Fall Sports Preview


Chronicle archives

By Eric Jensen, Sports Writer


This year, fans will return to college athletics at the University of Utah. Ute fans will swarm back and pack Rice-Eccles Stadium and the Huntsman Center as they have done for years. The buzz of having students and faculty back on campus this year has everyone excited, including coaches. In the season previews of fall sports below, you will see what nearly every fall sports coach has to say about things returning to normalcy in the fall.

Spoiler alert: it’s almost all positive. Football will return this fall in hopes of winning the Pac-12 South three times in four years and the coaching staff is excited to have the fans back.

There is so much this year for students to be excited about in terms of fall sports. A top football team is also matched with what should be another incredible volleyball team, containing the Pac-12 player of the year.

Ute soccer will have new look under a new head coach, and men’s and women’s tennis will be back in action as well. Cross-country will return strong, as the Utes finished fifth in the Pac-12 tournament last year. Overall, it’s an impressive roster returning for fall sports and students should be excited to return to the stands, because what’s been missing the last six months hasn’t been competition or great moments — it’s you. Welcome to your 2021 fall sports preview.


Football, by far the biggest sport at the U, returns in the fall in front of jam-packed stands once again. Head coach Kyle Whittingham is excited about it.

“It’s going to be great having fans back in Rice-Eccles Stadium, and with the addition of the Ken Garff Red Zone, the atmosphere is going to be incredible. Our home field advantage is second to none and a full stadium combined with The MUSS leading the way is going to make things very difficult for opposing teams. We can’t wait for September 2,” Whittingham said.

The offseason for the Utes has been tumultuous at times. Last December, the tragic death of Ty Jordan left the university and the athletics department stunned and shocked. Jordan was only 19 years old.

His death was doubly tragic, as Jordan likely would have been the best running back in the Pac-12 this year and a sleeper for the Heisman trophy. He was one of the most talented running backs the U ever had and he only got to play in five games.

Though this season will have the cloud of Jordan’s death hanging over it, from an on-field football perspective, the Utes have a reason for optimism. They picked up Charlie Brewer, who, two years ago, nearly piloted Baylor to the college football playoffs.

QB will be an open competition between Brewer and now-sophomore Cameron Rising. Rising won the starting job last year, but played only the first half of the season-opening game after suffering a severe shoulder injury.

The Utes’ talent in the passing game starts with tight end Brant Kuithe, who is expected to be an NFL draft pick next year. Big names also join from the transfer portal, including grad-transfer Theo Howard from Oklahoma. Solomon Enis and Jaylon Dixon return and will try to become bigger pieces of the offense while security blanket Britain Covey is back yet again for Utah.

The Utes have done well in the transfer portal on offense this summer. To re-up their running back room, they have Chris Curry of LSU and T.J. Pledger of Oklahoma, while freshman Michah Bernard is expected to have a decent role in the running game as well.

Utah will look to attack the ground game through a two-headed attack this year — that is, until a workhorse emerges.

The defense is home-grown and stacked. A secondary that over-performed last year is now back with most of its starters, including star corner Clark Phillips III. Additionally, Kamoi Latu will replace Nate Ritchie — who is serving an LDS mission — at strong safety.

The strength of the defense lies in the linebacking core. Some view middle linebacker Devin Lloyd as the best in the country. A good year from him will lock him in as a first-rounder next year in the NFL draft. Nephi Sewell returns as the rover and Moroni Anae makes his debut, likely as a starter, this fall. Going up the middle against the Utes will prove tough.

On the edge, Mika Tafua and Maxs Tupai will look to ensure that “Sack Lake City” remains on the map. The Utes should be a top defense in the country. If the offense pulls its weight, there is reason to believe the Utes will be in the top ten for most of the season, fighting for a playoff spot.

The biggest threats in the Pac-12 South come from USC and Arizona State, led by talented quarterbacks, Kedon Slovis and Jayden Daniels, respectively.


Utes Volleyball was dominant last year. They started the season 8-0 and went 13-4 in the Pac-12, one of the toughest volleyball conferences in the nation.

But, if you ask around the program, many will say that the end of the year was a disappointment. The Utes were one of the top teams in the country going into the national tournament. They were seeded as the 14th best team in the country but unfortunately lost to Pittsburgh in just the second round.

With that said, the team is expected to be great again this year. They return most starters, including Pac-12 player of the year Dani Drews. The expectations this year for the Utes should be high.

Head coach Beth Launiere is excited for students to return to the Huntsman Center so they can see this great team play in 2021.

“Having students back on campus in the fall will be the first sign of normalcy. The energy and excitement they bring have been missed. It will especially feel normal when our fans are back in their seats in the Huntsman Center. We can’t wait,” Launiere said.


This fall, much will be new for the University of Utah’s women’s soccer team. For one, they will have a new head coach, Hideki Nakada.

Nakada comes from Stanford, women’s soccer powerhouse in the Pac-12. He coached for the Cardinal for seven years and brought two national championships to the Cardinal. Judging from Nakada’s early comments to the Chronicle, the Utes will be a counterattacking team.

“I expect us to be competitive in every match. We will be organized on both sides of the ball and make it difficult for our opponents to break us down. I also expect our defense to help give us scoring opportunities in the attacking third,” Nakada said.

This means leaning on their defense and wingers, including Brianna Pearson, to launch counterattacking football. Kaylee Coatney and Ragan Fuller return as well as defensive stall-worths. Seniors Brooklyn James and Makayla Christensen will lead the Utes up front and try to improve upon a poor offensive campaign last year in which the Utes scored only twelve goals in sixteen games.

Those types of numbers won’t cut it in the high-scoring Pac-12 and Nakada will look to implement a system that compliments Utah’s defensive style while also giving them chances to score goals.

“Our team is excited to train in the gym and on the field without restrictions, which will help us push each other more, both physically and mentally. I am excited to see where we are when we start training officially on August 3,” Nakada said.


After the spring season, men’s and women’s tennis will return this fall. Last year was generally disappointing, with women’s tennis going 0-10 in conference play during the season. Men’s tennis went 18-12 on the season but did poorly in conference, going 2-5. Women’s tennis head coach Ric Mortera is excited about a return to normalcy.

“I think we are all very excited to have a return to normalcy. First of all, we are very much creatures of habit and having the ability to get back into a bit of a normal routine not only with our academics and training but being able to spend more time with the people closest to us in person, is great for everyone. Having faced much adversity this past year, it will definitely be a breath of fresh air and it really makes us all appreciate the great situation we have here. We are just really thrilled to be able to get back to work and see each other more often in all kinds of settings,” Mortera said.


An exciting season of fall sports lies ahead with a sporting event occurring almost every day this fall. Buckle up, Utah fans — it’s going to be a wild ride!


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