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Kalani Sitake on BYU-Utah rivalry: 'I choose to cheer differently'

Editor's note: Third in a four-part series.

PROVO — Kalani Sitake has been involved in some of the most memorable BYU-Utah games of all time as a player and as an assistant coach.

Yes, Sitake is intimately acquainted with the rivalry — having played for the Cougars (1994, 1997-2000) and having helped coach the Utes (2005-14).

When BYU and Utah meet Sept. 10 at Rice-Eccles Stadium, marking their first regular-season meeting since 2013, it will be Sitake’s first rivalry game as a head coach.

While Sitake would love nothing more than to help BYU end its five-game losing streak to Utah, he has a different view of the heated rivalry than the majority of fans.

“I choose to cheer differently than most people. I don’t wish bad things on Utah. I want them to be successful, just like I want the other local schools to have success and do well,” Sitake said. “When I was at Utah, I didn’t wish bad things on BYU. I don’t do that.”

At the same time, even with his position, Sitake doesn’t want to foist his approach on others.

“My job isn’t to tell fans how to act,” he said. “Does that mean that I need to force the way I am on everybody else? No. But I hope they can respect that part, just like I respect the way they behave and cheer. Some fans choose to be how they want. It’s not my job to change them. Especially knowing the people who are involved. I cheer for success for others. (Coach) Matt Wells of Utah State is a friend of mine. I know a lot of coaches all over, especially the local schools. When we have success locally, that’s good for the state of Utah. Do I have a message for them? No. I’m just going to do what I do and behave like I behave.”

Sitake said he has never felt bitter feelings toward Utah. He has a brother who played football there and he has a sister who ended up at Utah.

“I respect and love (Utah head coach) Kyle Whittingham. He’s a really good friend of mine, a mentor of mine. That’s never going to change,” Sitake said. “I respect and love the Utah fans and the way they treated me in that program. I have a great place in my heart for them. But not a lot of others have that same feeling. And that’s OK. When I was at Utah, I felt the same way about BYU and I still do. Now it’s great to be back home and to be in this position, and nothing’s really changed, other than I’m still the same person that wishes the best for others, but yet I’m here. I’m at BYU.

"While I’m here, I want Utah to win every game but the one we play against them. That’s the way I’m always going to be. I know who I am, and I’m really secure about the way I feel. I know others respect it. Those that don’t, it’s OK. Wishing bad things on others is not a good feeling. It’s OK for me to say that. But if people want to live that way, that’s OK. It’s important for me to respect how they behave. I’m not going to go on a crusade trying to change everybody and tell them how to cheer.”

Sitake already knows what it’s like to coach against Utah. It happened last season when Oregon State played at Rice-Eccles Stadium. Sitake was the defensive coordinator at Oregon State with another former Ute assistant, Gary Andersen.

“It was really cool. It was a good experience. Utah fans were great to me,” Sitake said. “I was in Oregon State gear. Gary and I walked the field and not one bad experience. Not one bad thing said to us. It was a great experience. I was really impressed with how the fans were. Even after the game, it was a cool experience. It was good to see all of my good friends on the other side. We wanted to beat them. That’s just how it is. But afterwards, we’re still friends and nothing’s changed other than during the game, we really want to beat them.”

In the days leading up to the BYU-Utah showdown at the Las Vegas Bowl, which the Utes won, 35-28, Sitake was watching the game at home with his family in Oregon.

“It was an interesting game. You know you’re going to be the head coach at BYU and you have a lot of connections with the people at Utah,” he said. “As the BYU head coach I was like, ‘Nobody get hurt.’ It was a weird game, being down 35 points and BYU coming back. From my point of view, I’m just like, ‘C’mon guys, let’s go.’ Now I’m at BYU, I felt like we had to win this one, although I could understand why my kids were cheering for BYU and Utah at the same time. It was a healthy game. It was healthy for us to cheer that way.”

EMAIL: jeffc@deseretnews.com