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The Daily Utah Chronicle

The University of Utah's Independent Student Voice

The Daily Utah Chronicle

The University of Utah's Independent Student Voice

The Daily Utah Chronicle

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The last dance: Football’s seniors get ready to say goodbye

This is it. For several key members of the U football team, the Emerald Bowl will not only close out the season, but their careers as well. Twenty-seven seniors will say goodbye in San Francisco, including some of the biggest names on the team-Quinton Ganther, Steve Fifita, Jesse Boone, Travis LaTendresse and Spencer Toone, to name just a few.

For Ganther, the site of his final collegiate game is doubly important considering he grew up in Richmond, just a few minutes outside of San Francisco. He says “about 120” friends and family members will be attending the Emerald Bowl, making it an especially memorable going-away party.

“It means a lot to me. It’s even better that I get to play in front of a home crowd, all my family and friends will be there, so I’ll go out on the right note,” Ganther said. “It’s going to be great. It’s exciting. I told everyone about it, and I think they’re more excited than I (am).”

Among several other key seniors, Ganther has had a huge role this season considering the glut of youth up and down the team’s roster. U head coach Kyle Whittingham said that his seniors’ leadership has been instrumental in the team’s ability to rebound from the highs and lows of the 2005 season and in developing a mature squad for next year.

“It’s been very important. We had three-game skid earlier this year that included that fiasco at Colorado State…a lot of teams would have folded their tents right then and there and just gone through the motions the rest of the season,” Whittingham said.

“But credit (goes) to our seniors and our captains…(for rallying) the troops.”

Ganther said that his role as a leader extended past football obligations into off-field responsibilities as well.

“Some of the guys were new; it’s their first time away from home-they call me when they need things. Sometimes you need somebody to talk to,” Ganther said.

But every season, on every college football team nationwide, the seniors whom the team has relied on so heavily are forced to move on once the season is over. For the Utes, some of their most proven players will be done with Utah football once the final whistle blows Dec. 29.

But U head coach Kyle Whittingham has seen who is on the horizon for his team, and he fully expects the leadership of his current senior class to rub off on everyone else.

“No question-that’s how it happens. There’s a batch of leaders that are coming up-Eric Weddle, Casey Evans, Brian Johnson, Brian Hernandez, Tavo Tupola,” Whittingham said.

“There are a number of players who are going to step up and be excellent leaders.”

Weddle, who was named the MWC’s Defensive Player of the Year earlier this week, has been making the transition into a leadership role all season long. His play speaks for itself, but he has also become a more vocal leader both on and off the field.

“It’s been a transition this year, just trying to take over as a leader for the defense and trying to step up more,” Weddle said.

All season long, Ute players and coaches have talked about “sending the seniors out right,” and after a thrilling victory over BYU in Provo, an upset against a highly touted team like Georgia Tech would be icing on the cake.

“It’s huge. Going against a great team like Georgia Tech, it’s a huge opponent that we’re excited for. (The seniors) deserve it,” Weddle said.

In the mind of Whittingham, the seniors accomplished their most important goal in the win over the Cougars and just getting to a bowl game. While winning is on everyone’s mind, he said he was happy to at least see his seniors get where they wanted to be.

“Getting to the bowl game was the biggest plus, giving them the opportunity to get in postseason play. Now it’s important that we play well,” Whittingham said. “We’ve got to go out there and play great football, and if we come away with a victory, then that’s even more of a bonus for those seniors.”

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