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Utes To Honor 20 Players On Senior Day

Utah Utes defensive tackle Leki Fotu (99) and the Utes sing the fight song in Seattle on Saturday, Nov. 2, 2019. Utah won 33-28. (Jeffrey D. Allred, Deseret News)

SALT LAKE CITY, Utah – The sixth ranked Utah football team will take the field for the final time at Rice-Eccles Stadium in 2019 when they face the Colorado Buffaloes on Senior Day.

They will honor 19 seniors and one junior before the game. Kickoff is at 5:30 p.m. on Saturday on ABC.

Utah head coach Kyle Whittingham was asked how this year’s seniors helped shift the landscape of the program.

“Well first the talent level,” Whittingham said. “We have a lot of talent and a bunch of really good players in this senior class. Two years ago when you would look at the roster, you could see it coming that this would be a year where there was going to be a lot of talent on the field and a lot of key players. You could see it coming. And just because you see it coming or see a chance, doesn’t always mean it happens, but these guys have made it happen. Their work ethic, their leadership, their approach to the game has all come together and it has been a special season so far. There is still work to do, but so far it has been enjoyable.”

Here are all of the players that will be honored on Saturday.

Tyler Huntley, QB

Huntley has changed the Utah football program, but he did it through adversity. He played four games as a freshman, backing up Troy Williams at quarterback, including the Foster Farm’s Bowl. The Hallandale High School alum surprised Utes fans when he worked his way to become the starting quarterback as a sophomore, beating Williams in a fall camp quarterback competition. Unfortunately, he was hampered with injuries in his sophomore and junior seasons. But, as a senior, he has been sensational, completing 75 percent of his pass attempts, which is good for second in the nation.

Huntley has thrown for 2,608 yards, including 11.2 yards per completion, also second in the country. The senior has thrown 14 touchdowns and just 2 interceptions for a 187.6 quarterback rating, which is fifth in the country. He is a semifinalist or finalist for three awards and is making a strong case to be a Heisman Trophy candidate and the Pac-12 Offensive Player of the Year. When it is all said and done, Huntley could be in the same conversation with Scott Mitchell, Mike McCoy, Alex Smith and Brian Johnson as the best quarterbacks in Utah football history.

Zack Moss, RB

It is already set in stone that Zack Moss is the best running back in Utah football history. This season, Moss has broken six school records, including most career 100-yard rushing games, career rushing touchdowns, career rushing yards, total career touchdowns, most 1,000 yard rushing seasons and most career rushing attempts. Moss had a chip on his shoulder after his junior season in 2018 that he decided to put his NFL career on hold for one more year and return to Utah for his senior season and it was a great decision for the Utes. In 2019, Moss has ran the ball 180 times for 1,158 yards, 6.4 yards per carry average and 14 touchdowns. He leads the Pac-12 in yards and touchdowns. Moss has given the Utah program more than they have expected and is a legend in Salt Lake City.

Demari Simpkins, WR

The third member of the “Hallandale trio” will go out as a senior with his high school teammates, Huntley and Moss with a career-year. As a freshman in 2016, Simpkins had 19 catches for 158 yards and one touchdown. As a sophomore in 2017, he caught 29 passes for 354 yards and one touchdown. Last season, Simpkins hauled in 26 catches for 297 yards and 2 touchdowns. This season, he has 26 receptions (tied for 1st on the team) for 286 yards and one touchdown. He has stepped up and has been a critical part of the offense for Utah under Andy Ludwig. Simpkins also has 8 carries for 43 yards and one touchdown on the ground.

Derrick Vickers, WR

Vickers has been used as a running back/wide receiver hybrid and has been an absolute weapon for the Utes this season. He arrived at Utah in 2018 as a junior college transfer. He played five games last season as a wide receiver but this season, Vickers has 16 receptions for 184 yards, as well as 14 carries for 77 yards and one touchdown.

Hunter Thedford, TE

Thedford had just one season with the Utes, joining the program from SMU as a graduate transfer. He has played in every game this season and started against Arizona State and UCLA. Even though Thedford is primarily used as a blocking tight end, he has two catches for 12 yards this season.

Kyle Lanterman, OL

Lanterman spent four years at Utah as a walk-on before being awarded a scholarship in the spring this year. He redshirted in 2015, was a member of the scout team in 2016, before playing two games in 2017, six games last season and has played in seven games this season. Lanterman is currently the backup for Braeden Daniels at left guard.

Alex Locklear, OL

Locklear is playing his only season with the Utes after joining the program as a graduate transfer from Marshall. He has played in nine games, including seven games on the offensive line. Locklear is currently the backup to Darrin Paulo at left tackle.

Darrin Paulo, OL

Paulo has been a fantastic left tackle for the Utes this season. As one of the team captains, Paulo redshirted as a freshman in 2015. He played in all 13 games on special teams in 2016, started all 13 games at right tackle in 2017 and last season before moving over to left tackle this season, where he has started in all 11 games.

Paul Toala, OL

Toala joined the Utes as a walk-on following a transfer from Dixie State. He redshirted in 2016 before playing in all 13 games in 2017. Last season, Toala played in seven games. This season, he took a step forward and has been a critical member of Utah’s offensive line. He showed his versatility on the offensive line when he started at center against Northern Illinois and Idaho State.

