BYU-Utah Football: Personal ties add to rivalry excitement for players
BYU senior safety Micah Hannemann remembers when former Lone Peak High School teammate Chase Hansen made his decision to play football for the University of Utah.
“I committed here and then a week later he committed to Utah,” Hannemann said Tuesday. “I figured he probably did it because he didn’t want to play with me.”
Hansen is now a junior safety for the Utes, which means the two ex-Knights aren’t likely to meet on the field when BYU hosts Utah Saturday night (8:15 p.m. MDT, ESPN2).
“Hopefully this year on some special teams we will be on the field together,” Hannemann said.
Hannemann and Hansen are just two of many of the football players that have close ties with players on the other side of the rivalry.
Consider some of the links of players have from previous schools:
Snow College: 8 (four Cougars, four Utes)Bingham High School: 7 (four Utes, three Cougars)Timpview High School: 6 (four Cougars, two Utes)Lone Peak High School: 5 (three Cougars, two Utes)
BYU senior defensive lineman Handsome Tanielu and senior wide receiver Jonah Trinnaman both know the Utah players who they competed with at Snow College.
“Last year I had some really close friends who played for Utah,” Tanielu said. “You can’t help but root for them in other games. I was in the line at Garret Bolles’ wedding, so it was interesting talking crap with him across the line. I grew up in Hawaii liking both schools. It was when I moved to Utah to go to Snow, that was when I learned about the rivalry and one hating the other. It’s crazy to me but playing in that game last year, it was like, this is how it is.”
When asked what difference those connections make for the game itself, Trinnaman just said, “Bragging rights.”
Hannemann said the mindset changes in games like this.
“I play more loose when I have guys that I know out there,” he said. “You are having fun, talking more to them across the field.”
He added that he does approach things a little bit differently for this week.
“On the week of the game, I take myself out of our friends group chat that we are in,” Hannemann said. “After the game, (Hansen and I) are close friends. We hang out throughout the season and the offseason, but the week we play them, it is different.”
The players and coaches know that while they have go into it attempting to execute like it is any other game, rivalries change things.
“It’s one of the best rivalry games in the country,” Cougar head coach Kalani Sitake said. “I think there is a lot of respect on both sides from Utah and BYU. It’s fun and this type of weekend is what college football is about. We will try to enjoy the process and try to get a win.”
Like many on the staff, Cougar wide receivers coach Ben Cahoon has experienced the emotion of the BYU-Utah game both as a player and as a coach.
“It’s a lot of fun,” Cahoon said. “Our guys are naturally focused and engaged. Everything is amped up a little bit with the excitement. We know what is on the line but it is a fun week all around.”
While the emotion of the rivalry will be a factor, it won’t be the only key.
Since the games have been extremely close, often victory or defeat hinges on which team can make the most of big plays, particularly turnovers.
“If we get more turnovers as a defense, we are going to win more games,” Hannemann said. “That’s pretty obvious. It sucks that we’ve only gotten one turnover so far. That’s something we have been emphasizing a lot. This week, we will for sure trying to strip the ball and hopefully the quarterback makes some bad throws.”