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Kristin Murphy, Deseret News
Utah wide receiver Darren Carrington II catches a pass against Oregon at Autzen Stadium in Eugene, Ore., on Saturday, Oct. 28, 2017.
It was cool to see Utah embrace me, and I took full advantage of it. —Utah wide receiver Darren Carrington II

SALT LAKE CITY — Tuesday’s Heart of Dallas Bowl won’t be the first opportunity Utah receiver Darren Carrington II has had to play in a postseason game in the Metroplex. As a redshirt freshman at Oregon in January 2015, he was part of a team that reached the national championship game at AT&T Stadium in Arlington, Texas.

Carrington, though, didn’t make the trip. He allegedly tested positive for marijuana use in an NCAA drug test and stayed home while his teammates headed to Texas for the title game. Just 11 days earlier, Carrington caught seven passes for 168 yards and two touchdowns in a 59-20 win over Florida State in the Rose Bowl (national semifinal).

The latter, he insists, basically overshadowed missing Oregon’s 42-20 loss to Ohio State in the national championship.

“I played in the Rose Bowl before that game. The Rose Bowl is the biggest one of them all, and so I was thankful to play in that,” he said. “It was just by God’s choice he didn’t want me to play in the Natty. But we’ll see where he takes me now.”

The path has landed Carrington in Dallas, where the Utes will face West Virginia at Cotton Bowl Stadium.

The irony of ending up in Texas isn’t something Carrington has reflected upon.

“Nah, not at all,” he said.

What Carrington has thought about, however, is the successful landing he made at Utah as a graduate student. He left Oregon last summer after being suspended following a driving under the influence of intoxicants charge.

“It was all just like a puzzle and got put together,” said Carrington, who added that the experience taught him he can accomplish anything. He came out to Utah on his own and credits the team and its family environment for assisting with the transition.

“It was cool to see Utah embrace me, and I took full advantage of it,” Carrington said.

Heart of Dallas Bowl

Utah (6-6) vs. West Virginia (7-5)

Tuesday, 11:30 a.m. MST

TV: ESPN

Radio: ESPN 700AM

Things worked out well. Carrington earned second-team All-Pac-12 honors after catching a team-high 66 passes for the Utes.

Utah coach Kyle Whittingham said the 6-foot-3, 205-pound NFL prospect has been a great teammate with absolutely zero issues.

“(He’s) been a guy that came in and did exactly what we hoped he was going to do,” said Whittingham, who added that Carrington would have caught 80-90 balls if he had been healthy the whole season. “But when he was out there, he was a big plus for us. I can’t say enough good things about how he’s conducted himself while he’s been in our program.”

Thus, Whittingham isn’t surprised that Carrington isn’t sitting out the bowl game to prepare for the NFL draft — as is the case with some projected picks.

“I think that speaks to who he is as a person, and we’re excited that he has that attitude,” Whittingham said.

Carrington said that the only way he would miss a game is because of injury. He hates any other reason.

Besides, bowl preparation and training is proving to be beneficial. Carrington said he’s taking full advantage of it.

“I never really got time to focus on football just like this,” he said. “I just can’t wait to see what the upside is.”

Carrington said he’s determined not to let anything stop him from accomplishing his dream of playing at the next level. He’s already accepted an invitation to showcase his talents at next month’s Senior Bowl.

The end of his collegiate career, however, is bittersweet.

“It’s sad, kind of, just because of how much fun college football is and being around the boys. I mean, that’s really what comes to mind,” Carrington said. “You can make plays any day if you work hard, but I’m going to miss the group, the family of boys, you know, just college, just living together and stuff.

“It’s been a fun journey,” he continued. “So I hope to end it well on the 26th.”

Going bowling is something Carrington doesn’t take for granted. Oregon didn’t go to one last season. He acknowledged it wasn’t a good feeling and made it known to his new teammates.

The Utes wound up becoming eligible with a 34-13 win over Colorado in the regular-season finale.

“It feels good to go back to a bowl,” Carrington said. “Even though we don’t get to be home for Christmas, it’s still cool to be with the guys and get to one more game.”