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Utah Utes football: U. seniors prepare for last time

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For 18 seniors and two coordinators, this morning's short session at the Spence Eccles Field House will be their final University of Utah football practice in Salt Lake City.

"I really haven't thought a lot about that. But I'm sure a lot of those guys have," said Utah coach Kyle Whittingham, who remembers thinking about his final practice in Provo as a BYU player back in 1981. "I think once the practice gets under way they go back into practice mode and I don't think it's a factor."

After taking a couple of days off for Christmas, the Utes will reunite in New Orleans on Saturday to wrap up preparations for their Sugar Bowl game against Alabama on Jan. 2.

It's the end of the line, er, Crimson line if you will, for assistant coaches Gary Andersen and Andy Ludwig, as well as graduating players Freddie Brown, Brent Casteel, Terrell Cole, Robert Conley, Bradon Godfrey, Dustin Hensel, Brian Johnson, Darrell Mack, Brice McCain, Clint Mower, Greg Newman, John Peel, RJ Rice, Deshawn Richard, Louie Sakoda, Colt Sampson, Corey Seiuli and Aaron Tonga.

"It recently started hitting me. But I had a good time here so I can't complain," Conley said of his final practices in Utah. "It'll probably be weird, but I had a great career at Utah. I couldn't ask for more — great coaches, great atmosphere, a great university."

Preparing for the Sugar Bowl has made things easier.

"What a way to go out. You couldn't script a better ending," Johnson said. "I've just got to enjoy it, enjoy being with my teammates these last couple of times and go out and try to win a football game."

The Mountain West Conference Offensive Player of the Year, who is from Texas, isn't looking at it as a farewell.

"I'll be around the program forever," Johnson said. "So it might be weird not being able to practice, but at the same time you've got to sit back and enjoy it."

Sakoda has similar feelings. He plans on being around next semester while preparing for opportunities at the next level.

"It's hard for me to kind of feel real nostalgic or sad about it yet," Sakoda explained. "But I'm sure it will sink in when I don't see the guys everyday, when they're practicing and I'm at home."

FOCUS ON UTAH: Alabama used its first four Sugar Bowl practices to focus on fundamentals. On Sunday, the Crimson Tide turned their attention toward the Utes.

"It has been a good start to our bowl practices. We started work on Utah today and had a pretty good day. Utah is an outstanding team that will present us with a lot of challenges on the football field," Alabama quarterback John Parker Wilson said. "We have to stay focused on the practice field between now and the game so we can finish the season strong."

EXTRA POINTS: Monday's bowl gift for the Utes was an UnderArmour backpack ... Utah's practice schedule in New Orleans begins with three sessions at Tulane and two in the Superdome ... Whittingham told reporters he hopes his wife, Jamie, has done their Christmas shopping because he "hasn't done a lick."

E-mail: dirk@desnews.com