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Utah Utes football notebook: Utes getting ready for early morning kickoff

Jon Hayes, University of Utah football practice. Tuesday, Aug. 16, 2011.
Jon Hayes, University of Utah football practice. Tuesday, Aug. 16, 2011.
Stuart Johnson, Deseret News

SALT LAKE CITY — There are two reasons why the Utah Utes are practicing in the morning instead of their usual afternoon time on Tuesday and today — fall break and Saturday's early kickoff at Pittsburgh.

Utah coach Kyle Whittingham said the recess from classes has given the Utes the luxury to practice whenever they want this week. So they've opted for 10 a.m., the exact time the Pitt game is scheduled — albeit two time-zones ahead.

The hope, Whittingham noted, is to acclimate the team to the morning start and keep them from being lethargic.

After Tuesday's practice at Rice-Eccles Stadium, Whittingham acknowledged that he liked getting things done early.

"I do. If we were in a climate that was a little more conducive to early morning practice we would probably do it for the entire season," he said while noting that some college teams practice before the player head to classes. "But I think you have to take into account the weather because, obviously, at 7 a.m. here in Salt Lake City, it's not the same as 7 a.m. in San Diego."

Maintaining consistency is another factor.

"What you don't want to do is have a routine and then when the weather turns bad you've got to completely have a wholesale change," Whittingham said while noting he sees merit to early practices.

The concept is interesting and worth exploring, he added, but not in Utah's climate.

FAMILIAR FACES: A couple of former Utes — Chris Kemoeatu and Stevenson Sylvester of the Pittsburgh Steelers — are expected to visit the team this weekend. The Steelers host Jacksonville on Sunday.

"It's always great to have the former players around, particularly the ones in the NFL," Whittingham said. "These guys really look up to them and that's who they want to be. They want to be those guys that are in the NFL."

HEINZ FIELD: Saturday's game will mark a rarity for the Utes — a game played in an NFL stadium. The only other recent appearances were in the Louisiana Superdome (Sugar Bowl) and Qualcomm Stadium (San Diego State).

"It's going to be a fun time," said Utah linebacker Chaz Walker. "I haven't really thought about it. I'm concentrating more on beating these Panthers, but it's definitely going to be a good time."

EXTRA POINTS: Utah's Oct. 22 game at California will kickoff at 5 p.m. (MT) and be televised by KJZZ and Comcast SportsNet Bay Area . . . The Utes will leave for Pittsburgh Thursday afternoon and have a closed walk-through at Heinz Field on Friday . . . Utah is the first Pac-12 team to visit Pitt since the Panthers defeated Washington State, 17-13 on Sept. 2, 1995.

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