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Adam Fondren, Deseret News
Utah quarterback Tyler Huntley, right, hands the ball off to running back Zack Moss during the Zaxby's Heart of Dallas Bowl between Utah and the West Virginia in Dallas Texas on Tuesday, Dec. 26, 2017.

SALT LAKE CITY — When Utah running back Zack Moss announced that he would return for his senior season, the first reason he cited didn’t involve a football.

Moss explained that he wanted to stay in school and finish his degree.

“I’ll be the first person in my family to get my degree and that is important to both my mom and to me," Moss said.

There were other factors as well. Moss added that he wanted to be part of Utah’s team goals in 2019 and graduate with high school teammates Tyler Huntley and Demari Simpkins.

This week, the trio from Hallandale, Florida, will join nearly 100 other student-athletes in donning caps and gowns at the University of Utah’s 150th annual commencement.

" Our guys are achieving in the classroom. And that’s ultimately what they’re here for. That is the bottom line. "
Utah football coach Kyle Whittingham

“They’re all three just fine young men. They take care of their business. They all understand the value of education and ultimately that’s why all of our guys are here — to earn their degrees,” said Utah coach Kyle Whittingham. “They’ve done a great job of doing just that. I’m proud of all of them.”

Moss, Huntley and Simpkins are among 34 participants from the football program going through commencement. The group also includes Marcus Williams of the New Orleans Saints.

“Marcus had the opportunity to come out early and made the right decision for him,” Whittingham said of the decision Williams made to enter the NFL draft in 2017. “He wasn’t quite finished with his degree, but he promised me when he left that he would come back and finish, and he lived up to that.”

It’s been a banner year for the Utes when it comes to academics. The football team posted a record 2.925 grade point average last fall. Utah continues to rank near the top of the Pac-12 in the NCAA’s Academic Progress Report.

“Our guys are achieving in the classroom,” Whittingham said. “And that’s ultimately what they’re here for. That is the bottom line.”

Whittingham added that graduation is a rewarding day, reflecting on the journey of student-athletes progressing from freshmen to leaving with degrees.

“That’s why you coach is to see things like that happen,” Whittingham said.

Mark Harlan, Utah’s director of athletics, agrees that it’s the thing that matters the most. He also noted how rewarding it is to know the stories and obstacles so many student-athletes must overcome.

“We get to see it all. So when we see that, it is the moment that separates what we do from the pro space in a profound way,” Harlan said. “It is the most gratifying thing that anybody can be associated with.”

Utah’s 20 teams (552 student-athletes) posted a cumulative grade point average of 3.302 for the fall semester, marking the program’s 25th consecutive GPA higher than 3.0. An NCAA Graduation Success Rate of 95 percent was among other impressive numbers. The Utes had 78 student-athletes get a perfect 4.0 GPA and 42 percent made the dean’s list (3.5 or higher).

Besides football, women’s track (3.661), softball (3.474) and women’s basketball (3.407) also set team records in terms of GPA.

Overall, Harlan is quite pleased. He’s especially proud of this week’s graduates.

“I’m really excited with this group and all they’ve conquered to get to this point,” he said, acknowledging that having so many student-athletes earn degrees is a testament to their hard work and character.

“We all — coaches, staff, administration — couldn’t be more proud of all them that have achieved these dreams,” Harlan continued. “From an administrative standpoint, it’s gratifying to see that the elements that are in place — which of course, my predecessor (Chris Hill) spent a lot of time and investment in — to make sure that coaches are recruiting the right kids.

“The tutors and academic programming and staff are elite and have been able to help these kids achieve their dreams,” he said. “So it’s nice to see all of it working in such a profound manner. It’s a very, very special day for a lot of great young people.”

