Utah running back Quinton Ganther has accepted a role.
After a record-setting high school career and All-American status in junior college, he's no longer carrying the load in the backfield. Through five games with the Utes, Ganther has 25 fewer carries than teammate Marty Johnson.
The situation hasn't come as a surprise. He was told it might be the case.
When it became clear that Johnson would return from a lengthy suspension, Utah coach Urban Meyer wanted to redshirt either Ganther or Mike Liti. He believes both are capable of 1,000-yard seasons and did not want to underutilize them this season.
Ganther appreciated Meyer's intentions but let him know he came to Utah to play and was willing to do whatever it took to help the Utes win. The possibility of a redshirt, which the staff successfully pitched to Liti, was not an option.
"It's me. I'm a competitor. I want to be in there," said Ganther, who rushed for a game-high 106 yards in Utah's 28-7 win at New Mexico last Friday. "I worked real hard. I don't want to sit out when I've worked this hard. I've never worked this hard in my life since I've been here."
Ganther, a 5-foot-10, 210-pound junior, is determined to work hard each week. He's a big believer it pays off.
"When your number is called you've got to be ready," said Ganther. "You've got to stay focused and keep your head up."
Last week in Albuquerque, he led the Utes with 22 carries (11 more than Johnson) and topped the 100-yard mark for the first time. Johnson finished with 99 as Utah racked up 278 yards rushing against a New Mexico defense that led the Mountain West Conference. The Lobos entered the contest allowing just 66.3 yards per game.
Ganther credits the offensive line and depth at running back for much of Utah's success.
"It's a good thing. It's not in my best interest, it's in the team's best interest," said Ganther. "I'm not worried about getting all the playing time or all the reps. As long as we win, I'll do whatever it takes to help the team win. Then, I'm satisfied."
Utah's 5-0 start and No. 11 ranking has helped ease the pain Ganther suffered during training camp when childhood friend Terrance Kelly, who was headed to Oregon on a football scholarship, was shot to death in their hometown of Richmond, Calif.
"That's the inspiration I've got," said Ganther, who writes Kelley's initials on his wrist before taking the field. They're also written in his locker. "Every time I go out, I kiss that and let him know that I'm still here for him."
Ganther has also formed a bond with Johnson.
"We're friends on and off the field. There's no tension," he said. "We're teammates and we're brothers. We're in this together."
Having a pair of talented runners in the backfield is something quarterback Alex Smith and the Utes have come to appreciate, especially after last season when depth was a definite issue. Ganther and Johnson give Utah a much more balanced attack.
"That makes it a lot easier on me." said Smith.
EXTRA POINTS: An X-ray revealed that starting safety Eric Weddle has a lower back strain. He led the Utes with seven tackles in New Mexico and is expected to play against North Carolina . . . Practices are slated for this afternoon and tomorrow morning before resuming again on Monday . . . Brad Stone, a longtime contributor to Utah athletics on the radio, has been relieved of his duties by the parent company of flagship station KALL, 700AM. Reasons for the dismissal were not immediately known, nor has a replacement been named. Stone worked at the station for nearly two decades and hosted Meyer's weekly radio show and the "Red Zone" program. He also called play-by-play for women's basketball games and assisted on pregame and halftime segments of other Utah broadcasts.
Utah rushing leaders
Marty Johnson 81-429-6
Quinton Ganther 56-273-1
Alex Smith 49-207-6