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Former Utah Kicker Excited For ‘Dream Matchup’ In Rose Bowl

Dec 23, 2022, 10:09 AM | Updated: 10:21 am

SALT LAKE CITY- Former Utes kicker and place holder Cletus “Tommy” Truhe could not be more excited about the Utah’s impending battle with the Penn State Nittany Lions in the legendary Rose Bowl. The two teams will be meeting for the very first time ever on January 2, 2023, and it’s a matchup Truhe has dreamed about since he became a Ute in 1995.

How does a die-hard, bleed-red Ute find themselves also very passionate about Penn State you might ask? It’s all in the family.

When Life Doesn’t Go As You Expect, You Become A Ute

Truhe grew up a Penn State fan. Truhe’s parents hail from Pennsylvania originally and Nittany Lion football is basically a religion every Saturday in the fall. Pretty much everyone in Truhe’s family bled blue and white and it seemed inevitable he would follow the same path.

“It goes way before I was even on this Earth to be honest with you,” Truhe said. “My mom and dad are from Pennsylvania. She had five brothers in the coal region of Pennsylvania and you’re either a Notre Dame fan or a Penn State fan. You really don’t have many other choices back in that region. A lot of her brothers chose Penn State so growing up when I was born, they moved to California, and it was Penn State every weekend.”

Truhe grew up in the height of some of Penn State’s greatest moments. Despite being on the other side of the country and having limited TV options in those days Truhe and his family made sure they didn’t miss much, if any of the action.

 

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“They were very good, obviously have a historic program as far as success,” Truhe said. “I’ve been to so many Penn State events and football games. I was at the ’87 Fiesta Bowl when they played Miami. It was a big game. Penn State upset them and won the National Championship. We took a motorhome out there, it was great. Did the same thing in ’92 when they played Tennessee. It really has been Penn State in my family. My brother played basketball there, my sisters went there, tons of cousins that have gone there and then it came my turn.”

It’s not that Penn State wasn’t looking hard at Truhe because they were. It’s also not that Truhe wasn’t excited about the possibility of doing what the rest of his family had done and were so passionate about, because he was. However, something deep inside of Truhe convinced him he needed to be closer to home and that is when he found his second sports love/obsession that now is now number one in the Utes.

“Time came for me to decide and I ended up going to Utah,” Truhe said. “I was signed, sealed, and delivered to Penn State stepping back a little bit. I went to their summer camps every year from sophomore year on in high school. There just wasn’t anyway I wasn’t going to Penn State, but geography came into play. Penn State was awfully far from California for my parents to see every game. Utah was recruiting me. Sean McNabb did a good job. My mom, dad and I flew up there, checked it out and loved Salt Lake City. Loved Sean McNabb, loved Ron McBride and the rest is history.”

Tommy Truhe Can’t Totally Quit Penn State

Don’t get Truhe wrong. He is a Ute through and through and he will tell anyone who will listen how it was the best decision he ever made, but it’s always hard to completely let go of your first love. Truhe admits some of his teammates probably wanted to kill him back in the day with how much he’d fact drop about the Nittany Lions, proving old habits truly do die hard.

“Really since day one all of my roommates and teammates were sick of hearing me talk about Penn State,” Truhe said. “After the game- we’d win a game and I’d ask about the Penn State score that day. They’d tease me about that and always called me the ‘Hero Back’ because Penn State has a position on defense called ‘Hero Back’ which is kind of like a strong safety.”

Now that the playing days are over for Truhe and his Utah teammates they always make a point to get together to watch the Utes play as much as they can. One year, however, Truhe convinced a bunch of the UBoyz to take a trip with him to Penn State to check out their infamous “whiteout” game and the results were fantastic.

 

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“In 2019 we took Jason Hooks, Barry Sims, and Rob Hamilton to the Penn State versus Michigan ‘whiteout’ which was an instant classic,” Truhe said. “Those guys saw, I think, a lot of what they see when they go to the football facilities in Salt Lake, and they saw that in State College. They saw coach Franklin walking around opening up the doors to anybody and everybody. As long as you’re respectful, they’ll let you in and walk around the facility. We were in their indoor practice facility messing around hitting bags. I think there is a funny video of Barry Sims doing his o-line stuff on one of the bags. I think from their perspective they understand why I still love Penn State so much. I didn’t go there, but I still felt that at Utah. I still felt the family and that’s huge for me.”

