Warm reception: LaTendresse should be back for the Utes on Saturday

Travis LaTendresse has had plenty of time to watch the U football team over the past few weeks. Since suffering a severely painful high ankle sprain in a loss to Colorado State last month, LaTendresse has been relegated to the sidelines, forced to watch the Utes’ two most impressive victories of the season as a spectator.

But the Utes could very well be seeing the return of the senior leader of the receiving corps as LaTendresse himself expects to be fully ready to go when the team takes on New Mexico on Saturday.

“I feel great. I’ll be 100 percent for the game,” he said.

In his place, however, the U receiving corps has done an admirable job, as more and more players have gotten involved in the passing game as the season has moved along. Eleven different receivers caught passes Saturday against Wyoming, including JUCO transfer Freddy Brown, whose first-ever collegiate reception went for 37 yards. Local freshman Marquis Wilson has been seen on both kick and punt returns, and his offensive snaps have increased as well.

“They’ve been playing great. A lot of the young guys have been stepping up and making plays,” LaTendresse said.

LaTendresse, who in six games this year has 24 catches for 316 yards and a pair of touchdowns, says that the growing experience and maturity of his younger teammates has been a huge factor in the Utes’ recent turnaround.

While several other players have mentioned that the team’s slump earlier this season was related, to an extent, to the team’s youth, others have pointed to a pair of heartbreaking losses as a main reason why the team was so dejected and erratic during much of the season’s first half.

“The confidence thing is probably the biggest factor. That (overtime) loss to TCU really had a residual effect that seemed to linger for a few weeks,” head coach Kyle Whittingham said. “That had more of an effect than I ever expected…but I think that’s completely out of our system.”

Probably the most infamous game of the Utes’ season came at Colorado State, where the U offense stalled at the 1-yard line en route to a 21-17 defeat.

LaTendresse said that was the most damaging defeat of them all.

“That Colorado State loss really hurt…and I think a direct result was that San Diego State loss the next week,” LaTendresse said. “SDSU is a good team, but if we play our game, we should be able to beat a team like that.”

But the change has been evident ever since the Utes’ freefall hit rock bottom during that disappointing home loss to the Aztecs. Whereas the team was written off just a few weeks ago, Utah might now be the favorite to snag the Mountain West Conference’s third expected bowl bid.

“I think this team is gaining confidence. I think we’re gaining our identity and our personality,” Whittingham said. “Better late than never. I think they believe in each other, they trust each other.”

“We’re starting to get that luster back here, that winning tradition. It’s nice, it’s a good feeling on Mondays when we come back (from a win),” LaTendresse said. “We’ve just got to continue to work and hopefully get that feeling next Monday.”

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