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Like many former college roommates who live near one another, Fred Whittingham Jr. and Darren Handley talk often.

They remember old games when they were teammates at BYU. They laugh about when they went waterskiing on Utah Lake, or went to dance with girls at the long-shuttered Star Palace in Provo.

There's really only one topic they rarely broach: Darren's son, Harrison Handley, who this spring finds himself being coached by his dad's former roommate.

"There's a lot of parents who are on the other side, asking, 'Hey, how are you treating my kid? Why isn't he playing,'" Darren Handley said. "Only time I've talking about Harrison and his situation is if Freddy brings it up. I separate the two. I don't want to have any conflict."

There hasn't been much conflict to report this spring.

From his emergence last fall as a reliable passing target to being one of the few healthy tight ends the past five weeks, Harrison Handley has been Utah's top tight end — the same position his dad played for the Cougars.

While the Utes are waiting for seniors Siale Fakailoatonga and Evan Moeai to recover from season-ending injuries from 2015, Handley's play gives cause to believe he will have a role in the offense this fall no matter how crowded the depth chart gets.

"We've been balling out this spring from my perspective," he said. "We've been making plays. We've become a bigger part of the offense and I hope that continues to grow."

A former wide receiver at Alta High, Handley has never struggled to make catches: Last year, he grabbed 21 receptions for 286 yards and four touchdowns. But his blocking has been another matter: Fakailoatonga was missed in the run game, and Handley admitted his own physicality was sometimes lacking.

Now up to 250 pounds and healed from offseason surgery to remove bone spurs from his ankle, Handley is looking more like a well-rounded tight end.

"He's a little more physical with his run blocking, and he's still kept his feet in the pass game with great hands," Whittingham said. "He's just out there making the most of it."

The Utes' fifth tight ends coach in as many years can relate: He's waited for his shot as well.

Whittingham joined his brother's staff in 2012 as the director of player personnel, hoping to get a shot as an assistant within two years. He ended up waiting four, which Darren Handley said was Kyle Whittingham's way of being wary about accusations of nepotism.

"If it had been anyone else, or if he had gone somewhere else, Freddy would've been a coach two years ago," he said. "I don't think anyone can say his brother just gave him the job. Freddy put in a few years to earn that job."

His father's namesake, Fred Jr. worked in the private sector for a college textbook publishing company for the better part of two decades. He didn't have any formal coaching experience when he joined the football program.

But Handley said he always believed his ex-teammate was qualified to coach, growing up in a football-obsessed family and learning the game from Fred Sr., as Kyle and Timpview coach Cary Whittingham did. They also were in the same "fraternity" at BYU: Delta Chow Norm, named for their offensive coordinator at the time.

But what Handley best remembers about Freddy Whittingham is how he picked up blitzes "better than any back I've played with." And when the Cougars needed two or three yards on third down, inevitably they'd call their fullback's number to get the yards.

Harrison sees Whittingham trying to coax the same sort of toughness from Utah's tight end group.

"He's just more involved, and he gets to the film room and you really learn a lot," he said. "Coming back our main focus was to be more physical in the run game. Be that tight end that can spread out or come down on the line and block the D-ends, whatever we need to do."

As any former athlete would, Darren Handley said he pays close attention to his son on the field. They share feedback. But he doesn't want to be the nagging parent bending the ear of his kid's position coach.

These days, there's not much need anyway.

"His son's a good player, so that makes it easier," Whittingham said. "He can play, and he's got a lot of talent and ability. It's a lot of fun to be coaching him, see him have success and wear his dad's number."

Twitter: @kylegoon —

Junior TE Harrison Handley

• Caught 21 passes for 286 yards, four touchdowns in 2015

• As a senior at Alta High, caught 64 passes for 779 yards and eight TDs in 2012

• Father Darren Handley played tight end at BYU, uncle played at Utah

TE coach Fred Whittingham Jr.

• Served past four years as Utah's director of player personnel

• Former fullback at BYU (1984, 1987-90)

• Teammates and roommates with Harrison Handley's father

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