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U.'S BECK TAKES A DETOUR TO GET TO ROMNEY STADIUM

Just as he planned last spring, Cal Beck will be running in Logan's Romney Stadium as a collegiate athlete this year. He'll get his chance Saturday night when the University of Utah meets Utah State at 7 p.m. in the football opener for both schools.

There's just one big difference, however, from his original plans. Beck will be performing in front of about 25,000 more people than he originally planned and he'll be wearing red and white instead of blue and white, and football cleats instead of track spikes.Beck is a freshman defensive back for the University of Utah who has moved up the depth charts as fast as anyone on the team this fall. He is the backup right cornerback behind senior Edwin Garrette and is listed as the starting kickoff returner along with senior Curtis Marsh. If the Utes receive, he could be the second player to touch the ball in Saturday night's game.

It's quite a turnaround for the 6-foot, 180-pounder, who just three months ago planned to run track for Utah State.

A year ago Beck played for the Cottonwood High football team or more accurately, was the Cottonwood High football team. Beck scored 18 of his team's 20 touchdowns, playing running back, receiver, as well as kickoff and punt returner. In the spring, he ran for the track team, where he took 5A state titles in both the 100 and 200 meter sprints, the latter for the second straight year.

However, when football signing date came around, no one was very interested. Even Weber State, which could certainly use some help, backed off when Beck offered to buy his own lunch on his visit to Ogden, so it wouldn't count as an official visit. The Wildcats told Beck, "Forget it if that's your attitude." BYU offered a partial track scholarship, but the football team wasn't too interested. Neither were Utah and Utah State.

He finally signed with Dixie Junior College on a football scholarship. Later in the spring he decided to sign a track scholarship to Utah State when they made promises about a national-caliber 4x100 relay team. Track had been Beck's first love since he discovered in elementary school that he was the fastest kid in his class and he later started running on a national track circuit.

Beck was all set on Utah State when two days before school let out Utah paid him another visit. Assistant coach Kyle Whittingham took him out of class and performed some tests out on the field. After a half hour he was convinced. He called coach Ron McBride and said the Utes had missed the boat on Beck the first time around and they'd better sign him. The Utes found room and Beck was on his way to the U., even though he had no promises about being able to run for the U. track program.

"I decided I'd rather run in front of 30,000 at a football game instead of 30 at a track meet," said Beck of his decision to forgo USU for Utah.

Beck has been impressing throughout the summer drills and McBride admits, "He's a better player than I thought he was. I knew he had ability, but he's definitely shown he has football ability."

The fact that he has already moved up to second team cornerback is remarkable when you consider Beck never played defensive back in high school. Or, rarely played it. "They'd put me in whenever the other team had a real fast wide receiver," he said.

So why didn't Beck run track and play football for Utah State? According to Beck, he talked to coach Charlie Weatherbie and was told he could walk on the football team, but would still be on a track scholarship. And if he did make the football team, then track would have to be a secondary sport if the two conflicted in the spring.

Although he hasn't been officially timed at Utah, Beck is already known among his teammates as one of the fastest, if not the fastest player on the team. He ran the 100 meters in 10.5 in high school and once ran a hand-held 10:31. He ran a 4.5 40 as a high school junior, but hasn't been timed recently.

As for track, his career may not be over. Beck has already talked to a couple of his fast teammates, Charlie Brown and Curtis Marsh, about forming a relay team in the spring. "If I stay in track, my speed will only increase," says Beck.

Beck also has dreams of running in the Olympics someday and figures the 2000 Games might be more realistic than 1996.

GAME NOTES: Saturday's game will be shown on KJZZ-Channel 14 with Carlton Wing and Craig Hislop providing the commentary . . . The Utes have the edge in experience with 15 returning starters compared to nine for Utah State. The biggest difference will be when the Aggie offense (two returning starters) goes against the Utes defense (eight returnees) . . . Utah has won nine of the last 10 games with the Aggies, losing only in 1987 at Rice Stadium, 41-36. The last Aggie win in Logan came in 1983, the 21-17 game Ute coach Chuck Stobart called "the biggest rape in the history of college football" . . . Although USU officials are talking about a crowd of 30,000 for Saturday's game, only once has a USU-Utah game in Logan drawn more than 20,000 (1980, 20,977).