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Atypical tight end Brant Kuithe adds another explosive element to Utah’s offense

Utah Utes tight end Brant Kuithe (80) poses for a photograph in Salt Lake City on Tuesday, Dec. 3, 2019.
Utah Utes tight end Brant Kuithe (80) poses for a photograph in Salt Lake City on Tuesday, Dec. 3, 2019.
Jeffrey D. Allred, Deseret News

SALT LAKE CITY — Brant Kuithe isn’t your typical tight end.

You might have noticed that on Saturday when the University of Utah player zipped through the backfield, grabbed the ball from quarterback Tyler Huntley, burst through a hole and didn’t stop sprinting until a defensive back finally caught up with him 44 yards later.

You might have realized that when he used his speed to beat linebackers for the six touchdown receptions he’s had this season — not to forget his three rushing scores.

And you certainly noticed that if you’ve taken a look at his 6-foot-2 (generously listed) and 235-pound frame (up 17 pounds) and compared him to traditional tight ends who are often taller, bigger and, yeah, slower — definitely slower.

Sometimes, not being typical is a very good thing.

His twin brother — redshirt freshman defensive end Blake Kuithe — certainly thinks so.

“He’s a versatile player for sure,” Blake Kuithe said. “I would not say that he has that size as a typical tight end, but he plays well. He uses what he has to his advantage. Those mismatch opportunities ... he just uses them well.”

And you don’t have to be a Kuithe (pronounced “Keeth-ee”) to agree with that.

The Utes couldn’t be happier with their atypical tight end, who earned Pac-12 Offensive Player of the Week honors after scoring three times in Utah’s South Division-clinching 45-15 win over Colorado last Saturday and leading the team with 122 all-purpose yards.

“We just had to find a way to get him the ball,” Huntley said of Kuithe, who had 63 yards receiving and 59 yards rushing. “That is what it led to; we had to get him the ball because he is a playmaker and we have a lot of playmakers on the offense.”

Utah Utes tight end Brant Kuithe (80) celebrates after a catch and run as Utah and UCLA play a college football game in Salt Lake City at Rice Eccles Stadium on Saturday, Nov. 16, 2019.
Utah Utes tight end Brant Kuithe (80) celebrates after a catch and run as Utah and UCLA play a college football game in Salt Lake City at Rice Eccles Stadium on Saturday, Nov. 16, 2019.
Scott G Winterton, Deseret News

“I always knew I could do what I’ve been doing; it was just a matter of getting the opportunity and making plays in space,” Kuithe added. “Just credit to all of the guys on the offensive line, everybody out there on the field, and it’s not just me, it’s 10 other guys, so credit to them, as well.”

Kuithe has been a part of a tight end revolution at Utah.

Two years ago, Ute tight ends caught a total of nine passes all season. Kuithe has that many touchdowns this year. Not only that, but get this: the 19-year-old leads Utah in receptions (29), receiving yards (550), yards per catch (19.0) and receiving TDs (6). (For the record, fellow sophomore tight end Cole Fotheringham has contributed 11 receptions to make the Utes all the more dangerous at the position. Bonus: Kuithe says they keep each other accountable and positive, too.)

Kuithe’s nine TDs are the most in the Whittingham Era. The Utes haven’t had a tight end score that many since former Ute Dennis Smith snagged 18 touchdowns in 1989.

An offense that is already terrific thanks to contributions of guys like Huntley and all-time leading rusher Zack Moss is even more versatile and potent with the plays offensive coordinator Andy Ludwig can call thanks to Kuithe’s athleticism. In a way, he’s helped fill a void left by star receiver Britain Covey’s absence.

“It’s really tight-end friendly,” Kuithe said of the Ute offense. “You see in the game a lot, tight ends actually boost an offense. ... It helps a lot.”

The tight end jet sweep has been particularly effective for Utah in the latter half of this 11-1 campaign. Whittingham joked that it’s “better late than never” to get that play clicking in this offense.

“It’s a good play because Brant’s a good athlete. He makes it go,” Whittingham said. “You have to have the right guy to do it. You just can’t do it with just any tight end.”

Expect him to play some type of role in the offense for No. 5 Utah this Friday against 13th-ranked Oregon in the Pac-12 championship game. Earning the conference’s weekly award gives him a little extra boost, as does avenging last year’s title game loss to Washington and remaining in contention for the College Football Playoff or earning a spot in the Rose Bowl.

“Once you get your time, you gotta shine,” Kuithe said.

Kuithe played just about every position at Cinco Ranch High School in Katy, Texas. He was a quarterback, running back, receiver, kickoff and punt return specialist and, of course, a punter who averaged 40 yards a boot.

But the all-around athlete, who ended up at Utah with fraternal twin brother Blake, didn’t play his current position in high school — and has openly admitted he didn’t block much back then, either.

“I’ve got to improve that,” he told the Deseret News during the 2018 season.

And now?

“Just improving each week,” he said. “It’s not 100%, not perfect, but I’m just working on trying to get better.”

Kuithe’s blocking doesn’t make the highlight reels — unless you look closely while somebody else is gaining yardage — but Whittingham credited his sophomore standout for making strides in that area. That’s what really makes Kuithe a special talent at tight end/H-back — he can contribute to the offensive success even when the ball is not in his hands, despite his size.

“He’s a very good blocker,” Whittingham said.

Utah Utes tight end Brant Kuithe (80) runs the ball in for a touchdown, putting the Utes up 7-0 over the Arizona Wildcats after the PAT, at Arizona Stadium in Tucson, Arizona on Saturday, Nov. 23, 2019.
Utah Utes tight end Brant Kuithe (80) runs the ball in for a touchdown, putting the Utes up 7-0 over the Arizona Wildcats after the PAT, at Arizona Stadium in Tucson, Arizona on Saturday, Nov. 23, 2019.
Spenser Heaps, Deseret News

Utah’s coach credited Kuithe for blocking well on zone reads and for being an effective second puller on counter plays.

“He does exactly what we need him to do in the run game as far as his blocking. He’s a tough guy,” Whittingham said. “Yeah, he’s a complete player. He’s just not your prototypical anchor tight end on the line of scrimmage.”

This has been a bittersweet season for the other Kuithe. Injuries and surgery have kept Blake in the rehab room instead of on the practice field.

“I’m coming along,” he said. “I’ve unfortunately been plagued with quite a few injuries. It’s a process, but hopefully I’ll be back pretty soon.”

“I just want him back on the field with me,” Brant said of his brother who’s an inch taller and about 20 pounds heavier.

He’s enjoyed seeing his longtime teammate and roommate tear it up — as he knew he could.

“It’s exciting,” Blake said of Brant’s season. “He’s putting his name out there. I’m extremely proud of him, watching him play every week. It never gets old. It really doesn’t.”

Though they support each other on and off the field, the Texas twins do have some differences of opinion.

“I’m the (better) looking one, for sure,” Brant said.

Looks aside, Blake said it’s a good thing for his brother that they are on the same team, which has been the case since they were kids. They even opted to come to Utah together instead of going to Rice, near their Houston-area home, after a coaching change.

“We’ve never faced each other,” he said. “But I’m sure that wouldn’t turn out too pretty.”

Not too pretty for whom?

“For him,” Blake said, laughing.

Opposing defenses know the feeling.

Pac-12 championship game

Oregon (10-2, 8-1) vs. Utah (11-1, 8-1)

Levi’s Stadium, Santa Clara, California

Friday, 6 p.m. (MST)

TV: ABC, Ch. 4

Radio: ESPN 700AM