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Former Utah Football Players, Coaches Kick Off Second Year Of Ute Reservation Camp

Jun 26, 2024, 4:09 PM

ROOSEVELT, UT- Former Utah football players and coaches are at the Uintah-Ouray Ute Reservation this week to help spread the love of sports to the tribal kids for a second-straight year.

Founder of Athletes for Life and former Utah punter Hank Mondaca along with his merry band of ’70s and ’80s legends that include the likes of defensive back Erroll Tucker, and defensive lineman Jeff Reyes played host to about 20 Ute kids as well as good representation from the Union High football team on day one of camp.

Athletes for Life will be joined by current Utah football players as well as coaching legend Ron McBride on the second and final day of camp on June 27.

 

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Former Utah Players, Coaches Share What Being A Ute Has Meant To Them

Mondaca addressed the group first, welcoming everyone back while also commending the Union High players for their diligence last year in applying everything they learned from camp while also including the Ute kids from the reservation. Mondaca then encouraged the kids to keep it up and continue to build each other up.

“The union guys- you really took in the res kids,” Mondaca said. “You really took in the tribal boys who were here and helped them along. It’s going to be the same thing this year. Be patient with them. We are here to help them as much as we are here to help you. Take them in. Help them out. They are a part of your group. You all have the same shirts on.”

Tucker then enchanted the kids with his journey from junior college to Utah, and then the NFL where he had stints with the Steelers, Buffalo Bills and the Patriots.

“After Utah I got drafted to the Pittsburg Steelers and then I played with the Buffalo Bills and the Patriots,” Tucker said. “I was on that first team with the Buffalo Bills that lost the Super Bowl- they lost four straight. From there I went to New England and then to the World Football League and then went to Canada for my last season to play with the Calgary Stampede.”

 

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Utah Football Records & Respect For The Game

Not everyone’s time with football went the way that Tucker’s did with an NFL career. Jeff Reyes was quick to point out his pivotal time was in college where he still holds a few records despite the fact the Utes are known for their stellar defensive linemen.

“There are a lot of d-linemen that have come from Utah,” Reyes said. “I’m still top five 40-something years later. Tackles for loss- I still hold the single game tackles for loss- it’s 40-something yards where you take them back. Those things- they can’t take away from you.”

For Steve F. Hallsey who was an All-WAC linebacker and later the defensive coordinator for the Utes, it was always about what the game gave him outside of the gridiron.

“The things I took away from that experience is much greater than just going to school,” Hallsey said. “What you should be taking away from this camp is teamwork, brotherhood, and feeling good about each other. The number one thing I look for in every player was one element- one thing only- that was the commitment of that individual. If you have commitment- if you are dedicated- you don’t quit in the fourth quarter, and you’ll win more ball games.”

 

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The Wisdom That Comes From Many Places

Former Utah defensive coordinator Dave Kotulski has had an illustrious career all over college football that included stops with Utah for 12 years, Utah State, Stanford where he helped the Cardinal to two Rose Bowl wins, and more recently as an analyst with Texas and Nevada.

“The price of admission, is effort,” Kotulski wisely stated. “Give it all that you’ve got, enjoy it because before you know it- I started coaching in 1974. Just think of that. That was 50 years ago. I’ve been doing this for a few years and the number one thing I have is the relationships I’ve built.”

It’s A Long-Time Brotherhood

Lance Wingert played linebacker during the Jim Fassel era talked about how blessed he’s been to follow guys like Mondaca and Reyes from the time they were playing high school ball together all the way through Utah.

“This gentleman right here is the best punter you’ve ever seen,” Wingert said of Mondaca. “I kid you not, he could stand 45 yards away and hit you on the head with a ball day after day. Jeff Reyes beat me up and taught me how to love people. When I was a freshman, he was a junior or a senior at St. Paul High School. Coach Kotulski had already moved on from St. Paul, but I knew his spirit lived on there. I went there because I wanted to be a part of a championship team.”

 

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A Utah Athletics Legacy

Former offensive lineman Jackson Barton always knew what he wanted to do- be a Ute just like the rest of his family, but he acknowledged that meant having to work extra hard.

“I’ve always known I wanted to be a Utah Ute,” Barton said. “My parents, my uncles- they all went to the University of Utah. Growing up I always knew I wanted to be a Utah Ute. That was my goal. I wanted to play college where my dad played. I wanted to go play with my brothers. I wanted to play where my family played. In sixth grade, every day- that was my mindset.”

Ute Proud Has A Deeper Meaning

At the end of day one, former Utah offensive lineman Gene Knickrehm asked all of the kids from the reservation at the camp to standup so he could thank them for sharing something so special with every Utah Athlete past, present, and future- a piece of their heritage.

 

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“When I was a senior in high school, I didn’t know what a Ute was,” Knickrehm said. “I had no idea. When I was coming to the University of Utah and play for these coaches. When I knew I was going to be wearing the Drum and Feather on the side of my helmet- I had to go research it to understand what a Ute was. Once I did, I understood that they protect their own. They fight for their own. They are warriors when they need to be warriors. That was so important to me because it wasn’t just going out and doing stuff just to do it- everything they did had a purpose. Football is the same way. I became really proud of my Utah Ute heritage and being able to call myself a Ute. The reason I get to call myself a Ute is because of you guys. Your tribe, your foundation- helped me set my foundation. It helped me build my own tribe with my family. Thank you guys. I appreciate you guys. Stand proud in your blood because I am proud of you and I’m proud to be associated with you.”

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 XInstagram, and Threads: @BodkinKSLsports

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Former Utah Football Players, Coaches Kick Off Second Year Of Ute Reservation Camp