The Utah Utes (7-3, 4-3) have fought through a tough season of play in the Pac-12 this year. Finally, the intricate pieces in the Utes football program have come together and the team earned bowl eligibility seven games into the season. Even more of note, the team hadn’t earned such a bid to a bowl since the 2011 season.
While the Utes have remained strong in the ending shows of the season, a heartbreaking loss out on the field was confirmed Wednesday by head coach Kyle Whittingham when he announced that junior linebacker Gionni Paul would be out the remainder of the season.
Whittingham announced that there has been “a setback with Paul’s foot.”
In January of 2013, Paul announced his intention to leave the Miami (FL) football program and found himself in the Utes back yard. He sat out last season due to transfer eligibility rules, but was ready to get to work this season.
Paul was selected as a team captain for the Utes without ever taking an official snap.
His injuries stem from a broken foot sustained while the Utes were in spring practice. The injury caused him to miss his first two would-be Utes match-ups out on the gridiron. But, when he was finally able to begin making a case for himself out on the field, he did it well.
After his initial recovery time, Paul had four interceptions for the Utes, which is a number that is second in the Pac-12. He totaled 61 tackles, with three tackles being for a loss in just eight games.
This will, no doubt be a big loss for the Utes as their defense is what keeps them alive out on the field. It is an important part of their all around strategy and holes in that defense could potentially cause issues. However, Whittingham and the rest of his unit does not seem phased by it.
Paul is expected to make a full recovery, with surgery. He also has one year remaining in his eligibility and as a junior, we can expect to get another year out of Paul, which I’m sure the Utes are looking forward to. While he is not a highly popularized defensive giant, he is consistent enough to be reliable for big stops when the Utes are in crunch time.
The season is not over until it is over, as the age-old adage goes. Anything can happen in the realm of college football and while we won’t see the Utes in a playoff match this season, look for them to return faster and stronger in the season to follow.
*Section Photo credit to Steve Dykes, Getty Images; Featured Photo (above) credit to Chris Detrick, Salt Lake Tribune