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Utah defensive end Kylie Fitts prepped to bounce back after dealing with 'heartbreak' in 2016

Published July 31, 2017 8:29 pm

Utah football • The defensive end got an extra year of eligibilty.
This is an archived article that was published on sltrib.com in 2017, and information in the article may be outdated. It is provided only for personal research purposes and may not be reprinted.

New tattoos grace the right arm of Kylie Fitts, tattoos that at this time last year were not present on Utah's hulking defensive end.

After a scorching fall camp practice ends, Fitts is transported back to last year by pointing to his tattoos, describing why each inscription stays forever.

The first is centered around "Papa," a name delicately woven into a tattoo of a guardian angel on his right forearm. Farther up inside his right biceps reads a phrase his father ingrained in him at a young age, which became more appropriate for the 6-foot-4, 265-pound lineman in 2016. It reads, "Enjoy the journey."

The tattoos exist as a reminder of what Fitts, now a senior having been granted an extra year of eligibility via medical redshirt, endured a year ago.

Two weeks before suffering a season-ending foot injury against BYU that eventually required surgery, his grandfather, "Papa," his guardian angel, passed away.

Fitts can't recall if it was the fourth or fifth play of the game against BYU, but something in his foot felt wrong. It wasn't painful, but at halftime he asked if his foot could be re-taped. Utah coach Kyle Whittingham came and checked on him.

"I'm fine," Fitts told his coach, "I'll be back out there."

Instead, Fitts said, X-rays were taken as a precaution. The injury was worse than initially thought. It was concluded that Fitts needed surgery that would end a Utah season he'd hoped to star in. Life suddenly dealt Fitts a pair of agonizing cards. He was "a mess."

"Couldn't stop crying the whole week," he said. "I was heartbroken."

Filipo Mokofisi recalls the emotion surrounding last fall.

"You don't want to push it too much to where you ask him every second if he needs something," the Utah defensive lineman said, "but you just let him come to you first."

Fitts did. With his college career and potentially life as a professional up in the air, Utah's defensive line, coaching staff and family rallied for him.

Nearly a year later, Fitts is back, granted a medical redshirt for one more year of football at Utah. While still in search of optimal late-summer football shape, he says, "I feel the best I've ever felt, even before my injury."

The Utes could use Fitts operating at his peak potential. The defensive line lost the school's all-time sack leader, Hunter Dimick, to graduation. And Utah defensive line coach Lewis Powell noted that while it's still early in fall camp, he sees a similarity on the edge.

"I was praying that [Fitts] would get another year, because we needed him back," Powell said. "I know he's going to have a really good year. He has a chip on his shoulder, just like Hunter did at this time last year."

The numbers Fitts put up in his first year at Utah in 2015 indicate he could be in line for another season filling the stat sheet. His eight tackles for loss, seven sacks and four forced fumbles proved that his ability on the outside makes him one of the prominent rushers in the Pac-12.

"I think he's one of the best defensive ends in the conference," Whittingham said, "if not the country."

After Utah's season ended, Fitts returned home to Southern California prepared to honor his late grandfather with the tattoo that's now part of the right arm he uses to swat away or swerve around offensive tackles. Farther up, he smiles wider pointing at the tattoo on his biceps.

It means a little extra now.

"It kind of relates to everything," he said. "No matter what you go through, the ups and downs, just enjoy the journey throughout life."

Football is not only back for the masses, but fittingly for Fitts.


Twitter: @chriskamrani —

Fitts facts

Height » 6-foot-4

Weight » 265 pounds

Position » Defensive end

Class » Senior

Back living on the edge » Fitts is back for his senior season after missing most of 2016 with a season-ending foot injury suffered in the second game of the year against BYU.

Filling the stat sheet » Before his injury, Fitts totaled 45 tackles, 11 tackles for loss and 8.5 sacks in his Utah career.






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