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Earlier this week, we learned that former Utah defensive line coach and walk-on recruiter Ilaisa Tuiaki found running back James Gray at Japan's Wasada High.

The last stop for defensive tackle Beaver Ho Ching is in some ways even more obscure: Beloved Shirts.

Ho Ching, 23, had managed shipments and checked labels for the Orem outfitter — owned by his friends — for about a year when he was approached by Tuiaki.

"He asked me why I wasn't playing football anymore, and I told him I didn't really know, I felt old," Ho Ching said. "But he got me here and it's been fun ever since."

Coming home from his LDS mission to Houston — where he served with linebacker Sunia Tauteoli, another 23-year-old sophomore — the former Alta standout didn't have a long-term plan, he said, and was waiting to find a direction.

Now, the 6-foot-1, 284-pound defensive tackle is on the fringe of the two-deep for what was last year one of the nation's best defensive lines, statistically.

When Viliseni Fauonuku was said to be likely out for spring due to an ankle injury — a false alarm, as it turned out — Ho Ching slid into his spot backing up all-conference candidate Lowell Lotulelei.

Tuiaki left in the offseason for Oregon State (safeties coach Morgan Scalley now oversees walk-on recruiting), but Ho Ching said he's enjoying his tutelage under new defensive coordinator John Pease and undergraduate assistant Sione Pouha.

He admits it can be a little unusual being so much older than some of his teammates. "Off the field, sometimes I view all these kids as kids," he said. "... But when we're on the field, I don't feel all that much of a difference."

Trophy life • After an errant punt narrowly missed Utah's sports information staff earlier this spring, Tom Hackett told them it was due to a complaint he has: He still hasn't received his trophy.

It's April 16 now, and his copy of the Ray Guy Award hardware has yet to arrive at his parents' house in Melbourne.

But his displeasure was for comic effect. If the trophy shows up and it looks like what he was given in Orlando, he'll be cool with it, he said.

In fact, the nation's best and likely most frank punter is feeling pretty far from emotional.

"I don't really care much about football right now, and that's just how I am because mentally — I mean, I can't physically or mentally go 365 days of the year in the zone," he said Thursday. "... As the season approaches, my brain gets more excited, but right now I'm kind of 'shhoooo' [indicates declining interest] way down there still."

Rest assured, he said, he's trying to get better on a daily basis. And because he "maybe celebrated a little too hard" in the offseason, he gained some weight that he feels is giving him more power in this, his senior season.

If Hackett can replicate last season's 19 punts inside the 10 and six inside the 5, with still more power, that'd probably put him on the radar of some NFL teams.

And in his case, a pro career would truly make for an "honest" living.

In-state push • Utah kicked off its in-state recruiting season with a flashy video Tuesday, and on Thursday coaches acknowledged that their recent efforts in the Beehive State may have fallen short as players like Osa Masina (USC), Porter Gustin (USC) and Andre James (UCLA) saw greener pastures elsewhere.

"Last year, we lost too many for our comfort level," Kyle Whittingham said.

Coaches visited 65 schools Wednesday, even if, in the snow, "it was a little scary at times," said corners coach Sharrieff Shah.

But necessary.

Shah said it's important to "at least make it hard for the kid" to pass up Utah by giving them the same attention they pay to out-of-state standouts.

"I think we have not done the very best job that we could do to get and keep the top-tier kids in this state," he said. "We believe that we can win a Pac-12 championship with the kids that are right here in Utah, and we've made a concerted effort to do that, starting with the blitz, and several other events that you will see coming from our athletic department, from our football office."

An advantage for Utah on Thursday: CBS Sports analyst and "Prep Football Report" author Tom Lemming collected information from 14 of the state's top 16 prospects, in his opinion, with Utah's open practice as a backdrop.

The players were introduced to the team after practice.

It was convenient for Utah's coaches, who will take whatever they can get.

"We can't lose another good kid," Shah said. "Not when you have so many kids going right to our competitors that we'll be playing the next four to five years in the South. That makes you sick."

Kyle Goon contributed reporting.

Twitter: @matthew_piper