2019 spring commencement University of Utah graduating student-athletes

6 comments on this story
  • BASEBALL: Chandler Anderson, finance; Isaac Cruz, psychology; Erick Migueles, sociology; Zack Moeller, environmental and sustainability studies; Austin Moore, economics; Joshua Tedeschi, history teaching.
  • FOOTBALL: Jordan Agasiva, sociology; Corrion Ballard, sociology; Francis Bernard, sociology; Julian Blackmon, sociology; Terrell Burgess, kinesiology; Bapa Falemaka, sociology; Jameson Field, health promotion and education; Leki Fotu, human development and family studies; Jake Grant, political science; Davir Hamilton, sociology; Chris Hart, sociology; Chad Hekking, economics; Nick Heninger, business administration; Devonta’e Henry-Cole, sociology; Tyler Huntley, sociology; Jayon Johnson, communication; Nygel King, sociology; Kyle Lanterman, communication; Tareke Lewis, sociology; Siaosi Mariner, sociology; Ben Moa, sociology; Zack Moss, communication; Josh Nurse, sociology; Darrin Paulo, economics; John Penisini, sociology; Howard Pututau, health, society and policy; Trevor Reilly, economics; Caleb Repp, sociology; Armand Shyne, sociology; Demari Simpkins, communication; Paul Toala, communication; Tae Tonga, sociology; Derrick Vickers, sociology; Marcus Williams, sociology.
  • MEN’S BASKETBALL: Sedrick Barefield, sociology; Beau Rydalch, psychology; Parker Van Dyke, economics.
  • MEN’S GOLF: Kyler Dunkle, psychology.
  • MEN’S LACROSSE: Daniel Costa, economics; Aidan Christian, sociology; Cameron Redmond, parks, recreation and tourism.
  • MEN’S SKIING: Dominic Demschar, accounting; Jacob Engstroem, finance; Ty Sprock, communications.
  • MEN’S SWIMMING & DIVING: Jack Burton, urban ecology; Justin McArthur, consumer and community studies; Austin Phillips, communication; Christopher Taber, marketing; Catalin Ungur, parks, recreation and tourism.
  • MEN’S TENNIS: Daniel Little, management; Egbert Weverink, entrepreneurship and management; Joe Woolley, communication.
  • WOMEN’S BASKETBALL: Daniele Bean, kinesiology; Daneesha Provo, human development and family studies; Sarah Porter, Master's of Education: education, leadership & policy.
  • WOMEN’S GYMNASTICS: Kari Lee, business administration; Shannon McNatt, quantitative analysis of markets and organizations and economics.
  • WOMEN’S SKIING: Kristine Aasberg, finance master's; Julie Flo Mohagen, finance.
  • WOMEN’S SOCCER: Mariah Elmer, human development and family studies; Max Flom, political science; Skolmoski North Hailey, human development and family studies; Liberty Taylor, communication; Paola van Der Veen, film and communication; Natalie Vukic, art.
  • WOMEN’S SOFTBALL: Ryley Ball, kinesiology; Allyson Dickman, communication and English; Hailey Hilburn, communication.
  • WOMEN’S SWIMMING & DIVING: Jordan Anderson, marketing; Dorien Butter, mechanical engineering; Makenzie Caufield, psychology; Madison Cock, psychology; Megan Kawaguchi, parks, recreation and tourism; Isabella Kearns, kinesiology; Hailey Pabst, athletic training; Genevieve Robertson, communication; Gillian St. John, art; Darby Wayner, marketing.
  • WOMEN’S TENNIS: Jena Cheng, biology; Taylor Calton, finance master's; Breezy Chisholm, human development and family studies.
  • WOMEN’S TRACK AND FIELD: Eliza Hansen, kinesiology; Clark Makenzie, exercise and sport science; Katrina Moreno, political science; Sadie Wassum, kinesiology; Mesa Weidle, kinesiology teaching.
  • WOMEN’S VOLLEYBALL: Bailey Choy, finance; Lelaulauga Gauta, sociology; Tawnee Luafalemana, health, society and policy; Berkeley Oblad, art; Caroline Sipiora, kinesiology.