I still consider it a home, just as Utah is my home. Maybe being there will be weird, but, playing, it’s just another day of football. I played so many times in that stadium; it’s just, let’s go again. —Darren Carrington
SALT LAKE CITY — When Darren Carrington walks into Autzen Stadium Saturday, it will be a homecoming for the Utes' leading wide receiver.
The Oregon Ducks' field is the place he dreamed of playing as a teen, a place that was his home for four years and the place that helped him become one of the Pac-12’s most dynamic and successful receivers.
“Oregon was my school growing up,” the senior wide receiver said. “It was my home for the last four years. I graduated from there. I still consider it a home, just as Utah is my home. Maybe being there will be weird, but, playing, it’s just another day of football. I played so many times in that stadium; it’s just, let’s go again.”
Despite his affection for the Eugene stadium — and some of the Ducks’ players — Carrington does not expect a friendly welcome.
“I feel like I’m going to get booed a little bit,” he said. “I don’t care about that though. I like that, honestly. I like it when it’s us against the world. I like that feeling. It’s going to be a fun game for me, I feel like.”
Utah coach Kyle Whittingham said he thought Carrington would be excited to return to Eugene to face his former teammates.
“I was thinking about that yesterday,” Whittingham said. “I haven’t talked to Darren about that specifically, but that was something I was thinking about as I was watching film. I think he will be excited to go back and play.”
His advice to Carrington would be to keep it simple because the game, for some, could be emotional, especially in light of how Carrington left the program. The California native transferred to Utah after Oregon dismissed him following an arrest for DUI. He subsequently entered a diversion program, and, if he has no other issues for a year, the charge will be dismissed.
“Don’t press,” Whittingham said of what advice he’d offer Carrington before Saturday’s game. “Let the game come to you. Don’t try to play outside the framework of the offense. Just do your job. Carrington came away with six catches for 50-plus yards in the last game.”
Carrington said a part of him wished things could have been different, but he emphasized that he's grateful that he found his way to Utah. Oregon head coach Willie Taggart addressed Carrington's homecoming during the Pac-12 teleconference Tuesday, saying that he's glad to see the receiver having success.
"It seems like he's bounced back," Taggart said. "We wish him nothing but the best. It's nice that he's having success. We just hope he doesn't have success this week."
Taggart said he wasn't bothered that Carrington ended up on another Pac-12 roster, only that he had to let him go in the first place.
"Darren fulfilled his obligations here," he said. "He graduated, and the right thing to do was let him go play somewhere else. ... It bothered me that he got into the situation he did. I wanted him to stay clean and not get in the situation.
"The kid had a bright future and you want to see him succeed. It's always disappointing when people make mistakes. You just want them to grow and learn from their mistakes. When it comes to the transfer, I think any kid who's gone to school, and they've graduated, should be allowed to go where they want to go, if it comes to that."
Carrington said he’s most excited to play against the men he still considers friends — like his childhood friend and Ducks safety Tyree Robinson and defensive back Arrion Springs.
Robinson and Carrington were roommates when they were freshmen and have known each other since first grade.
“I know they’ll be on me,” Carrington said, smiling. “They’re all fun to go against in one-on-ones and stuff. But yeah, Arrion and Tyree, that’s probably the most exciting.”
He still talks with some of his former teammates, and he said he talks at least weekly to Robinson.
“We’re just going out there to play football, honestly,” he said. “They might have some words for me, but I don’t talk a lot. I just like to play.”
He said he doesn’t feel like he’ll be nervous, but he may have more "juice" for the game. He hopes any extra energy or motivation will be fuel for Utah’s offense.
“I’m just focused on getting back to U. football,” he said. “Everybody on our schedule from now on, they’re one of the steps up the ladder. We’re going to start off with Oregon this week. It just so happens I came from there, so hopefully we got a little extra juice to bring us back and get us back on track.”
Both teams enter the game riding three-game losing streaks, and Carrington said Utah is working hard on changing the direction of the season with this weekend’s game. As a senior, however, any chance to lace up is special, and the familiarity he feels about the stadium, the city and the opposing team will only add to the experience.
“I’m excited just like any other game,” he said. "I get excited for every game. But it’s going to be fun going back, playing against my boys like high school. Your boys right up the street, you just go up and play them. So it’s kind of what it feels like.”