Utah's season opener at Oregon State got a little more intriguing Tuesday.

All-American Sammie Stroughter, a senior receiver and punt returner for the Beavers, has taken a leave of absence and won't be on the field when the Utes visit Reser Stadium in Corvallis, Ore., on Aug. 30.

Stroughter, who led the Pac-10 with 1,293 receiving yards on 74 catches last season, is dealing with grief issues concerning the recent deaths of two relatives (male role models) and an assistant coach who recruited him to OSU. He hasn't practiced with the team since Aug. 8 and will reportedly redshirt and resume his career next season.

"These losses have taken my entire family by storm, and the grief from these incidents has affected each one of us differently. It has been the decision of my immediate family and I that I take whatever time needed to get over what I am personally experiencing due to the sudden changes in my life," Stroughter revealed in a statement on OregonLive.com. "Academics and football are very important to me, and I appreciate all of the support I've received from the entire OSU coaching staff, teammates, faculty and the loyal supporters of Oregon State football."

Oregon State coach Mike Riley told OregonLive.com that the football program supports Stroughter and will always leave the door open. After praising the player and his family, Riley

said the team's thoughts and prayers were with him. Out of respect for the player's privacy, Riley explained, no more comments on the situation will be made until further notice. Stroughter's absence, however, won't change Utah's defensive game plan.

"We heard he's not around. We can't worry about that at this point. It doesn't affect us one way or the other at this point and time," head coach Kyle Whittingham said. "If he's not there on game day, obviously, that's one less weapon they have. But they've got good receivers other than him."

Defensive coordinator Gary Andersen agrees.

"Is it a factor? Absolutely. But do they have other good receivers around him? There's no question," Andersen said. "I know they've lost a very good player who we've got a lot of respect for.

"We've been watching him for six months — preparing for him," he added. "But he's not going to be there. I know they've got some other guys who are pretty dang good."

Oregon State's second and third leading receivers from last season are returning seniors. Star tailback Yvenson Bernard, who rushed for 1,307 yards, had 43 receptions, while receiver Brandon Powers had 39 catches.


E-mail: dirk@desnews.com