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Gary Andersen is now the man in black ... and orange

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CLEARFIELD — Oregon State coach Gary Andersen chuckled when asked if it was weird to be back in Utah wearing orange and black.

After head coaching stints at Utah State and Wisconsin, Andersen is now leading a conference foe of the University of Utah, where he played and served as an assistant coach.

“You know what, Salt Lake is always home and will always be home for me,” Andersen said after addressing the 504 participants at the annual All Poly Camp Thursday morning at Clearfield High School. “I’ve been away for a minute but it’s fun to come home. I wouldn’t say it’s weird. It’s a little different. It’s good for me.” Andersen, who joined members of his staff in assisting at a satellite camp at Alta High School on Wednesday, noted that he was able to visit his mother and buy his brothers breakfast while in town.

“It’s great to be able to come back here,” said Andersen, a Cottonwood High graduate. “Now we’re with Oregon State, which is awesome, and there’s a lot that goes into that for a lot of people. But it’s still home for me.”

Even so, things are a little different now. In preparing for his first season in the Pac-12, Andersen hired defensive coordinator Kalani Sitake and defensive assistant Ilaisa Tuiaki away from the Utes — adding some intrigue to the situation.

“I think there’s a lot that’s been made with that Kalani and Ilaisa thing,” Andersen said. “They got taken away from me, too. That’s not a reason to hire somebody back, but it’s opportunity.”

Andersen added that his relationship with Utah coach Kyle Whittingham is good.

“We’re as close now as we’ve ever been and we will always be very, very good friends,” Andersen said. “It doesn’t have anything to do with ‘he said, she said.’ It’s just the opportunity to hire good coaches. You get an opportunity to hire good coaches and obviously they’re good coaches.”

Andersen acknowledged that it is interesting, though, to be in the same conference with the Utes. He’s developed an understanding of how things are in the Pac-12 after listening to things Whittingham has said while watching Utah’s program grow through its time in the conference.

The Beavers are building a new facility, he explained, and knows it takes time to go through that. He’s also aware of the adjustments needed with the offense and defense in adapting to the speed of the conference.

“I see ourselves in an area to grow and build and develop ourselves in that area and I see Utah has really moved forward in that area as far as where they were,” Andersen said. “You look at them — just walk around on the football field — as a football team and it’s a good-looking group of kids.

“So it’s awesome to be part of this conference. It’s awesome to be back on the West Coast and in the position to be able to build this program,” he continued. “So I think if Kyle and I both had it our way we probably wouldn’t play each other. But we’re going to play each other a couple of times before we go off the schedule. Then, hopefully, in a few years we get to play each other for a real special game. Who knows.”

On Oct. 31, Andersen and the Beavers take on Whittingham and the Utes at Rice-Eccles Stadium.

“It’ll be fun. It’s going to be a crazy environment. It’s a very hard place to play,” Andersen said. “We have 11 seniors on our team, so we’re going to have very, very few kids that have ever been to Rice-Eccles. We get an opportunity to go play Michigan early, which is great, and obviously some road games within the conference, but it’ll be the most challenging place we play all year.”

Andersen is well aware of the hectic environment the Beavers will face. He noted it’ll be Halloween and win-loss records probably won’t be much of a factor in light of how excited everyone will be for the game.

“So it’ll be a tremendous challenge but it’s one we’re looking forward to,” Andersen said. “Our youth has got to handle that situation just like they handle the year. If they can handle it, we’ll be a decent football team. If they can’t it’ll be a tough year.”

Andersen’s staff in Corvallis has already bonded well. They all live in close proximity to one other, each within four or five minutes of campus.

“It’s a great, tight-knit family unit of coaches,” Andersen said. “Everybody’s been together.”

Besides Sitake and Tuiaki, Oregon State coaches include former Utah assistants Chad Kauha’aha’a and Derrick Odum. Three other assistants, Kevin McGiven, Dave Baldwin and T.J. Woods, worked with Andersen at Utah State

Andersen’s decision to take the head coaching job at Oregon State caught many by surprise. He led Wisconsin to 19 wins in two seasons at the helm.

“I think at the end of the day I saw a tremendous opportunity and that is the truth,” said Andersen, who mentioned that he is asked about the move often. “There’s some things out there that, you know, I don’t feel like I need to talk about and make it public.”

Andersen added that he has things he believes in and his core. Other places have their core and so that’s where it sits.

“A fit is a fit. I had great kids, loved them. But for me, this opportunity was special because Oregon State was something that I had looked at for a long time as a school that had everything that I look for — from the size of the town to the community to a true college environment to the highest level and now, arguably, the best conference in the country. It was just a slam dunk for me,” Andersen said.

There was another variable as well.

Andersen expressed that he goes where he believes he’s supposed to go and where’s he’s told to go.

“That was a gigantic part of it,” Andersen said. “I’ll never make a decision to go somewhere unless I feel like I’m supposed to be there or told to be there. I never want to get too religious on it, but that’s where I stand.”

Andersen’s return to Utah this week also included a stint working at a camp with 330 players. Southern Utah coach Ed Lamb and his staff ran the satellite event, a one-day evaluation. Coaches from Oregon State, Nevada, UNLV, Snow College and Mount San Antonio College were invited to assist.

“It worked out great,” Alta coach Alema Te’o said. “Those kids had a chance to get in front of six or seven different institutions and showcase what they can do.”

Andersen also said things went well.

“It was great for us to be associated with it. I think it will grow,” he noted. “It’s another opportunity for kids to get a little bit better at the game of football, hopefully, and to have college coaches see them.”

Utah is a region of keen interest for Oregon State.

“It’s definitely one of our key recruiting areas,” Andersen said. “If you look at us, we recruit in a lot of areas and a lot of different spots because we can. I think the uniqueness of our university gives us an opportunity to recruit a lot of different areas throughout the country.”

Andersen points to this week’s camps as proof that the Beehive State is producing quality players.

“There’s a lot of good kids. The population base has gotten bigger and bigger and the coaches are very, very good in the high schools and there’s stability,” he said. “So that’s been great.”

Oregon State’s 2015 signing class included East linebacker Christian Folau, American Fork running back Zach Katoa, Pine View linebacker Thor Katoa, Hunter defensive end Noah Togiai and Snow College kicker Nick Porebski.

“You’ve got a lot of guys at Oregon State that have connections to the state of Utah and so you’ve got a lot of guys that have played football in the state and have worked and lived in the state for a long time,” Sitake said before the All Poly Camp’s afternoon session Thursday at Layton’s Ellison Park. “We recognize the talent level in the state and a lot of other coaches do, too. So as you can see a lot of coaches are out here recruiting the state of Utah and it’s important for us to get to the right players whether it’s in Utah or California — wherever we can, you’ve got to find the right mix.”

Sitake, though, insists this week has a different purpose.

“Hopefully there’s some guys we can recruit but this is more about just helping the guys and instructing and getting with the kids and helping everybody,” he said. “It’s not about the guys that are going to go D-1 and stuff. This is about like our way of giving back, being able to work with some kids and instruct them — get them better.

“You can see we’re not just coaching the guys that have offers,” Sitake said. “We’re coaching everybody that’s here at the camps. Regardless of where the camps are, that’s what we’re going to try to do.”

Email: dirk@desnews.com

Twitter: @DirkFacer