Bradlee Anae, DE

Anae is the new mayor of “Sack Lake City” and could take the school sack record this season as well. He has potentially three more games to get two sacks. Anae has 28 career sacks and Hunter Dimick holds the record with 29.5 sacks. As a freshman in 2016, Anae had two sacks in six games played. In 2017 as a sophomore, he started 10 games and racked up 7 sacks. Last season was the breakout year for Anae with 8 sacks, leading the Pac-12 and was named first team All-Pac-12. This season, the senior has 11 sacks, averaging 1 sack per game and is in second place in the Pac-12. Anae has been named Pac-12 Defensive Player of the week once and Defensive Lineman of the Week twice. He also has 12 tackles for loss. His decision to return to Utah for his senior season rather than jumping to the NFL has been a game changer for the Utes.

Malik Haynes, DE

The Ventura College transfer joined the Utes in 2017 as a walk-on. He used his redshirt that season. Last season, Haynes played on special teams against BYU and has played in two games this season and has one tackle. During fall camp this year, Haynes was awarded a scholarship when a pizza was delivered during a team meeting when Kyle Whittingham read a note saying that Haynes was put on scholarship.

Leki Fotu, DT

Fotu has been an absolute force and is a nightmare for opposing offensive linemen to block. The Herriman high school product played in five games as a true freshman in 2015 before appearing in all 13 games in 2017 as a sophomore. Last season, he was named first team All-Pac-12 with 33 tackles, 5,5 tackles for loss and 3 sacks. This season, Fotu has 7 tackles for loss, one sack and two pass breakups. He is one of the best defensive tackles in the entire country.

John Penisini, DT

Penisini has had a breakout season for the Utes and Kyle Whittingham has said many times that he has been flying under the radar. He joined Utah as a transfer from Snow College. In 2017, he played in all 12 games had recorded one sack and a fumble recovery. Last season, the West Jordan, Utah native was named second team All-Pac-12 after racking up seven tackles for loss and two sacks. This season, Penisini has 32 tackles, including six for a loss, two sacks, two forced fumbles and one pass breakup. He was named Pac-12 Defensive Lineman of the Week once this season.

Francis Bernard, LB

The BYU transfer has been a treasure for the Utes especially this season when they lost Cody Barton and Chase Hansen last season. In 2018, Bernard played 12 games at linebacker and started twice for Hansen when he was injured. Bernard finished the season with 38 tackles, including 5 tackles for loss. This season, he leads the team with 69 tackles, 6.5 tackles for loss, 2 interceptions, including one returned for a touchdown and a pass breakup.

Jaylon Johnson, DB

Johnson is not a senior but will be honored on Saturday because he will not return for his senior season and will enter the 2020 NFL Draft. He is regarded as one of the top cornerbacks in the country and could be a first round draft pick. As a true freshman in 2017, Johnson played in all 12 regular season games and made two starts. Johnson had six pass breakups. Last season, he was named first team All-Pac-12 after contributing four interceptions, including a 100-yard pick six against Stanford. Johnson also had 41 tackles, 2 for loss and one sack in 2018. This season, he doesn’t have a lot of stats to show his dominance because quarterbacks don’t throw his way, but he does have 28 tackles, including one for a loss, two interceptions, returning one for a touchdown against Washington and has 9 pass breakups. Johnson managed to shut down some of the best wide receivers in the Pac-12, including Oregon State’s Isaiah Hodgins and Arizona State WR Brandon Aiyuk.

Julian Blackmon, DB

Blackmon was one of the four players who decided to return for his senior season rather than begin his NFL career. He made the move from cornerback to safety this season and the transition has been easy. The Layton High School star played on special teams and in four games on defense as a true freshman in 2016. In 2017, Blackmon was named second team All-Pac-12 as a sophomore after getting 4 interceptions, 10 passes defended and 6 pass breakups to go with his 48 tackles. Last season, he was named second team All-Pac-12 again after racking up 10 pass breakups, one interception, 4 tackles for loss and 48 tackles. This season, he is fourth on the team with 51 tackles, including 3 tackles for loss, 1.5 sacks, 4 interception, returning one for a touchdown against BYU, four pass breakups and two forced fumbles.

Terrell Burgess, DB

Burgess is a great story. He joined Utah in 2016 and was a backup for three seasons. When he played in games, he had a impact but he finally had his chance to be the starter when he was a senior and could very well make an NFL roster. In 2016, Burgess played in four games, appeared in all 13 games on special teams and 4 games on defense as a sophomore in 2017. Last season, he saw action in nine games on defense, including two starts. This season, Burgess has 60 tackles, 6 tackles for loss, 0.5 sacks, one interception and four breakups.

Tareke Lewis, DB

Lewis joined the Utah football program in 2018 from Riverside Community College. He played in 11 games and started two contests at cornerback last season and recorded 16 tackles and a pass breakup. This season, he has started at corner four times and has appeared in all 11 games, compiling six pass breakups and 10 tackles.

Josh Nurse, DB

Nurse joined the Utes as a transfer from Blinn College as a wide receiver. He made the switch to cornerback and played in 12 games in 2017, primarily on special teams. Last season, Nurse particpated in all 14 games on special teams and four games on defense. This season, he has started in the last seven games, mainly to match up on the bigger wide receivers. He has 19 tackles and four pass breakups.

Andrew Strauch, K

Strauch was the starting kicker for the Utes this season as a graduate transfer from UCLA. He went one-for-two on field goals and missed an extra point in the season opener against BYU. Since then, he has been handling kickoffs and has 38 touchbacks on 71 kickoffs this season.

The Crimson Corner podcast is the one-stop for all things University of Utah Athletics hosted by Utah insider Trevor Allen. Ute fans will find interviews with current players, coaches, and staff alongside expert analysis of every game, story and angle coming out of the University of Utah.

You can download and listen to the podcast, here.

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