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LIFE AS A reserve quarterback at the University of Utah lately is a lot like that of the Maytag Repairman. Nobody ever needs him. No one knows him. No one WANTS to know him. Anonymity is guaranteed. For all we know, he could be a member of the witness protection program.

For two years the Utes' backup quarterbacks have been in mothballs, like old sweaters. Rarely does anyone even check the fit. The only time they play is at the end of a rout, and there have been precious few of those. "One-armed bandits" they call themselves, because all they do is signal plays from the sideline or handoff to run out the clock.It has been a boring, thankless job for two years, and it's all Mike McCoy's fault. You'd think a starting quarterback who was that skinny and immobile would get injured once in a while, but he was the Eveready Battery quarterback: he just kept on going and going . . . . Of the 814 passes the Utes have thrown the past two years, McCoy threw 805 of them. The backups have made more passes on a date than they have in a game.

The only thing that could get McCoy off the field was graduation. This spring, with McCoy's eligibility completed, the Utes are holding auditions for the starting quarterback job. Three quarterbacks are trying for the part, and as you might expect none of them has any on-the-job training.

You've probably never heard of them (there's no reason you should have), so introductions are in order. Please, meet juniors Brandon Jones and Mike Fouts and sophomore Ryan Shea. After two weeks of spring practice, they're dead even in the race for McCoy's job, but by the end of the month one of them will be selected as the starter and the other two will return to anonymity.

Who are these guys? Grab Connie Chung, and let's take a closer look, up close and semi-personal.

Jones is the boy next door. He's the kind of guy you'd guess married his high school sweetheart, and did. If there was a statistic for niceness, he would already own his first NCAA record.

He's got close-cropped blond hair and a face that's stuck at 15 years old. He shaves just once or twice a week, just for fun. No alcohol has ever crossed his lips, and on the rare occasions when they allow a swear word to escape, his teammates laugh at him; they just can't take cursing seriously from a guy who's so clean-cut that he squeaks when you rub him.

"I guess you could say I'm a straight arrow," he says.

In the same way that could say Newt Gingrich is a conservative.

Jones beat out Shea for the No. 2 job last fall (Fouts redshirted), which meant his job was to pat McCoy on the fanny as he came off the field and give him important technical advice such as, "Good job." Jones is Mr. Experience. He has thrown all of six major college passes, which is six more than his rivals.

At 6-foot-3, 205 pounds, he's a big kid from a small town. He comes from Henefer, which is near Coalville, which is just around the corner from Wanship and Peoa. Jones was a four-sport star at North Summit High and the state MVP. The Utes shipped him off to Snow College for a year before giving him a scholarship.

Of all the quarterback candidates, he has the best understanding of the offense. If the Utes played a game tomorrow, Jones would be the starter. When asked about the quarterback competition, he says, "I want what's best for the team." Figures.

Fouts, a lean, 6-foot-1, 170-pounder from San Diego, is the kid with The Uncle and The Arm. Much is made of his bloodlines, but Uncle Dan (Fouts, the former NFL quarterback great) really didn't have much to do with helping the kid, other than showing him a new way to grip the ball.

Actually, Uncle Dan probably envies his nephew's arm. A former junior college pitcher, Mike throws a football so hard that receivers have asked him to ease up; they'd like to keep all their fingers. He learned to throw hard because, as a tiny high school player (5-10, 145 as a senior) with a famous name, he felt compelled to show everyone he was a legitimate player by making every throw a rocket.

Stiff competition and a new offense are SOP for Fouts. In high school and junior college, he competed against three quarterbacks who are now starters at Georgia Tech, Michigan State and Washington State. At Utah, Fouts is learning his seventh different offense in seven years, having operated everything from the Wing T to the run and shoot.

Fouts walked on at Utah last year and ran the scout team, which required him to imitate the opposing team's quarterback and serve as a tackling dummy for Luther Elliss and Bronzell Miller. You can see why he'd want a promotion.

Which brings us to Shea, our final QB candidate. The Utes didn't recruit Shea so much as he recruited them. Because he was from tiny Glenwood, Minn., (pop. 2,500) and Minnewaska High (enrollment: 400), recruiters overlooked him, so he looked them up. He wrote letters to 110 schools, saying, among other things, "If you're not interested in winning or you're not dedicated to a winning program, please don't contact me."

The Utes responded first. Shea moved to Salt Lake City 10 days after high school graduation to begin studying the Ute offense, but since then his dedication has waxed and waned. At 6-1, 200, he is perhaps the best overall talent of the three, but that might not be enough to get him in the lineup. If it isn't, it's back to the sideline and anonymity.