel comfortable doing that."

Mendenhall also thoughtfully considered his choices.

"Both Max and Jan have demonstrated the qualities of leadership, both on and off the field, that reflect the values of our program," he said. "As representatives of the university and the football program, both have shown an ongoing commitment and a desire to live, lead and act in alignment with those values."

Besides the meetings and interviews, the league's annual media poll and preseason all-conference team will be unveiled.

"While none of the predictions and other speculation that happen during the event have any influence on the outcome of the season, nor will it impact the way we approach the season, it does allow us to facilitate multiple media sources in an efficient and timely fashion," Mendenhall said.

Whittingham agrees.

"I think that's just a fun way to get the fans going for the season — get them hungry, excited and all that. But we don't put much stock in any of that," he said. "Each season is it's own entity, it's own set of circumstances. You've just got to wait and see how things unfold.

"I think we've got a chance to be a pretty good team. We've got some good players coming back, but so many things have to happen," Whittingham continued. "You have to stay healthy. You have to catch some breaks early. There's a lot of things that have to happen for you to have one of those special type of seasons."


Contributing: Jeff Call


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