When it comes to Utah's offensive line, no one has seen more or accomplished more than left tackle Tavo Tupola.

The preseason all-conference honoree is the lone senior the Utes have in the trenches.

"He's the best left tackle in the Mountain West Conference in my opinion — a four-year starter, a mainstay of the offensive line," says Utah head coach Kyle Whittingham. "He's worked his tail off. He's bigger, stronger and faster than he's ever been. He's positioned himself to have a good senior year."

At 6-foot-4 and 300 pounds, the former Hawaii prep star is an imposing figure on the field. Now, with the graduation losses of Jesse Boone and David Dirkmaat and the medical-driven retirement of Eric Pettit, Tupola stands even bigger.

"He's had to step up in the leadership department, which he has," Whittingham said. "He's our only senior on the offensive line and so he's the leader. There's no question about it."

It's a responsibility Tupola takes a great deal of pride in.

"I just motivate them to keep going and to move at a fast pace at a D-1 level," he said. "And they're picking it up. The young guys are picking it up."

Redshirt freshman Zane Beadles is the new starter at left guard and junior Kyle Gunther is manning the post at center.

"We lost a couple of key guys and had some big shoes to fill," Tupola said. "But Kyle Gunther is doing a great job and so is Zane Beadles. Those two are filling some big shoes. We're doing great."

Junior right tackle Jason Boone and sophomore right guard Robert Conley return as starters, helping Tupola with leadership responsibilities.

Utah's starting line has blended quickly.

"I'm not concerned at all. We've worked together since spring and have done a lot of reps together," Tupola said. "They've picked up the ball and ran with it. We're clicking as an offense right now and I like it. I like where we are at."

So, too, does Whittingham.

"I've got a lot of confidence in that crew," he said.

Besides the projected starters, the Utes are also counting on reserves like junior Jeremy Inferrera and sophomore Corey Seiuli, who are being prepared to play multiple positions.

Tupola is also versatile — backing his leadership with experience. The veteran of 35 college games is one of just three players on the team who started at least once during Utah's perfect season of 2004.

"I've told these young guys before that we have the same components as the 2004 season. We have the same attitude," Tupola said. "I think that's the big difference. We have this attitude that we can do it this year. These young guys are believing in it and buying into the system.

"That's what we did in 2004," he added. "Once we bought into the system, the sky's the limit."


E-mail: dirk@desnews.com