Utah • O-lineman exemplifies U. success.
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Tony Bergstrom remembers he struggled so much as a freshman that everyone made a big deal when he finally won his first one-on-one during camp.
"It was like two weeks into camp," Bergstrom said. "When you first get here, it's like you are drinking from a fire hose and just taking everything in. By the end, everything is second nature, it comes naturally to you."
Bergstrom, who prepped just up the road from the U. at Skyline High School, has evolved to the point that coach Kyle Whittingham doesn't just call him a leader, but the leader.
"It is Tony Bergstrom's team," Whittingham said. "He is the team leader and has had a great career. He's a three-year starter, engineering major, the whole package. Him making first team in the Pac-12 was gratifying and well-deserved, no doubt about it in my opinion."
Bergstrom is a coach's favorite for a reason. While left tackle John Cullen was noticed all too often during the season for untimely penalties, Bergstrom went unnoticed, which means he was doing almost everything right.
According to Utah's stats, he "won" 546 of his 639 assignments and earned the highest grade on the offensive line in six games. He missed most of the BYU game and all of the Washington game with a knee injury, the last of which snapped his string of 29 straight starts.
Not a bad showing for a guy who at one point was afraid he couldn't cut it with the Utes.
Now, even as he hopes his talent is enough to earn him a spot on a pro team, Bergstrom has a hard time fathoming his career is coming to an end.
"It still feels like I should come in for another spring ball, another season," he said. "I've done that for so long, it's hard to accept that I won't be doing that."
Bergstrom is part of 19-member senior class that has gone 40-11, tying the mark of the 2009 senior class for the winningest class in school history.
A bowl win would push this class to the top, an achievement that would help ease some of the disappointment of failing to reach other goals, Bergstrom said.
"We had goals as a team we wanted to accomplish and it would have been nice to go to one more BCS game or the Pac-12 [championship] game," he said. "But as a player, there is a lot you can look back at and be proud of, too."
Hearing Whittingham say the Utes are his team, Bergstrom shrugged off the compliment.
"It's all about politics," he laughed. "The only reason coach says that, in my mind, I see myself as a guy who takes responsibility for things that happen even if it is in another position group; that is just what you do, and I know there are a bunch of other guys on the team who feel the same way."
Still, Bergstrom's attitude was just what Utah's offensive line needed, particularly since it was one of the least-experienced position groups. The Utes had Cullen returning, but weren't sure what they'd get out of the younger players such as juniors Tevita Stevens and Miles Mason, who started at center and left guard, respectively.
Bergstrom proved to be the steadying force the Utes needed to help out the younger guys.
"He was a natural leader for us," Whittingham said. "He always sets an example by working hard."
Even though his collegiate career is about to end, Bergstrom still doesn't want to look ahead, preferring to savor his last times with the Utes.
"I'm just going to stay ignorant, not think about it, and enjoy this," he said.
Utah vs. Georgia Tech Saturday, noon TV: Ch. 2