SALT LAKE CITY — Thretton Palamo has found a football home. The former rugby star, who was initially ticketed to be a running back, now tops the depth chart at left defensive end.
Palamo has made such inroads, in fact, that Utah coach Kyle Whittingham said the 6-foot-2, 255-pound senior would be a starter — at this point in time — if the Utes had to play a game tomorrow.
“He continues to improve. He had a long way to go when we first got him. It took us a little bit of time to get him situated, finally in the right spot,” Whittingham said. “He spent a lot of time at running back, which didn’t prove to be his best situation. But he’s having a really good spring. He’s making the most of his opportunity.”
Palamo is getting a lot of reps this spring with projected front-liners Nate Orchard, Trevor Reilly and Jason Whittingham being held out of contact situations for precautionary reasons with injuries.
As such, Whittingham noted that Palamo faces some competition for playing time in the fall.
Palamo, though, is expected to be very much in the mix.
“The sky’s the limit for the kid. All he needs to do is play football,” said defensive coordinator Kalani Sitake. “He’s a guy that has been brought up in rugby and so it’s been a huge adjustment.”
Sitake explained that things moved way too quickly for Palamo at running back. His talent, speed and size, however, prompted the staff to move him to defensive end.
“I think he’s coming along really, really well. He’s able to take advantage of the reps that he can get because of some of the guys that are out,” Sitake said. “That’s the one thing that we needed to do with him was get him more football reps. Now he’s running with the ones and he’s doing a good job and we’ll see how it continues.”
Sitake likes the progress he is seeing, noting that Palamo has gone from a pass rusher to more of a complete player.
“I think he’s a guy who is trying to force his way on the field,” Sitake said. “It’s his senior year and he’s campaigning really well right now to get more playing time.”
Palamo returned an interception for a touchdown late in Tuesday's practice at Rice-Eccles Stadium.
STAR BRIGHT: Whittingham wasn’t familiar with all the details, but he was pleased to hear that former Utah defensive tackle Star Lotulelei received a clean bill of health this week.
In a report obtained by DeseretNews.com, Dr. Josef Stehlik said that a “thorough and comprehensive” test showed that Lotulelei had “complete normalization of the heart muscle function.”
An irregular test result at the NFL Scouting Combine prompted concerns about Lotulelei’s future.
“I know that he’s in good spirits and hopefully this is all behind him,” Whittingham said.
JOHNSON’S TAKE: Besides football, offensive coordinator Brian Johnson is also well versed in another sport.
“I’m the resident basketball guy,” he acknowledged before offering his opinion on this year’s Final Four. “I hope Louisville wins because then my bracket would be correct. But I think there will be some good matchups.”
Louisville, though, is Johnson’s pick to win it all. He likes the Cardinals’ athleticism, energy and tempo.
“It’s impressive the shape that those guys are in,” Johnson said. “I think they’ll find a way to win it.”
EXTRA POINTS: The Utes are scheduled to practice again Thursday (3-5 p.m.) and scrimmage on Friday (4-6 p.m.) at Rice-Eccles Stadium. Both are open to the public . . . Sophomore Daniel Nielson, who is making the switch from offensive to defensive line this spring, is on the three-deep chart at both tackle spots . . . The Red-White Game is slated for Saturday, April 20, at 1 p.m.