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Utah football: How pregame rituals get Utes ready for battle

SALT LAKE CITY — Before every University of Utah football game, Julian Blackmon needs his Roy Woods fix.

The Canadian hip hop/alternative R&B artist is one of Blackmon’s favorites.

Before every contest — during pregame warmups — Blackmon runs the length of the field, up and down, with the song "Instinct" echoing in his ears.

“When I’m out on the field, I have to listen to a certain song, 'Instinct' by Roy Woods,” Blackmon said. “I like that song, so I listen to it right before we go out. It makes me focused, gets me in the mood to play football.”

Quarterback Tyler Huntley, meanwhile, doesn’t have a favorite song or routine that gets him prepared for games. Instead, the signal caller takes time to himself, virtually ignoring all those around him.

“I am just chill pregame,” Huntley said. “Just focused on locking in. Not too much looking around. I am just pretty much focused.”

Regardless of approach, pregame rituals, traditions and habits have become an integral part of the Utah football experience.

It shouldn’t be surprising.

Head coach Kyle Whittingham has often touted the culture created at the U. during his tenure, and a large part of that culture is consistency.

“The culture of this program is really important to us, and I think we have developed a pretty good culture here,” said Whittingham. “A big part of it is staying even-keeled, being consistent in your approach.”

That approach has benefited the Utes, especially this season as they are in the midst of a four-game winning streak.

The focus on having a consistent approach has also, somewhat inevitably, led to the emergence of pregame rituals.

The Utes warm up in the Rose Bowl before the start of the University of Utah versus UCLA football game in Pasadena, California, on Friday, Oct. 26, 2018.
The Utes warm-up in the Rose Bowl before the start of the University of Utah versus UCLA football game in Pasadena, CA on Friday, Oct. 26, 2018.
Steve Griffin, Deseret News

Take, for instance, the dance circles of Utah’s defensive backs.

Believed to have begun with Boobie Hobbs, Utah’s cornerbacks, nickelbacks and safeties get together on the field pregame to dance.

“I always have to dance before the game and I always have to do some sort of dance with the DBs,” Blackmon said. “It is something fun that we all do. We will get in our little DB circle and we will all dance. We’ll tell each other that this — playing football games — is what we work for every day. It is just like practice. You practice how you play and we practice really well every week, so we should expect to play well.”

“It is just to relax, get the jitters out, make sure everyone is comfortable,” Blackmon’s backup at cornerback, Josh Nurse, added. “We have our little dance circle where we get a little juiced up. We just dance, clown around a little bit.”

On the opposite side of the pregame ritual spectrum is wide receiver Samson Nacua. At first blush the eccentric wide receiver — it is hard to miss his leopard print hair — would seem to have some unique, perhaps outlandish pregame tradition.

Nacua’s pregame ritual is much more reserved, however.

“I do the same thing every time. I like to go out there, look up at the sky and just think about what I’m about to do,” he said. “I just go sit out off to the side and think. Then I’m ready to go. I just go off and do it.”

The Utes warm up in the Rose Bowl before the start of the University of Utah versus UCLA football game in Pasadena, California, on Friday, Oct. 26, 2018.
The Utes warm-up in the Rose Bowl before the start of the University of Utah versus UCLA football game in Pasadena, CA on Friday, Oct. 26, 2018.
Steve Griffin, Deseret News

Chase Hansen and Cody Barton, the pair of senior linebackers Whittingham recently described as being “invaluable to our success,” have a pregame ritual of their own.

Part of the tradition is its secrecy, however, something they value immensely.

“Me and Cody have a little thing we do,” Hansen said, before politely refusing to elaborate.

“Did Chase tell you?,” Barton asked in a subsequent interview. “No? Then I can’t tell you what it is. That is part of it, you know?"

Regardless of the variety of rituals, the Utes agree that they are essential and above all else, fun.

“It is a way to get hyped with one of your teammates, but it is also just fun,” said Hansen.

“It is fun, provides motivation and there is a little bit of superstition all kind of wrapped up in the same thing,” Barton added.

“Honestly, it is just to relax, make sure you are comfortable and ready to go,” said Nurse.

The traditions are spreading, too.

Prior to the USC game, Nurse and Hansen were spotted in a dancing ritual, position group-free at that.

“I was dancing, clowning around and Chase just so happened to see me. I guess it was just contagious ‘cause he started dancing,” Nurse said.

“Nurse is one of those guys that starts turning up before the game and he gets you hyped. You can’t help but turn it up too,” Hansen said, laughing.

Hansen earned Pac-12 Player of the Week honors for his showing against the Trojans, so of course the Hansen-Nurse dance off will become a permanent thing.

“We talked about it after,” said Nurse. “That is going to be a thing.”

• • •

No. 16 Utah (6-2, 4-2) at Arizona State (4-4, 2-3)

  • Sun Devil Stadium, Tempe, Arizona
  • Saturday, 2 p.m.
  • TV: Pac-12 Networks
  • Radio: ESPN 700AM