Camp Kyle: True Freshmen Look to Make Immediate Impact

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True freshmen Xavier Carlton (44) and Clark Phillips III (21) at Utah Football practice. (Image Courtesy: Utah Athletics)

By Cole Bagley and Sammy Mora

 

As we near the end of fall camp and charge towards the start of the 2020 Utah football season, fans should be prepared to see a plethora of young faces on the field this season. While some of these faces might not be taking the majority of the reps for their position group this year, they will still be gaining valuable playing time. 

Head coach Kyle Whittingham has had nothing but good things to say about true freshman safety Nate Ritche since the beginning of camp. Whittingham went as far to compare the 6’2″ safety to former Ute Chase Hansen. 

Both Ritche and Hansen went to high school locally at Lone Peak, adding yet another point to the shared characteristics. 

“It gives me a little fire under me to be compared to him [Hansen] because not only at my high school was he one of the greatest, but especially here at Utah he’s one of the greatest,” Ritche said. “It shows that coach Whitt has some confidence in me, which really builds my confidence and being able to improve every day.”

Speaking on building confidence and holding themselves to the highest standards, defensive back Clark Phillips III says that the hype around him isn’t being ignored but he has goals that he himself wants to reach before his time at Utah is over. 

“I have goals that I don’t really mention to people,” Phillips started. “I have goals that are written down inside my room at my house that I look at every day, that remind me every single morning what I’m doing it for and what I came to Salt Lake City for. But for the pressure that’s been added to my shoulders, I don’t feel too much of it because of how hard I am on myself personally. That pressure is definitely needed and it’s definitely encouraging to see people who have confidence in me. But I will say that the pressure that can be added from fans or even just seeing things online, is nothing like the pressure I give myself every day.” 

Another challenge for new freshmen is the expectation and requirement to transition to the college level of play. Suddenly, the playing field becomes a lot more even. Size and strength are no longer automatic advantages like they were for a defensive end Xavier Carlton, who towered over his high school competition, standing at 6’6″ and weighing 260 pounds. 

“The biggest adjustment coming from high school is playing against offensive linemen that are the same height and weight as me,” Carlton said. “Coming from Juan Diego High School down in Draper, Utah, I was used to playing against offensive linemen that were, you know, 5’9 or lower. So I think that was the biggest adjustment in coming up to the University. Going up against linemen that are taller than me, but I know I have the ability to take care of that and excel.” 

But lucky for these new guys, they don’t have to make these adjustments and leaps all by themselves. Coaches, teammates and mentors are all by their side in order to help them improve both on and off the field. Freshman and defensive end, Van Fillinger, has felt right at home with the new relationships he’s been able to make since joining the program.

“The coaches and the relationships I’ve made here have been really genuine, it feels like,” Finllinger said. “I really like the people that I’m around every day. It makes it really easy to get up and do the hard work that we have to do. So I think that’s one of the things that’s made it easier for me coming in.”

With a tenured coach like Kyle Whittingham, you expect nothing less. He is constantly preaching the family mentality and before every game gathers the team around him for his iconic, “Family on three!” cheer before taking the field. He believes in his team. He expects them to be ready to go from day one and he looks for common attributes when recruiting his players. 

“Talent is the common thread with that class,” Whittingham said. “I think that’s a big reason, particularly on defense we were able to land a bunch of those guys is the departure of nine starters and virtually everyone of those guys is in the NFL. That created an opportunity for this recruiting class, and that was a big selling point for a lot of these freshmen, was to say hey these guys are all gone, here’s a great opportunity for young guys to come in and play right away.”

 

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