Utes come together as a family in wake of shooting

Over the weekend, two Utah football players, Marcel Brooks-Brown and Lo Falemaka, were involved in a shooting. Subsequently, players and coaches have come together as a family.

Although the two players were not necessarily stars for Utah, it is a loss every player and coach is coping with. Head coach Kyle Whittingham considers all players equal and is doing his best to get through this unfortunate incident, but he is thankful considering that things could have been a lot worse.

“We got to move forward,” Whittingham said. “As a coach, you’ve got 120 guys that essentially you treat like your sons. It has no bearing on what capacity they are on the football team and how much of a factor they are. Them not being front-line guys for us doesn’t make this situation any less impactful.”

Brooks-Brown was released from the hospital last night, but Falemaka won’t be released for another week or so. Whittingham expects Brooks-Brown to rejoin the team sooner than Falemaka, who may be done for the rest of the season.

Gionni Paul was woken up in the middle of the night when the news first broke of the shooting, and he, along with practically the entire team, rushed to the hospital to give support to their teammates. This came as no surprise because he considers the Utah football team to be a family on and off the field.

Just as Whittingham thinks of his players as sons, Paul thinks of all his coaches as father figures and can always go to them for advice.

“We’re behind them 100 percent,” Paul said. “We have a big brotherhood within our community so once we found out, it broke our hearts.”

Paul was relieved to hear his teammates are doing well and is grateful they are now in the recovery process.

“It took a relief off my heart,” Paul said. “I grew up down South, so when you hear somebody got shot, next day might be the funeral.”

Defense wins games

Paul was awarded the Pac-12 Defensive Player of the Week for his efforts against the Aggies on Friday, the second week in a row that a member of the Utah defense has been honored. Against Utah State, he had one interception and recovered one fumble to go with his seven tackles.

Although Whittingham has not been completely satisfied with the defensive efforts, he is proud of Paul’s individual accomplishment.

“Gionni has had an excellent two first-outings,” Whittingham said. “He’s a big-play guy, he’s opportunistic.”

Both Paul and Jared Norris have been leaders for the defense. Paul attributes his success to his teammates, but will make sure to rub it in Norris’ face.

“It’s easier to make plays and have fun,” Paul said. “Playing beside one of the best linebackers in the country, Jared Norris. Me and Jared are very competitive. I’m about to go brag this in his face.”

Dominique Hatfield made his return on the field, and although he was rusty at times, Whittingham believes he did a decent job in his limited action. Hatfield was involved in about 30 snaps for the defense and about 10 for specials teams. If Hatfield continues to improve each game, he will have more of a permanent spot in the rotation.

Hatfield did let one touchdown get by him against Utah State, but he was in the right position so Whittingham does not fault him for it. Rather, Whittingham noticed the defense’s improvements in coverage from the first game, noting that interceptions have been key to winning these games.

“We went a couple years where we couldn’t get an interception to save our lives — seems like we’re over that hump, hopefully,” Whittingham said. “Conversely, the offense is taking great care of the football and not putting our defense in any bad situations.”

Hitting the road

The Utes are on the road for the first time this season when they travel to Fresno State on Saturday. The team still needs to work on cleaning up a few aspects of its game, and this trip will be a good place to do that.

Whittingham is going to rely on his seniors and veterans to lead the younger players considering it’ll be their first road trip at the collegiate level. Though some may view these trips as a little bit of a getaway for a weekend, that is not how the Utes are viewing it.

“It’s a business trip, not a sightseeing tour or anything like that,” Whittingham said.

Paul has the same attitude as his coach. He does not want any of his teammates to slack off, and even though Fresno State played poorly over the weekend, they cannot expect that same team to return to the field the ensuing week — just like Utah State.

“We’re going to play our game and go in and handle business,” Paul said.

This being the last game before conference play begins, the Utes have only this contest left to prepare for the rigors of the Pac-12. Whittingham hopes to correct some of Utah’s deficiencies that have been present in the first couple of games before heading to Oregon in two weeks.

“This is our last non-conference game, so clock is ticking,” Whittingham said.

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