Before the clock starts ticking, whistles are blown and plays are made in the confines of Rice-Eccles Stadium or within the confines of a stadium on the road, the University of Utah defensive backs can be found in a circle on the field dancing, singing or even acting out scenes from all sorts of movies. This is all a part of their pregame ritual.
“Honestly, anything can go on in the circle,” said cornerback Kenric Young.
The goal of the circle is to get the defensive backs pumped for the game they are about to play.
Young said either him or nickel back Boobie Hobbs are usually the ones who get the secondary huddled together and fired up at both home games and away games. He added that they are each other’s “hype men” and whoever is feeling it that day will lead the group.
“It’s just part of my game. As a little kid, I always liked to be the talker, always liked to bring the energy and just get my team hyped around me,” Young said. “Whether we’re doing bad or whether we’re doing good, I just like to try to put a smile on somebody’s face and make people laugh and just give them a show.”
Carrying a Tradition
After three years at the wide receiver position for the Utes, Young moved to the cornerback spot this year. Up until this season, he hadn’t been a part of many pregame rituals since he was on the field practicing running routes before the games. As a cornerback, he said he now has a little extra time before kickoff, and that allows him and the rest of the unit to continue doing what strong safety Chase Hansen calls “a tradition.”
“We talk to each other, tell each other what we need to do in the secondary,” Hansen said. “And then we say a group prayer.”
Inside the locker room, while the fans pile into the stadium, the team regroups and instead of showing energy through movement, they turn to the man above to help get locked in. Young said the defensive backs will also say a prayer led by sophomore Terrell Burgess. He said Hansen then shares a few thoughts and if anyone else has something to add, they speak up.
Beginning the Trend
Letting loose on the field before the game and then praying is something that cornerback Jaylon Johnson believes helps to get the Utes focused on the task ahead.
“It seals our confidence and seals our trust in each other, and we know that our teammates are going to have our backs,” Johnson said. “It just gives us comfort going into the game.”
Although Johnson is in his first season as a Ute, he is all too familiar with pregame rituals from his high school playing days. On game days back then, Johnson and “his crew” had their usual warm up routine on the sidelines and before they knew it, his entire team — including his coach — would end up dancing in preparation for the contest about to begin.
“It’s definitely nothing new coming up and having a fun circle,” Johnson said.
While these pregame rituals are done together as defensive backs, Young also does his own unique thing before hitting the gridiron. He doesn’t believe in game day superstitions, but he does make sure to always recognize those he carries in his heart before he hits the gridiron. He will make the sign of the cross then kiss the air three times in honor and memory of the loved ones in his life.
“[I’m] praying to my family [members who are] gone, and I got some people behind bars,” Young said. “And [I’m] just praying for my family back home and my teammates’ families and our safety on the field.”
Whether it is an individual pregame ritual or if it is done in a group, like the ritual the defensive backs have taken a liking to, finding ways to “turn up and have fun with each other,” isn’t all they do together, according to Johnson.
Besides watching film, the defensive backs also have a group message where they are constantly sending texts back and forth as they are joking around with each other. Sometimes, they can be found on headsets playing “Call of Duty” or some sort of other game on the PS4.
On the field in a circle or off the field, the defensive backs stay tight-knit. What takes place in that circle differs every time the Utes take to the field, but what remains the same is the fact that the defensive backs support each other. That’s a part of why they do these pregame rituals, not only to get hyped up to play in front of thousands of people, but to let each other know they are in it together. Sometimes it just takes jumping up and down, pretending to be actors and belting out songs while dancing to show the unity that lies within this group of players.