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Gain weight? Check.

Change positions? Check.

Rehab a serious knee injury? Check.

University of Utah football coaches have asked a lot from Derrick Shelby during his career, and the senior from Houston has delivered more often than FedEx.

"He's a leader," said teammate Star Lotulelei. "He's a student of the game. I think that's what sticks out to the rest of the D-line. When the coaches aren't there to help us with the mental part of the game, he steps in."

In five seasons at Utah, including a redshirt year, Shelby has evolved into one of the Utes' top defensive playmakers, as BYU quarterback Jake Heaps discovered.

In the opening moments of Utah's 54-10 win over the Cougars three weeks ago, Shelby chased Heaps into the end zone following a bad snap from center.

After Heaps picked up the ball and fumbled when he tried to throw it away, Shelby recovered for a touchdown.

Not only did the Utes take a 7-0 lead, but Heaps struggled the rest of the way.

"I think he was a little rattled," Shelby said. "Anytime anybody got real close, he'd just throw it away."

Shelby came to Utah in 2007, after coach Kyle Whittingham and the Utes won a not-so-fierce recruiting battle for him.

"A bunch of smaller schools recruited to me," he said. "But not any major-type teams. … I just felt like they genuinely wanted me. That's why I'm here."

After gaining 40 pounds while redshirting, Shelby got his first chance to play as an undersized defensive tackle, thanks to an outbreak of injuries.

According to defensive coordinator Kalani Sitake, Shelby had a huge impact on the Utes' 2008 season, including their 31-17 win in the Sugar Bowl.

"Against Alabama," Sitake recalled, "he was going against 320-pound guys and holding his own."

As a sophomore, Shelby moved back to defensive end and played well until suffering a serious knee injury in a late-season game against TCU.

"Basically, a 300-pounder fell into my knee the wrong way," he said. "It kind of went snap."

Months of grueling rehabilitation followed.

"Rehab is the hardest thing I've ever done," Shelby said. "As an athlete you feel like you can do anything. But rehab is something that really challenges you."

Shelby returned in time for the 2010 season but didn't feel completely comfortable until the middle of the year.

Still, he played well, setting the table for what so far has been a dynamic senior season.

Said Sitake: "You see him running and you forget he got hurt. He's bounced back and is actually better than he was before the injury. That shows you the kind of fight that he has."

Utah is 2-2 heading into Saturday's Pac-12 South battle with Arizona State.

The Utes crumbled in the second half last week against Washington and running back James Polk, who gained 189 yards on 29 carries.

"The first half, we were pretty much shutting them down," Shelby said. "The second half was like … I don't really know what happened."

He just hopes it won't happen again. —

Derrick Shelby file

Birthday • March 4, 1989

Hometown • Houston

Class • Senior

Position • Defensive end

Height • 6-2

Weight • 271

Career • All-district first team as a senior at Hightower High School. … Team won district championship. … Redshirted at Utah in 2007. … Appeared in 12 games in 2008. … Six tackles including a sack vs. Oregon State. … Finished with 31 tackles. … In 2009, moved from defensive tackle to end and started 10 games before suffering a knee injury vs. TCU. … Eight tackles-for-loss before being hurt. … Nine tackles vs. Air Force. … In 2010, played 12 games, including seven starts. … Had 39 tackles. … In four games this season, has 13 tackles and one fumble recovery for a touchdown. … Sociology major. … Three-time All-Mountain West academic team. —

No. 22 Arizona State at Utah

P Saturday, 1:30 p.m.


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