Utah Football Players Past, Present Impress At Ute Reservation

Jun 28, 2024, 12:26 PM

ROOSEVELT, UT – Day two of Athletes for Life didn’t disappoint as about 25 members of the Utah football team descended on the Ute Reservation to close out year two of the growing football camp.

In partnership with the Crimson Collective, current members of the football team provided wisdom, technique and guidance to kids that often don’t get that kind of attention.

It was a great next step in not only continuing to strengthen the relationship between Utah Athletics and the Ute Tribe, but also strengthening the relationship between past and current Utah athletes.


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Athletes For Life Saw Incredible Growth From Year One To Year Two

Athletes for Life founder Hank Mondaca was expecting some growth and changes to his charity, but even he couldn’t have predicted the growth his camp saw from year one to year two.

Not only did the number of Ute children present exceed the former Utah punter’s expectations (year two saw about 20 compared to the seven or so from the year before) but the number of current Utah football players present was considerably more than the one or two he was hoping for.


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“A lot more of the community from the Ute tribe has come out this year versus last year,” Mondaca said. “You really have to set some trust. A lot of non-profits come out here and try to use some government funds. Sometimes you see them and sometimes you don’t, and they are well aware of that. We still have to establish some trust with the community with the adults, with the parents, but they’ve doubled in size from last year. We hope it doubles again next year. It’s all about them. It’s for them to get the awareness out.”

Ute Tribe elder Forrest Cuch described the growth and effort from all involved with Athletes for Life an “honor”.

“We’re very honored to have the University of Utah football program and Hank and his group, Athletes for Life here,” Cuch said. “I think it’s obvious the program is growing with more participation this year and I think it will continue to grow.”


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Spending Time With The Utes Proved To Be Powerful Experience For Utah Football

Free safety Tao Johnson was particularly touched by the experience due to his Paiute and Arapaho heritage. Johnson says he understands that not every Native kid grows up with the same opportunities and to take some time to bring those opportunities to the Utes meant a lot.

“Growing up my mom and my parents always made it known to me that I’m fortunate to have what I have,” Johnson said. “We got to go out and see a lot of the other reservations and work with a lot of kids growing up too. They don’t get all the opportunities that everyone else does. Just being able to bring opportunities to them and having them come out and see them having fun- enjoying the same things that a lot of other kids get to enjoy too.”


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Utah quarterback Isaac Wilson says he had a great time playing with the kids and that the experience gave a little more meaning to the name he wears across his chest.

“I’m just proud to have that name on my jersey every time I play,” Wilson said. “Just meeting some of these great people- they’ve gone through it. They know what hard work is and I’m going to wear that on my jersey every time I play.”

Defensive tackle Junior Tafuna said it was an honor to spend the day with the real Utes on their land getting to know who they represent every Saturday out on the gridiron.

“It’s special- we’re here on their homeland and that makes it even more special to be here because this is basically history just to be on grounds where they did everything,” Tafuna said. “It’s special to give back to them because we carry that name- and I’m glad we carry that name. We’re going to carry it well. It’s an awesome experience.”


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The Old School, Meets The New School Utes

Athletes for Life’s original core mostly centers around former Utah football players and coaches that made their names in the ’70s and ’80s that wanted to serve the people they were so proud to represent 30-40 years ago.

Being able to bring in some of the guys now carrying the torch on the field of play and getting to know them while also getting to know the Ute Tribe clearly only served to strengthen what was already a strong brotherhood between generations.


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“Being a Ute- we treasure that,” former Utah defensive back Erroll Tucker said. “We treasure that from generation to generation- from team to team. Once you become a Ute, you’re a Ute. To this day, a lot of Utes keep in contact. We have our own threads and chats that guys still talk about our college team, our college days. The present youth, the past youth, and the future youth. It’s special. All of these things are special when it comes to talking about Utah. Being here to give back to some of the Ute kids from the reservation- even the kids not from the reservation- we just love doing what we do and it’s our opportunity to show the love that we have for the game.”

Michelle Bodkin is the Utah Utes Insider for 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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Utah Football Players Past, Present Impress At Ute Reservation