UTAH UTES

Gionni Paul: It’s Fun To See A Team Grow

Sep 9, 2022, 2:27 PM
Linebacker Gionni Paul #13 of the Utah Utes returns an interception against quarterback Jake Browni...
Linebacker Gionni Paul #13 of the Utah Utes returns an interception against quarterback Jake Browning #3 of the Washington Huskies on November 7, 2015 at Husky Stadium in Seattle, Washington. (Photo by Otto Greule Jr/Getty Images)
(Photo by Otto Greule Jr/Getty Images)

SALT LAKE CITY- It wasn’t the result anyone associated with Utah wanted last Saturday, but the Utes still managed to earn respect from a region that isn’t terribly familiar with them. As a growing brand that recognition is everything.

For guys like former Utah linebacker Gionni Paul who hails from Florida and took a leap of faith choosing to play for the Utes in 2013 after transferring from the University of Miami, seeing his team play in front of his home-state felt like validation.

 

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“I’ve had this game marked for a while,” Paul said. “I just had all the hype in the world that we were going to come in here and show the world who we are. It was an awesome game. Football is a game of inches and as everybody saw, both teams are Top 25 ranked teams and well-respected programs. I mean Florida- what they did in 2008, 2011 with the Tim Tebow era- what they’ve built since then. I know they’ve gone through a couple of coaches but it’s still a premier college and Utah the last 10 years coming from the Mountain West and going to the Pac-12. It’s fun to see a team grow. I’ve seen Whittingham take this team from a 5-7 season, come back to the drawing board, really dedicate everything to a program and love his guys and the school. They have just done a great job with the guys.”

Coming To Utah

Paul was a big get for the Utes in their early years in the Pac-12. In fact, it can be argued that he, along with former running back coach Dennis Erickson who is still a God in Florida after his two National Championship teams with Miami, really opened the door for Utah in the Sunshine State. Before those two, the chances of the Utes landing players like Tyler Huntley, Zack Moss, Demari Simpkins and now Jaylon Glover would have been slim.

For Paul, coming to Utah came down to his relationship he’d built with Erickson and Director of Junior College Relations Pablo Cano after they recruited him to Arizona State where they had been employed before landing at Utah. However, it was head coach Kyle Whittingham who Paul says he became taken with because he felt like Whittingham was the kind of coach who would always have his back.

 

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A post shared by Gionni Paul (@judge_bo)

“I took a chance- I was coming from other visits and I knew Pablo [Cano] and Dennis Erickson from when I was committed to Arizona State,” Paul said. “Then they lost their job that season, so I went to Miami. When I decided to leave Miami, because of the relationship, and the love that I had for the coaches, I went over there to visit. I met with Erickson who I knew, I met with Kalani [Sitake], but the guy I loved the most was Whittingham. That was my guy at the time. I loved the way he carried himself. I did my homework on him- he used to be a bad man himself when he played. I wanted to play for a guy like that.”

Eventually, Paul’s love for the coaching staff grew into a love of Salt Lake City and the people who reside there as well. Paul learned, like most who are initially unfamiliar with Utah football, that the culture is good, they play a tough brand of football, and the fans are devoted- not much different than back home in Florida other than being on a smaller-scale.

“I have the best memories of my life there,” Paul said. “I’ve been to Russia, I’ve been to Canada, I’ve been in the NFL, I’ve been to Japan. I’ve been everywhere and Utah is still in my top three. I love the city, I love the fans, the MUSS- they always got it rocking. I love the support they have. Just the whole culture behind them, I love the culture, I love the family atmosphere.”

Put Some Respect On Utah’s Name

These days Paul says the Utes are starting to make an impact out in Florida- even before last Saturday’s game. When Paul was playing just a few years back it was entirely possible no one would recognize his team gear out and about. Now Paul says people stop him all the time to talk about Utah and their steady presence in college football.

 

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“I’m out here in Utah day-in and day-out,” Paul said. “When I walk around here, they always stop me and only have good things to say about the program. That’s what I’m proud of. People know we are about business. Some of the notable guys I see besides myself- the Tyler Huntley’s and Zack Moss’- those are some high-character guys. We’re very personable, we stay out of trouble- it speaks volumes about where we come from.”

 

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Gionni Paul: It’s Fun To See A Team Grow