Utah football: Utes hope to keep more players like Sofele home
College football • Cottonwood star spurned Utah because he wanted to play in Pac-12.
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If the Utah Utes had been in the Pac-12 instead of the Mountain West when they were recruiting Isi Sofele, the running back might be in a Utah uniform Saturday instead of Cal's.

Sofele, a 5-foot-8, 200-pound running back out of Cottonwood High School, told the Utah coaches who recruited him he wanted to play in the Pac-12.

"I wish we could just put up a wall around the state and keep all the great guys here," said defensive coordinator Kalani Sitake, who recruits much of Utah's in-state talent. "For the most part, we've done a good job keeping them here."

Sofele is part of a three-back attack for the Bears. C.J. Anderson leads Cal, averaging 62.9 yards a game, Sofele averages 53.8 and Brendan Bigelow averages 34.6 yards.

"Bigelow has a lot of speed," Sitake said. "They're all good backs. We have to defend them like every offense in this league."

Vote of confidence

Coach Kyle Whittingham knows criticism of Brian Johnson's offense is mounting, but he gave Johnson a vote of confidence this week.

He acknowledged that Johnson was getting a "baptism by fire," but said the offensive coordinator has a tough skin.

"There is a learning curve," he said. "He's a first-year coordinator, but he's exceptionally smart and bright, and he will learn a great deal from this season."

Staying put

Sophomore V.J. Fehoko, a linebacker who was moved to defensive end, will be back with the linebackers now since Jacoby Hale is out for three to four weeks with an injury.

Whittingham said he should get reps at the position.

"V.J. has had a great attitude the entire year," Whittingham said.

Of note

Participants for a halftime Halloween costume contest for children age 12 and under will be selected at the Ute Walk on Saturday, which starts at 5:45 p.m. on the corner of Guardsman Way and 500 South. ... Former softball player Generra Nielson will be honored as the Occie Evans Award winner during a break Saturday. The award goes to the outstanding senior Utah female athlete from a team sport.