|By Lya Wodraska|
The Salt Lake Tribune
Salt Lake Tribune
|Article Last Updated:08/06/2007 02:37:10 AM MDT|
As a throng of media members surrounded him Saturday after Utah's first day of fall camp, Matt Asiata broke into a big smile, stepped back a little and spread his arms as he took in his new jersey.
"Yeah, first day in a red uniform," he said with a mixture of disbelief and relief.
Asiata, the much-heralded Snow College transfer, never imagined he'd be in a Utah uniform when he was a star at Hunter High in West Valley City.
Then, he thought his only experience in Rice-Eccles Stadium would be his senior season when he played in the venue in the state championship game in which he led the Wolverines to the state title.
He expected the next time he'd be in Utah's home arena it would be as a BYU player.
Obviously, things didn't happen that way. While he was at Snow College working on his academics and piling up yards and accolades, the Cougars forgot about him, in his opinion.
"They never talked to me," he said.
He heard plenty from Utah his sophomore year, enough to persuade him to sign with the Utes.
It was hard to tell who was happier Saturday, Asiata, a prep star who finally made it to a major college, or the Utes, whose running game needs the kind of "umph" Asiata can provide.
"He's a hammer," Utah coach Kyle Whittingham said. "He can get outside, but he can also just run over you, too."
That style brings a much different kind of threat to the Utes this season than last year's starter, the 5-foot-11, 200-pound Darryl Poston, who prefers to slash his way through defenses. He averaged 3.8 yards a carry and 42.5 yards a game. As a team, Utah averaged 140.5 rushing yards a game to rank fourth in the conference.
The numbers were OK, but the Utes need more to be a conference contender, so they chased Asiata as hard as the defenders he faced at Snow.
"We really liked him out of high school, and when he didn't qualify, we knew right where he was and what he was doing the entire time," Whittingham said. "We feel like we got a good one."
Asiata earned junior college All-American honors after leading the all-Western States Football League finishing the 2006 season with 1,365 yards and 15 touchdowns.
Eager to begin his career with the Utes, he joined his future teammates in summer workouts and dropped 15 pounds, but still is a hefty load to try and bring down at 6-0, 235 pounds.
"I got bigger," Asiata said in comparing himself to two years ago. "I hit linebackers. I'm not skinny anymore. I'm trying to get my speed back, now."
Whittingham maintains there is a contest at running back, but most assumptions are it won't take Asiata long to solidify himself as a starter. The coaches are giving him plenty of opportunities to impress them, having him work with the first and second team.
The biggest difference he has noticed since coming to Utah is the speed, Asiata said.
"It's so fast," he said. "Everyone is quick and the tempo is fast. It's hard, but I'll get through it."