Mountain Weddle Conference: Junior safety leads nine Utes on All-MWC team

There was cause for celebration for several members of the U football team Monday, but it was Eric Weddle who stole all the thunder.

The junior safety was named the MWC’s Defensive Player of the Year, leading a group of nine Utes who were named to the All-conference team, including five on the first team.

Weddle-whose contributions all over the field may have been the biggest reason behind the Utes’ winning three of their last four games-becomes the second-straight Ute defensive back to take home the honor, following Morgan Scalley last season.

“I’m honored to have my name on that (award),” Weddle said. “It’s pretty cool that we get to keep it in the Utah family, with Morgan getting it last year. I’m really excited about it.”

The 6-foot, 200-pound junior was instrumental in the Utes’ late-season push toward bowl contention, as he shifted out of his strong-safety spot at times and moved all over the field, as cornerback, nickel back, safety and even linebacker.

With the team’s postseason hopes hanging by a thread Nov. 5, Weddle moved to corner and manhandled the conference’s top wide receiver, Wyoming’s Jovon Bouknight, as the Utes sailed to a 43-13 win.

He may have been even bigger in the season-ending upset over BYU, as he played seven different positions (including quarterback and punter) and led the way for a Utah defensive effort that held the high-powered Cougars in check for much of the afternoon.

In his third season at the U, Weddle led the conference with 15 passes defended, picked off four passes and added four sacks while finishing with 75 total tackles, third best on the team.

Amazingly for a safety, Weddle also had 11 tackles for loss, second only to standout defensive tackle Steve Fifita.

Joining Weddle on the first team were Fifita-who made it for the second year in a row-offensive lineman Jesse Boone, linebacker Spencer Toone and placekicker Dan Beardall.

Toone led the MWC in tackles with 106, while Fifita had 12 tackles for loss and a team-high five sacks.

Beardall, in his first season as the Ute kicker, missed just three field goals all season and was a semi-finalist for the Lou Groza Award, given to the nation’s top kicker.

Sophomore quarterback Brian Johnson was left off the first team in favor of BYU’s John Beck, perhaps due to the season-ending knee injury Johnson suffered in the team’s loss to New Mexico. Johnson led the conference in total offense per game and was among the nation’s leaders as well.

He headlined the All-MWC second team, where he was joined by three Ute teammates, junior safety Casey Evans, senior tailback Quinton Ganther and junior tackle Tavo Tupola.

Evans led the team with five interceptions and was second on the team in tackles.

He is the third Ute safety to earn All-MWC honors in the last two years (joining Weddle and Scalley).

“It’s good recruiting by the coaches and the defense is made for the safeties to make plays,” Weddle said. “With Morgan last year, Casey and myself, we can make plays when they need to be made, and that’s what it’s all about.”

Ganther finished with exactly 1,000 yards on an astounding 5.5 yards-per-carry and upgraded his honorable mention honors from 2004.

The Utes were represented on the All-conference team at every position except wide receiver, where the catches were probably spread a little bit too thin for any one player to get standout recognition.

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