This is an archived article that was published on sltrib.com in 2014, and information in the article may be outdated. It is provided only for personal research purposes and may not be reprinted.

One way or another, Jeremiah Poutasi would've been readying for a balance-tipping game at Rice-Eccles Stadium, but he might have been doing so in Eugene.

Utah's left tackle has started 30 games, and he's allowed just three sacks in 564 snaps this season. He's one of Utah's leading all-conference candidates.

And he was nearly a Duck.

But before it ever came to that, before Pac-12 suitors tripped over each other for his allegiance, he was also nearly an academic nonqualifier.

For guidance counselor Sean Abid, the story begins on a Thursday night at Desert Pines High, when he first watched the 6-foot-6 sophomore play not offensive line, but defensive line, in garbage time.

Abid was awed by the big kid's quick feet.

After the game, he said to the football coach, a friend of his, "Do you realize what you have here? That guy's a dancing bear. He looks like Fred Flinstone."

Abid oversaw counseling for athletes at the Las Vegas school and discovered that Poutasi — dancing bear or no — was unlikely to ever play Division I football. His transcript was in ruin.

So, with the support of Poutasi's parents, Abid set about "rebuilding" his transcript, opting for NCAA core classes instead of specialized classes preferred by the school district, and enrolling Poutasi in summer classes.

Poutasi would come over to Abid's house on fall Saturdays and watch college football between sections of the practice ACT, or they'd go to a sports restaurant with coaches and discuss his eligibility.

"There were times when I had to really get on him, but once we started working together, he did everything I asked him to do," Abid said.

Not just in the classroom — where Abid said Poutasi raised his GPA in NCAA core classes from 1.2 to 2.8 — but also in the weight room.

Abid lifts, and he'd compete with Poutasi. As a sophomore, Poutasi struggled to bench 185, and by his junior year, he was hitting 15 reps at 225 without breaking a sweat.

Others began to see it. Poutasi was rated a four-star prospect by Rivals.com. Offers poured in.

Abid emphasized schools' academic support and recalled a positive experience with former area safety Deshawn Richard at the U. He asked Poutasi which recruiter he felt most comfortable with. Poutasi told him it was then-Utah assistant Jay Hill.

But he was also enamored of the BCS runners-up: Chip Kelly's Ducks.

"I'm not going to lie, Oregon was a school that I always wanted to go to," Poutasi said.

In fall of Poutasi's senior year, Oregon persuaded him to schedule a trip the weekend of the ACT — against Abid's wishes — and then canceled on Poutasi the day prior.

They opted to bring in another lineman instead, Abid said. He was furious. Oregon gave Abid what he calls a "BS excuse" that Poutasi's transcript didn't cut it.

"I said, 'This is baloney. This kid's a hard-luck qualifier, and you just made it so he can't take this test.' "

Abid was born in Oregon and owned a Ducks helmet, but he was so fed up that he gave it to a student.

Oregon later re-entered the picture shortly before signing day. Poutasi visited Eugene, after all. Abid said the Ducks told him then that Poutasi's transcript — essentially no different from what they had seen in fall — was now up to snuff.

It was too little, too late, though.

"It wasn't the same as Utah," Poutasi said. "The family atmosphere, the coaches, the players — everybody's just one big family [here]."

So Poutasi stuck by Utah, and Utah, like Abid, stuck by him.

In July of Poutasi's senior year, Hill called Abid to say Poutasi had qualified. Abid considers it one of his fondest memories.

"He played a big role in my life," Poutasi said. "I think he's the reason why I'm here today."

He started at right tackle as a freshman, and then on the left side as a sophomore, when he was the target of criticism while trying to contain the likes of this year's No. 9 overall NFL draft pick Anthony Barr.

Abid said Poutasi was playing through multiple injuries, though he'd never talk about it, and offensive line coach Jim Harding feels Poutasi is probably more of a natural guard who happens to also be their best left tackle.

After dropping more than 30 pounds in the offseason, he's looked more at home on the outside.

"His footwork is amazing, he's a lot faster than he was last year, and he's just a powerhouse," said sophomore left guard Isaac Asiata. "Amazing strength."

Harding said that against ASU, Poutasi was beat for the first time this season on a speed rush. It happened once, and not again.

Poutasi still talks to Abid to calm his nerves before big games. Facing the No. 5 Ducks this Saturday, Poutasi admits, is about as big as it gets for him.

But Abid tells him he has nothing to worry about.

"You've won," he says, "because you're here."

mpiper@sltrib.com Twitter: @matthew_piper —

Jeremiah Poutasi file

O Measurables • 6-foot-6, 330 pounds

Hometown • Las Vegas

In high school • Late bloomer became Desert Pines High team captain and was named the top offensive lineman at the 2012 Offense-Defense All-America Game in Dallas.

At Utah • Started at right tackle as a true freshman and was named honorable mention All-Pac-12.

comments powered by Disqus