Truhe believes the “family” aspect that both Utah and Penn State display is rare based off of conversations he’s had with other friends who have played college ball. He also strongly believes the Utes’ emphasis on family is what made him so comfortable going down a different path than what he always thought he’d be on.

“I can’t think of any other programs just talking with other friends who played at other Division I schools that are as die-hard about their schools as my Penn State friends and my Utah friends,” Truhe said. “It’s going to be a neat matchup from that perspective.”

Utes, Penn State Overcoming Unthinkable Situations

Both Utah and Penn State have had to overcome unthinkable situations, though on polar ends of the spectrum.

For Penn State and their faithful fans, they’ve had to spend the last decade plus coming to grips with the shocking black mark longtime assistant coach Jerry Sandusky left over an otherwise proud 30-year period of Nittany Lion football. The scandal also called into question storied head coach Joe Paterno’s involvement and overall shattered what many thought they knew. By all accounts, Truhe included, new head coach James Franklin has done a great job taking the reins on the healing process and has Penn State in a better place once more.

“It was so far from anything I could imagine happening in the world, let alone Penn State,” Truhe reflected. “It was tough. Really tough. I think Franklin is doing a good job. He’s restored the trust, I think, in the whole administration and he’s an outstanding guy. He’ll return your text messages if you send it. He’s not too busy for that. He’s just a very personable guy and does a great job with getting the players to buy in and run it kind of like they do at Utah.”

 

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Utah has had their own faith-shaking events to overcome in the shocking and sudden deaths of beloved players Ty Jordan and Aaron Lowe within nine months of each other. The two players were high school friends before coming to Utah and wore the number 22. The Utes have managed to reach new heights in program history while simultaneously dealing with the grief that comes with losing family. It’s a story that Truhe feels a particularly strong connection to.

“It’s something that I can’t quite imagine,” Truhe said. “I think you can attribute a lot of it to coach Whittingham. If you think about our own personal lives, when something like that happens, where do you go first? You go to your family. They console you and you bond- I think a lot of that was going on in that locker room. I think that’s the only way you get through something like that, and then for it to hit again. That’s just- I can’t even imagine being in that locker room. What those guys did. What they overcame- just the emotional side of it really is an attributed to leadership. You can go all the way up to the president of the university to Whittingham and even the captains. The leaders at all levels really just did what they had to do.”

“It’s a little weird,” Truhe continued. “I wore number 22 when I played so I’d always pay attention to whoever 22 was. He could be- years ago it was guy who was third string, but I’d find 22 anywhere. When we had 22 shining and then we had this happen to 22- it was tough. It was tougher than tough. What they did, what they accomplished, what they are continuing to accomplish and then all the things you read about 22 passes completed after the comeback in the USC game and there are a lot of 22s that come up. It’s eerie and beautiful and makes you believe there is something else going on out there in this world that we can’t quite put our hands on. It’s definitely neat to see how they are keeping that spirit alive.”

 

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Tommy Truhe Is All Utes, All Day, Every Day

Yes, Truhe’s first college football love was Penn State, but he’s all Utes, all day, every day and will be at the Rose Bowl in a week or so. He says he’s constantly in chats with his former teammates along with many other UBoyz alums that came before or after him just talking about the state of the team, where they are at and where they are going. Truhe, like most Utah football alums, is proud of his roots, and proud to be a small part of what is rapidly becoming a much larger picture than anyone could have imagined in the college football landscape.

“The Sugar Bowl was pretty sweet,” Truhe said. “That was a great win, but this one would be- for me personally, I always loved the Pac-12 versus Big Ten matchups, even in the middle of the season. I’ve always been waiting for Utah to go play at Penn State or visa versa, I think this one to me is bigger just because it is ‘The Grandaddy of them All’. It might be the last Rose Bowl as we know it with the matchups- Big Ten and Pac-12. There is a lot at stake here for history and then as far as us being able to witness it, all the guys who played in the ’90s and 2000s and beyond, it’s come a long way. We were excited for the Vegas Bowl and seeing where these guys go now is just a different level.”

 

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“I think it will be a good game,” Truhe continued. “Penn State is in my DNA, I guess, in my family’s DNA, but I do bleed red so Utah 38, maybe Penn State 24.”

 

Michelle Bodkin is the Utah Utes Insider for KSLsports.com and host of both the Crimson Corner Podcast (SUBSCRIBE) and The Saturday Show (Saturday from 10 a.m.–12 p.m.) on The KSL Sports Zone. Follow her on Twitter and Instagram: @BodkinKSLsports

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