The first thing to notice is that Ute quarterback Jonathan Crosswhite has facial stubble.
His fiancee doesn't care for it, but he's stopped shaving to make himself a better football player.The beard-at-work - a teammate likens it to the look of Green Bay Packer QB Brett Favre - is to remind Crosswhite of the new, more aggressive attitude he has vowed to take onto the field.
"No more Mr. Nice," he says. Crosswhite says he'll play with a chip on his shoulder, a take-no-prisoners demeanor inside his helmet.
"Today was a great practice," Crosswhite said Wednesday afternoon. "Best of the year. I gained my confidence back." Thanks to the stubble - his little reminder to take charge.
Crosswhite got gun-shy after being sacked 10 times at Fresno. The resultant mind-bending hit him in the next game. Coaches had harped all week at him to watch the blitz from Southern Methodist. "I was reading linebackers. I was like a robot," Crosswhite said of his one-quarter, 0-for-6, two-interception performance Saturday when Utah was SMUshed 20-19. Crosswhite says he's never keyed on linebackers before; normally, he reads defensive backs and reacts instinctively.
The beard and the shoulder chip aren't Crosswhite originals. He got them on the phone from his godfather, former Dallas Cowboy QB Craig Morton, and from a letter he received from New Orleans Saints backup QB Doug Nussmeier, the former University of Idaho star who went to the same Oregon high school as Crosswhite. Both were aware how Fresno affected Crosswhite. Both had similar experiences (Morton was once sacked 11 times). They counseled him to play angry, to claim the field as his turf.
Crosswhite was one of Utah's better leaders until recently. He says he's going to magnify those efforts now, even chew out teammates who make mistakes - which means he can't make any, either.
O NO: The battered O-line, which gets left guard Todd Jackson back this week, on Wednesday lost left guard Hema Katoa again to a strained Achilles tendon during a noncontact drill. Katoa missed some action with an ankle sprain two weeks ago.
NO SIT: Running back Chris Fuamatu-Ma'afala and wideout Daniel Jones, two of Utah's best weapons, are impatient. They've each been out with ankle sprains, Jones missing last week and Fuamatu-Ma'afala missing most of the last two games. Hurt at Fresno, he lasted two or three plays against SMU.
"It's real frustrating," said Fuamatu-Ma'afala, who missed three '96 games for knee surgery. "I can't explain it. It makes your whole day go wrong. I've sat out too much already," Fuamatu-Ma'afala said, "so, ready or not, I gotta play this game. I can't sit out and watch."
"I've never had a sprain this bad," says Jones, telling how a teammate fell in practice on the outside of his left ankle, forcing it inward. "It made me feel sick that I couldn't be out there (against SMU)," Jones said. "I could not do that again." Jones says his ankle might be at "three-quarters (strength), but once the adrenaline starts pumping and I get a couple of Advil, it will be all right. I gotta play this week. Got to."
Trainer Bill Bean doubts either can play well without tremendous improvement late this week.