Nick Wagner, Nick Wagner
Utah defensive back Chase Hansen (22) closes in on Arizona quarterback Brandon Dawkins (13) during the second half of an NCAA college football game in Salt Lake City on Sunday, Oct. 8, 2016. Utah battled back from a first-half deficit to defeat Arizona 36-23.
Great to get the season started. We’ve been in training camp a long time. It seems like forever. —Utah head coach Kyle Whittingham

After nearly five weeks of practices, the Utah Utes are more than ready to kick off the 2017 campaign.

“Great to get the season started. We’ve been in training camp a long time. It seems like forever,” head coach Kyle Whittingham said Monday. “But I think we handled it about as well as we could have given the new NCAA rules. Hopefully our guys feel fresh and ready to go on Thursday night.”

Kick off for the season opener against North Dakota is set for 5:30 p.m.

TO BE DETERMINED: That’s what Whittingham had to say about whether or not junior safety Chase Hansen would play this week. Last year’s team leader in tackles (90), missed all of training camp with an unspecified “lingering injury.

“Right now I don’t have a great answer for you,” Whittingham said. “We’ll know more, obviously, in the next couple of days.”

On a positive note, Whittingham noted that Hansen has been practicing for about a week and has increased his reps each day.

“We’ll just have to see. We’re going to be very cautious with him,” Whittingham said. “And if he’s not 100 percent ready to go, then you probably won’t see him.”

Tight ends Harrison Handley and Siale Fakailoatonga could also be game-time decisions. Whittingham said he was not sure of their status as of Monday morning.

CONDOLENCES: Whittingham addressed the sudden death of Hillcrest High football coach Cazzie Brown, who died Sunday — just six days after being diagnosed with a viral infection.

“I didn’t know him personally but that was heartbreaking,” said Whittingham, who described the situation as unbelievable. “It’s gut-wrenching and our thoughts and prayers go out to Hillcrest and their players and the families, and of course coach Brown’s family. It’s just bizarre and it’s sad, very sad.”

KICKING BATTLE: The competition at place-kicker continues. Whittingham said that a decision between freshman Chayden Johnston and senior Matt Gay may not be made until Wednesday.

“Maybe you’ll see both guys kick in the game,” Whittingham said. “We’ll see how it goes. But right now, it’s a very close battle.”

READY TO ROLL: Quarterback Tyler Huntley is eagerly anticipating his first collegiate start.

“It’s just getting better and better every day — just preparing myself for Thursday, ” Huntley said. “It’s going to be good.”

Huntley joined Whittingham, left tackle Jackson Barton and cornerback Casey Hughes at Monday’s press conference at the football center.

FITTING THE BILL: Oregon transfer Darren Carrington II didn’t surprise the coaches in training camp.

“I would say he’s exactly what we expected,” said Whittingham, who added that the senior is a "tremendously talented athlete” and a “fierce competitor on the practice field.”

Whittingham noted that Carrington II knows how to practice and that fits right in with Utah’s mentality. He said that the former Duck is also a“perfect fit for what (new offensive coordinator Troy Taylor) wants to do offensively.”

EXTRA POINTS: Utah has won its last 12 season openers played at Rice-Eccles Stadium . . . Since joining the Pac-12 in 2011, the Utes are 21-1 in non-conference games . . . Assistants Justin Ena and Freddie Whittingham will work from the booth on game days. All other coaches will be on the field.

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