You’ve got to have a guy that sparks other players. You’ve got to provide that spark. —Utah coach Kyle Whittingham
SALT LAKE CITY — It comes with the territory. It’s part of the job description.
“A quarterback has to be a catalyst for your team,” said Utah coach Kyle Whittingham. “That comes with the position.”
By virtue, it’s a leadership post.
“You’ve got to have a field general out there,” he added. “You’ve got to have a guy that sparks other players. You’ve got to provide that spark.”
Igniting things, seemingly, shouldn’t be a problem up on the hill. The Utes have seven scholarship quarterbacks in the program, including six eligible to play this season.
Whittingham, though, noted that the abundance of quarterbacks doesn’t alter the dynamics associated with the position being a catalyst. Not at all, he insists. It’s still all about the first and second guys — starter Travis Wilson and backup Kendal Thompson.
“Kendal and Travis are doing a great job with their leadership,” Whittingham said. “The other guys are doing a great job as well, but you really look to the starter first of all, Travis, and then Kendal’s had such a good camp that he’s really gained everybody’s respect and he’s been a leader for us as well.”
While the Oklahoma transfer has yet to take a snap for the Utes, Wilson is back in the fold after missing the last three games of 2013 following the discovery of an intracranial artery injury.
Whittingham praised his intelligence, decision-making and determination — noting that he doesn’t shy away from competition. However, the coach would like to see the junior step things up in terms of being a leader.
“We need him to be. He’s got to get better in that area,” Whittingham said. “That’s something all the quarterbacks need to improve — is the command when they’re out on the field.”
It’s more than being vocal and body language, he continued, it’s everything.
“We’ve got to get better,” Whittingham said.
Wilson and Thompson understand it.
“I think it’s huge. It’s part of the position. I think every quarterback needs to be some type of a leader on their team,” Wilson said. “So I think for this team it’s a big role and I definitely hope that I’m filling it.”
While acknowledging there’s a lot of great kids and great leaders on Utah’s team, Wilson expressed gratitude that he was elected to be a captain by his teammates when he was just a sophomore.
Leadership accompanies the position of being the starting quarterback.
“That’s just my job to keep on improving in those aspects and make sure than I’m doing the right things on and off the field,” Wilson said.
Thompson noted that the leadership role of a quarterback is pretty much the same everywhere you go. It’s something natural that you pick up on.
“You have to make sure you come in and the guys see that you’re the same guy every day — first one in, last one out. I feel like you just have to get things going,” said Thompson, who explained that there are always challenges when you’re dealing with a bunch of college football players. “They should want to come in every day and work, but some days you’re going to have a bad day or be dragging a little bit, or maybe not feel so well, so it’s just our job to kind of get them going and make sure when we’re here it’s time to work.
“You can worry about the other stuff when you leave,” he continued. “But when we’re within these walls or within these lines, it’s all business.”
In 2014, Utah’s agenda is topped with the task of returning to a bowl game following a two-year absence. After back-to-back 5-7 seasons, the Utes have their sights set on doing just that.
The degree of difficulty, though, is enhanced by an extremely challenging schedule that includes road games at Michigan, UCLA, Oregon State, Arizona State and Stanford, as well as tough home tests against foes such as USC and Oregon.
At the Pac-12 meetings in July, Whittingham addressed the road ahead.
“Our objective is to get back to a bowl game. The last two years we were one game away,” he said. “So we've got to be better finishers to win a better percentage of those close games. That's really the bottom line.”
One of the keys to getting over the hump, Whittingham pointed out later, is a signal caller who consistently makes things happen — especially at crunch time.
“Without a doubt, it's a quarterback-driven game,” Whittingham said. “If you have a guy that pulls the trigger and can make plays for you at a high level, you can have a chance every week.”
When the Utes announced that Wilson would open the season as the starter and that Thompson had also earned the right to see playing time, offensive coordinator Dave Christensen noted that it was a positive outcome.
“It’s a good situation to be in where we have two guys that are both capable and now they can continue to compete and we’ll have some depth there,” he said.