OC'S CORNER

O’Connell: What Would You Do If You Were Utah DE Bradlee Anae?

Dec 14, 2019, 1:50 PM | Updated: 11:55 pm

SALT LAKE CITY, Utah – What would you do if you were Bradlee Anae? Bradlee – like many other of the nation’s most talented upperclassmen- has a choice to make.

Should he play in the Bowl game? Or focus his physical and mental energy on readying himself for the upcoming NFL Draft?

The increasingly-accepted trend in college football is for players with promising draft prospects to forego less prominent bowl games. Unfortunately for the Utes, a loss in the Pac-12 Championship Game, and perhaps some unfortunate confirmation bias, means that they are headed to the Alamo Bowl against Texas. The Alamo Bowl, of course, falls into the category of contests regarded as comparatively insignificant in the overall landscape of college football. So… what would YOU do if you were Bradlee Anae in the current situation?

As fans and media, we often tend to oversimplify discussions and decisions like this. We can’t really empathize, because we’ve never been All-American Team Captains and NFL Draft prospects. We’ve never had to decide between one last ride with friends and teammates who’ve become family over the last few years and playing it safe in the interest of preserving the body that will need to be healthy for a chance to pursue a dream career and potentially generational wealth. If you were Bradlee Anae, what would you do?

I know that Bradlee is not the only Ute likely weighing these same options at the moment. Jaylen Johnson was, even as a junior. He made the announcement that he would forego his senior year at Utah in pursuit of the NFL dream and subsequently made it known that he would not participate in the Alamo Bowl either. For a defensive backfield already compromised by the absence of Julian Blackmon and his backup R.J. Hubert, this is far from ideal. I can confidently say that nobody begrudges Johnson the decision. He made it clear from the outset that his time at Utah would be shorter than usual, and that he chose the program partially because he saw it as an ideal vehicle for him to make this exact leap. It’s actually a pretty remarkable testament to the marriage of his vision and work, and that of the coaching staff up on the Hill- but I digress…

Zach Moss, Tyler Huntley, Leki Fotu, and other prominent members of the senior class with NFL hopes will likely face the same debate as Bradlee Anae, but his choice is a unique one, even amongst his peers. Moss already secured his place atop the Utah record books. Huntley, Fotu, Bernard, Burgess and the others are safely removed from the prospect of being the definitive best in program history at their respective positions. Blackmon’s unfortunate injury has insulated him from the choice to play or not to play. So Bradlee Anae alone must decide whether or not to suit up for the Alamo Bowl and to participate in all of the practices and workouts leading up to it- with an all-time record at stake.

Anae is only a half-sack away from breaking the all-time career sack record at the University of Utah. With the milestone so tantalizingly close, I imagine the allure to play is strong. A legacy like that one, especially attached to a family name that already calls to mind athletic greatness in the state, is hard to forfeit. You could make an easy argument that Bradlee’s legacy is already secure. After all, there is certainly no shame in sharing a place at the top alongside a beloved Ute like Hunter Dimick. But it’s also impossible to ignore the risk of participation in the game. Nobody knows what the exact percentages are, but playing in games is flat-risky.

Anae has been fortunate in his career (knock on wood), so it may be further from his mind than a player like Moss, who has missed significant time. It’s also important to note that unless Bradlee Anae runs in the 4.5 range at the NFL Combine, he’s not likely a first-rounder. Projections right now hover between the late second and early fifth. That’s a broad range, so a decision will need to be made based on more careful counsel. Projected draft placement is crucial because the dollar amount associated with those picks may ultimately swing the decision one way or another. Marquise Blair was a mid-second rounder a year ago. His contract is worth $6.2 million over the next 4 years, with a $2.5 million signing bonus! Those look like go-ahead-and-skip-the-bowl-game-and-be-happy-with-tying-for-the-record numbers to me. Conversely, Matt Gay was selected in round five. His signing bonus was $325,000. His rookie deal will still pay $2.8 million over 4 years… And for those of us who’ve benefited from the trials of age and experience, even that would be hard to put at risk for the sake of standing alone atop the Utah record books.

Sure, Anae could likely achieve his sack goal in the first half against Texas. Penei Sewell, the Outland Trophy winner, kept him from breaking the record in the Pac 12 Championship game. Texas doesn’t have anyone close to Sewell’s talent on their offensive line. But even if nothing disastrous happens, playing in the game doesn’t actually guarantee that Bradlee will elevate his already-lofty status amongst Utah’s all-time greats.

There is also the less tangible aspect of this equation that needs to be considered. The college football experience is a unique and special thing. We’ve become jaded to it as observers because we know how the sausage is made these days. We know the coaches’ salaries and television contract numbers. We’re uncomfortably aware of the improprieties that occur in recruiting for the sake of winning. We’ve packaged college football in the same sterile casing as the NFL and NBA. Because of this, we look at decisions like Bradlee Anae’s and we project our own desires for financial security and fame with such overwhelming eagerness that we completely ignore just how important the experience of running out onto the field with your best friends one last time can be. After years of pretending that we care about building character and reinforcing proud ideals, we act like it’s a no-brainer for the Bradlee Anae’s of the world to make the calculated, risk-averse decision and disregard the idea of accomplishing a long-held goal and finishing business with the team that helped him get to where he is at as a player and person.

It’s a far more complicated picture than most of us can paint based on our own choices and experiences. So… If you were Bradlee Anae, would you play in the Alamo Bowl or not?

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O’Connell: What Would You Do If You Were Utah DE Bradlee Anae?