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DOLCE'S `BACKSIDE' BACK WITH A VENGEANCE

MIKE DeHOOG WORE the look of a reborn man. You can't win them all, but this week he came close. First, the NCAA agreed on Thursday to let him play his senior season. Then on Saturday night he and his University of Utah teammates celebrated his return with a 42-9 thrashing of Oregon State.

"Man, I was ready to hit walls tonight," said DeHoog, the Utes' 6-foot-4, 284-pound left offensive tackle - a formidable enough of a blocking force that Ute quarterback Frank Dolce refers to him as "my back side."Two weeks ago, DeHoog had managed to do what most offensive linemen aren't able to manage: Get his name in the headlines. He was declared ineligible by the NCAA because he had violated the eligibility rule that stipulates that you must complete your four years of eligibility within five years.

Two years ago, DeHoog had taken a year off from school for drug rehabilitation. Because that drug rehab was under doctor's orders, the Utes felt it qualified as an acceptable excuse to qualify for an exemption and a sixth year. They got their facts together and, in a conference call this past Thursday, presented their case to the NCAA.

DeHoog sat in on that conference call and then went to his apartment just off campus to await the verdict. It had been a long two weeks. He hadn't been able to practice with the team or make any plans for his future.

"I'd worked extra hard for my senior season," he said. "Everybody does. They want to go out right. I tried not to get too optimistic, because I knew the NCAA doesn't reinstate too many people. I mainly just worried a lot."

He had attended the Ute practice sessions the past two weeks, but only because, as he put it, "Coach McBride will let anybody on the sidelines as long as he knows who you are."

It was a strange feeling for a player who had fully expected to be a part of the entire 1992 season.

A much better feeling was when the phone call came from Coach Ron McBride just 15 minutes after DeHoog got home Thursday afternoon.

"You're back," he said.

"I guess we made a good case, because it didn't take them long," DeHoog said Saturday night. "That was a great phone call."

He remembered how he celebrated the decision Thursday night.

"I went to bed and got the first good night's sleep I'd had in two weeks," he said. "And then the next day I got my appetite back."

"It may have helped us tonight," DeHoog said. "I really think it gave us a boost. We'd all been together on this thing. My teammates really kept me up. Tonight we were hitting on all cylinders right from the beginning. We were running our offense and it was working. There was nothing negative out there. It was all positive.

"The only thing is, I could tell I hadn't practiced for two weeks. But it was the most ready I've ever been to play a game."

DeHoog says he has "no idea" who might have placed the anonymous phone call to the WAC office that opened the inquiry into his eligibility in the first place. "Whoever it was, all I can say is `nice try,' he said. "That and some other things you can't print. I guess in a way it was a compliment. Somebody didn't want to see us succeed and they thought this might help I guess."

In the end, any attempts to derail DeHoog's season - or Utah's - backfired. "It gives me a lot of faith in the system," said University of Utah athletic director Chris Hill. "Thursday was one of the best days I've had in this job. They listened to our case and they considered the individual."

"Now we can play out the season," said DeHoog, whose parents, Mitch and Mary DeHoog, were in the stands Saturday night. "That's all we wanted to do in the first place."