Jason Kaufusi planned to be on the football field this weekend, making things difficult for Colorado State quarterback Bradlee Van Pelt.
"Absolutely," said the Utah defensive end. "Being the competitor he is, you just want to go out there and compete a little."
Becoming Van Pelt's nightmare, however, has given way to more pleasant thoughts — such as a pain-free senior season and more importantly, being able to get down on all fours and play with his children, ages 19 months and 4 1/2 months.
Unable to practice since offseason shoulder surgery, Kaufusi said it was time to face reality. His dream of playing in Saturday's game at CSU (4:30 p.m., KJZZ-TV, Ch. 14) wasn't going to materialize. After meeting with head coach Urban Meyer on Monday, the All-America candidate has decided to redshirt and play his final collegiate season in 2004.
"It's a locked deal," Kaufusi said. "My shoulder is just not responding the way I want it to."
The ordeal has been both sad and frustrating, he added. Watching his teammates has been difficult — first in training camp and then through three games without him. Kaufusi had targeted the CSU game as his comeback vehicle. His body, though, felt otherwise — despite exhaustive therapy and big-time pressure to speed up the process.
"He's kind of bummed about the whole situation and I'm kind of bummed as well," said defensive tackle Sione Pouha, a teammate of Kaufusi's since childhood. "But he knows this is something he has to do."
Kaufusi plans to get healthy — something Meyer has repeatedly said he deserves to do — and get back on the field. Kaufusi's motivated by team and personal goals. The former East High star and two-time first-team all-conference honoree is eager to live up to expectations and show his potential, something he hasn't been able to do at Utah because of chronic injuries.
Despite knowing with certainty that Kaufusi won't play the rest of the season, Meyer believes the Utes are in good position to face the Rams. A 16-day layoff has helped others get healthy and confidence is high after Utah's game-winning drive at the end of the Cal game.
Even so, Meyer and his staff dedicated much of the down time to preparing for CSU — particularly on defense. The Rams (2-2) are averaging 509 yards of total offense per game, fourth best in the nation. They are led by Van Pelt. Earlier this season, the senior became the first CSU quarterback in 15 years to throw for 300 or more yards in consecutive games.
"He's been playing as well as anyone on our football team," said Rams coach Sonny Lubick, who believes Van Pelt is better than he was a year ago.
In 2002, Van Pelt was named the league's top offensive player after throwing for 2,073 yards and rushing for 819.
Utah's defense has schemes in place to reduce his effectiveness. Strong safety Dave Revill said it's no secret Van Pelt is a threat and one of the top quarterbacks the Utes will face all season.
That, however, isn't the only thing on Revill's mind. Utah's leading tackler, who has 26 after three games, isn't pleased with how the defense has performed this season. The Utes visit Fort Collins, ranked fourth in the league and 69th nationally in total defense. Their scoring defense ranks sixth in the Mountain West at 24.0.
"The last few games haven't been typical Utah defense," Revill said. "We need to pick up our assignments a lot better and everybody's got to be on the right page."
The sooner, the better, he adds, as Utah gets its shot at knocking off the league favorites. The Utes have lost five straight to the Rams and haven't prevailed in Fort Collins since 1994.
"I'm hungry and I think all the other seniors are. I know this whole team is hungry," Revill said. "We're not going to go in there expecting anything but a big win."
A task made more difficult without Kaufusi.
"In the first three games we've tried to adjust ourselves to playing without him," Pouha said. "We've had some good and we've had some bad. We're getting up for this week."