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SALT LAKE CITY — Tight end Dalton Kincaid didn’t waste any time turning the focus onto the upcoming season.
Kincaid had been the subject of an internet rumor over the summer that involved the senior target being recruited by Alabama boosters to come play in the SEC for his final season — a reportedly $1 million price tag was expected to follow such a transfer to the SEC powerhouse.
The veracity of the rumor was meaningless in the end, Kincaid remained true to the Utes and is expected to have another strong season for the defending Pac-12 champions — Kincaid finished the 2021 season with 510 receiving yards and eight touchdowns on 36 catches.
Though the report of his potential transfer was “flattering,” he said, it had little bearing on his future with Utah. Not even an exploration into the NFL changed his mind — coming back to Utah for one more season “was the best decision.”
“It’s in the past,” he said Wednesday after Utah’s first day of fall practices. “It has no effect on the future, so, I mean, that’s kind of all just behind me.
“I’ve got a great coaching staff, great quarterback, got some best friends in the room, and I’ve already done the whole transfer process — you leave your best friends — and I wasn’t gonna do that again.”
Utah is happy to have him back.
Kincaid is one of at least a dozen or more veteran returning players on offense who have contributed significantly to the rise in Utah’s offensive explosion over the last couple years. With so many returning players from last year’s team, the offense hit the ground running Wednesday, with little time wasted to reacclimate the players back into the system.
“We’ve got a veteran group; it is what we expected,” Utah head coach Kyle Whittingham said of the first-day offensive look. “The offense has a lot of returning guys — quarterback in particular. And we’re, for the first day, really good. I don’t know what else to say.
“It’s very evident that they spent a lot of time on the field together this summer on their own, because today was more like a practice eight, practice nine feel, as far as the lack of mental mistakes and how smooth things things went.”
That bodes well for a Utah team that has traditionally swayed more to the defensive side of the ball in the opening days of camp.
“Very few changes in the system coming into the season,” offensive coordinator Andy Ludwig said. “Some tweaks and modifications, but nothing that those guys have not really been exposed to.
“We all have a lot of confidence right now.”
Most significant was the lack of quarterback controversy surrounding the opening day of camp. Cameron Rising is Utah’s quarterback, and he said he feels better than ever — now without any lingering effects from a shoulder injury that sidelined him during the 2020 season.
“It feels like it’s back,” Rising said of his shoulder. “Yeah, last year it didn’t feel all the way getting comfortable, throwing the deep ball. But this year it definitely feels a lot more comfortable getting the ball down down field and pushing it.”
Already, the team has noticed a difference — not just in his mechanics but the overall confidence he brings to the position now fully healed.
“Yeah, he’s slinging it a little faster, a little harder,” Kincaid said. “But I always mess with him, saying he can’t out throw me, but he’s getting close there. I can definitely tell that the arm strength’s there and there’s a lot of confidence in it.”
“Every day he wants to throw,” receiver Solomon Enis said. “Like even after conditioning, lifting, he always wants to throw, throw, throw. And you can really see that, and every day he’s been getting better. That’s just a test of his character, that’s just who he is; he wants to show up every day, and that’s a result of him working hard every day and bringing everybody along with him.”
It’s that mindset that remains the driving force for Rising and the rest of the team. Utah accomplished its goal of winning a conference championship, but there’s still a “bittersweet taste in our mouth,” Kincaid said, from a loss to Ohio State in the Rose Bowl. The challenge will be different in 2022.
Utah isn’t going to sneak up on anybody this season — the team was picked to win the Pac-12 this season and is expected to be a top-10 team in the preseason Associated Press Top 25 poll — but the mindset of the team is about attacking everything with a hunger and drive that their goals are not finished; there’s still more to accomplish.
“I think you can either kind of go into defense mode or attack mode, and I think we’re kind of focusing on attack mode,” Kincaid said. “It’s harder to maintain at the top, but we’re up for the challenge.
“If anything, we’re ramping it up a bit,” Enis added. “Summer was really good, production wise. I feel like we were working hard, pushing a lot more, but it’s easier to go chase the Pac-12 rather than defending it, so we understand what we’ve got to do. We’ve got to ramp things up if we want to stay on top.”
A strong beginning to fall camp is a good start, but it’s just the beginning to a long season where every team will be looking to knock Utah off its path.