Countdown To Utah Football: The 2004 Season
SALT LAKE CITY- The Utes are full steam ahead on the 2022 football season which many pundits nationally and locally feel could be the program’s biggest yet. While we all anxiously wait to see how things actually play out on the field, we thought it would be fun to travel back in time to some of Utah’s other big seasons. Last week we skipped ahead in the countdown to the 2008 season with former linebacker Stevenson Sylvester after starting the countdown in 1994 with former defensive back Edwin Garrette. This week we take a step back to 2004 and the “Original BCS Busters” with former wide receiver Paris Warren.
The Team No One Saw Coming In 2004
The 1994 team provided a glimpse of what Utah football could be, but it would be ten years later before the Utes literally would be kicking down the door of college football and demanding to be seen. Urban Meyer was in his second and ultimately final year with the Utes though they didn’t know it at the time. Warren recalls a feeling in the building that the Utes felt they could be really good despite the fact no one was looking out for them.
“We always got overlooked,” Warren said. “After our first year, we won 10 games, so everybody felt like if we won 10 games this year, and we just started, imagine what we will do next year after already having a year under our belts.”
Warren says he and his teammates were motivated to put in extra hard work over the offseason because of how they did in 2003. The games they lost were not easily won by their opponent leaving Utah to feel like if they pushed themselves a bit more they could do something special in the 2004 season.
“It all started with summer workouts,” Warren said. “A lot of us didn’t even go home for summer vacations. We stayed. That was the turning point for our team. We got the team to be closer to each other. We already knew we had players because anybody that had beaten us, they saw they didn’t just beat us, they had to work for it.”
Low Stars Equal Star Power
Some of the greatest players in Utah football history were two-star guys. One of those players was a skinny, smart kid by the name of Alex Smith who would ultimately go on to be the #1 pick in the 2005 NFL Draft. Smith was unexpectedly thrown into action in 2003 and Warren says he almost instantly earned everyone’s respect despite being an underclassmen.
“It was a full turnaround because he was a young guy,” Warren said of Smith’s glow up from 2003 to 2004. “He was a backup and then when Brett Elliott went down in the Texas A & M game he came in- I think the next game was San Diego State. For his first start we had to take our hat off to him. He took a beating that game and we still almost scored 60 points. We had a lot of respect for him and from that day forward it was on. He knew how to manage a game and get the ball to his guys.”
Proud is an understatement.
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Smith wasn’t the only under-the-radar guy who turned heads and made a splash in the NFL. Safety/all purpose player Eric Weddle was another two-star guy that according to Warren the Utes and the rest of the football world couldn’t help but tip their hat to.
“When you’re a baller, there is no way you can keep a baller like that on the sideline,” Warren said of Weddle. “You just had to put him in there and let him do what he do. Him being a young guy was kind of funny because he was a California guy too. We already know we play football a little different than a lot of other people do. Weddle was our guy. We rode his tail a little bit, made him step his game up, but you saw what happened on game day.”
Making The Impossible Possible
Utah has always felt like that team that makes you want to dream big. No one was supposed to be able to bust the BCS, but Utah did it in 2004. No team was supposed to be able to bust the system twice and yet the Utes did so in 2008. A G5 school couldn’t possibly move into the Power Five conference and be almost instantly competitive, but Utah did that in the Pac-12. Most impressively of all though, Utah won their first Pac-12 Championship after enduring the loss of two teammates, one in the middle of their season, and put on a show in the Rose Bowl. Warren says the effort didn’t surprise him and there is nothing but respect for the team for playing through the pain.
“First of all, shoutout to those two young players that passed away,” Warren said. “That’s unfortunate and I’m praying for their families. That being said, you have no choice but to play like that after you lose two of your players. There is only one way after that, honestly. After seeing something like that happen to two guys you go to battle with it kind of puts a dent in you. When something like that happens there is no other way than to go that way. I wasn’t surprised how their season turned out because of that.”
A Home Away From Home
Warren is grateful for his time at Utah and says it’s become his second home. Whenever there is an opportunity to be back in Rice-Eccles Stadium, Warren is there with love and appreciation in his heart for the memories made back in 2004.
“I just hope we were able to give you all a show you’d never seen before because for us, they made it loud,” Warren said of the fans. “That helped us out a whole lot. There is nothing like the MUSS and that fan base. Utah is really a state that takes care of its people. It doesn’t matter the race or anything. They are some of the nicest people I’ve ever involved myself with. That’s always been my second home and why I always go back.”
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