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Ute players from Arizona can't wait

Also, several Wildcat assistants have ties to Beehive State

When Utah meets Arizona Friday night in the long-anticipated season opener, the game will have extra meaning for several on the Utes' side.

Six players on the Utes' roster call Arizona home, including two receivers who are expected to see a lot of action Friday, while two Ute assistants coached at Arizona as recently as two years ago.

"I can't wait for the game," said Utah receiver Brian Hernandez, who attended Mountain Pointe High School in Phoenix. "I'm getting chills in the meetings and my heart gets pumping. We're ready to go."

Hernandez was teammates with Danny Bougher, the Wildcats' punter, in high school. He's hoping to receive some of Bougher's punts and "get a few returns by them."

Hernandez, who is listed as a co-starter at the "H" receiver position, said he planned to talk to Bougher sometime before the game and get "a little trash-talking going on."

"It's all in fun," Hernandez said. "I'll tell him he better kick the ball out of bounds."

Hernandez has no love for the University of Arizona, even though he lived in the state since the age of 11. He actually grew up a Miami fan, living in Florida for the first 11 years of his life. When he got to Arizona, he decided to be contrary to his friends.

"I always hated (Arizona) because my friends all liked them," he said. "They got after me when Arizona pounded Miami in the Fiesta Bowl 29-0. I took a lot of heat for that."

Thomas Huff is also from Phoenix, attending Camelback High, and while he didn't hate the Wildcats, he never was a fan of Arizona or Arizona State.

"They recruited me, but I wasn't that interested," Huff said of Arizona. "I've got a lot of friends there now like (receiver) B.J. Dennard. It'll be nice to line up against these guys on the other side of the ball like in high school."

Utah's offensive line coach Charlie Dickey says he "has a lot of history" at UA, having played there from 1980-83 and serving as an assistant coach from 1992 to 2003.

It's a new coaching staff since Dickey left UA, but he says he knows a lot of the players still there, which he hopes will pay off.

"It helps you a little bit because you know the personnel a little better," he said.

Dickey says the game won't have any extra meaning since it's his former school, however.

"It's Arizona, but I just want to get a win," he said. "More than anything else, I want to get a win."

One other Ute assistant, tight ends coach Jay Boulware, was an assistant at Arizona with Dickey, serving under John Mackovic from 2001-03.

Other Ute players from Arizona include linebacker Greg Bird, defensive back Stephen Gordon, receiver John Peel and tackle Jason Voss.

Besides Utah's Arizona connections, Arizona has a few Utah connections also.

Offensive coordinator Mike Canales was a quarterback for Utah State from 1981-83 when he was known as "Chico." He became a graduate assistant at BYU for two years, along with Utah coach Kyle Whittingham, before going to Snow College in 1987 for eight years. He came to Arizona last year after coaching wide receivers for the New York Jets.

Defensive tackles coach Mike Tuiasosopo had the same position at Utah in 2003 and is familiar with most of the Utes' current players. He was also the defensive line coach at Utah State from 1996 to 1999.

Another Arizona assistant, tight ends coach Josh Heupel, started his career in Utah before becoming an all-American quarterback at Oklahoma in 2000. Heupel was recruited to Weber State by Dave Arslanian and went to Snow College when Arslanian left. But instead of joining Arslanian at Utah State the following year, he went to Oklahoma, where he helped lead the Sooners to the national championship. He is in his second year at Arizona.


E-mail: sor@desnews.com