SALT LAKE CITY — It’s been an eventful offseason for Utah defensive end Nate Orchard. Before the Utes opened spring camp, the 20-year-old junior changed his last name and got married.
“The beginning of the semester was a little stressful with everything going on —getting married and planning for a wedding and everything,” Orchard said. “But everything’s settled down now.”
Even so, the name change will take some getting us to. Previously known as Nate Fakahafua, the former Highland High star opted to legally change his last name to that of his legal guardians Dave and Katherine Orchard. He completed the process before getting married to Maegan Webber earlier this month
“It’s something that has been on my mind for a while, especially having a family of my own. There’s more to it ... but it’s just personal reasons,” Orchard said. “But at the same time, they’ve raised me since I was a kid — since I was 12 — and taken good care of me. They got me to where I am today.”
Orchard praised Dave and Katherine for being the “best parents.” He added that Dave is a great father figure. The family atmosphere they introduced him into had a great influence on Nate.
“Going on and getting married and starting a family of my own, I wanted to take on the name,” he explained.
The name change, Orchard acknowledged, may be frustrating for fans who just barely learned how to pronounce Fakahafua. The latter, however, is still part of his identity — it’s now his middle name.
Even so, Utah coach Kyle Whittingham admits it’s taking him awhile to get used to the changes
“I’ve screwed it up already, several times,” he said. “So give me another few weeks and I think I’ll have it down.”
In the meantime, Whittingham joked that he’ll just call him Nate.
Like Whittingham, Utah defensive coordinator Kalani Sitake noted that Orchard is growing more focused and more grounded as he approaches his third season with the Utes.
“I’m seeing a lot of good things out of him right now,” Sitake said. “ ... I’m excited to see his progress and how well he does with everything going on in his life. He’s a good young man and I’m just really, really proud of him.”
Sitake predicts that Orchard, who was fourth on the team with 48 tackles last season, is going to be huge for Utah once again. He had 9.5 tackles-for-loss with three fumble recoveries, three sacks and two forced fumbles in 2012. In the USC game, he stripped the ball from quarterback Matt Barkley and returned it 8 yards for a touchdown.
This season, though, Orchard won’t be playing alongside Star Lotulelei, Dave Kruger and Joe Kruger. Lotulelei and Dave Kruger were seniors, while Joe Kruger opted to turn pro a year early.
“Nate becomes even more valuable than he already was with Joe’s departure,” Whittingham said.
And it involves more than just getting bigger and better.
“Now he’s a leader,” Sitake said. “He can’t be one of those young guys any more.”
Orchard is already taking a leadership role. Sitake is pleased with how Orchard and the other returning starter on the line, Trevor Reilly, have been working with the other players this spring — helping them progress and succeed.
“There’s plenty of talent on the defensive line. We just have to get down the fundamentals. That’s all it is,” Orchard said. “ ... It’s just going to take time, spring and fall, just to fine tune everything, and we should be good.”
By the time the season rolls around, Orchard is determined to add 20 pounds to his 6-foot-3, 245-pound frame.
“That’s my goal. I made a deal with coach Whit,” he said. “I promised him I’d be 265 and he wouldn’t have to worry about it. So I’m going to do it.”
Whittingham is counting on it.
“He did promise,” Whittingham said. “I’ve got a signed piece of paper from him that states that very thing.”
Although slowed a bit by a nagging shoulder and a nagging back in the offseason program, Orchard is making strides this spring.
“If we’re going to be good on defense he has to be an impact player for us,” Whittingham said.
EXTRA POINTS: Tuesday’s practice at Rice-Eccles Stadium was deemed “an average day” by Whittingham. He added that the Utes lost a little bit of their poise and composure at times during the first live work of camp. ... Whittingham said running backs Karl Williams and James Poole did a nice job in practice. He also noted that the cornerbacks continue to progress. ... Utah’s next spring practice is Thursday. ... Former Utes Steve Fifita and Spencer Toone attended practice. They are now assistant coaches at Idaho State.