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Utes open training camp with heavy hearts

SALT LAKE CITY (ABC 4 Sports) - The Utes football team opened training camp thinking about Gaius Vaenuku, an incoming freshman who died in a car accident last week.
SALT LAKE CITY (ABC 4 Sports) - The Utes football team opened fall training camp Monday morning thinking about fallen teammate Gaius Vaenuku, who died in a car accident last week in New Mexico.

"It was tragic, but something we need to move forward from," said head coach Kyle Whittingham. "We miss him obvioulsy, but we've got work in hand and we have to be able to move forward."

"We don't just miss his football, but we also miss his personality," added senior linebacker Trevor Reilly. "I lost a brother when I was 13, and that feeling, I felt it the day it happened. I still feel sick to my stomach now talking about it."

"Hopefully nothing like that ever happens again," added cornerback Keith McGill. "You can't dwell on it, but it also just doesn't go away. He'll be there with us the whole year, and hopefully he'll inspire us."

The Utes will wear stickers on their helmets this season in honor of Vaenuku. 

As for the first practice of training camp, Whittingham was not impressed.

"Nothing special, very average," Whittingham said of his team's performance. "Particularly at the beginning of practice."

Tempo was a big reason for the slow start. The Utes are still getting used to the new fast pace.

"Not yet, but they're going to get used it," Whittingham said. "That's how we're going to operate, and we will get there."

"The tempo is crazy right now," said wide receiver Dres Anderson. "I ain't going to lie, I was out there dying, but we have to keep working and get in shape."

After a disappointing 5-7 season, one of the biggest keys to getting back on track is quarterback play.

"We have to get more overall consistency and production out of that position since '08," Whittingham said. "Since Brian Johnson played, we haven't had a guy that played that position the way we needed to play from start to finish."

Travis Wilson, who started the final seven games of last season, was a third stringer at the beginning of training camp a year ago. Now, he's the unquestioned starter, but knows he needs to keep improving.

"I'm a lot more comfortable," Wilson said. "Having the reps I got last year really helped me, and gave me the boost for this upcoming season. I just have to make sure I'm more of a consistent player every game. I was playing up and down last year."

"I thought he learned really well last year because he got his butt kicked," added co-offensive coordinator Dennis Erickson. "He's a tough guy. He hung in there and did some really good things."

Wilson has bulked up to 245 pounds, and hopes to be able to withstand the rigors of an entire season.

"Physically, what he did this summer in the weight room, he's way better than what he was in the spring," Erickson said. 

While Adam Schulz, Brandon Cox and Connor Manning are pushing Wilson, he knows if he falters, there is somebody waiting to step in and take his place.

"It motivates me a lot," Wilson said. "I always know there are going to be younger kids coming in behind me trying to take the starting job. So, there is always going to be competition."

"It's his job to lose," said Whittingham. "But he's being pressed just like everyone else on the team. Right now, he is number one, but everybody else is going to get their opportunities, and if he gets outplayed, then we'll adjust accordingly."

The Utes open the season August 29th at home against Utah State.


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