It’s the Pac-12 championship game, but it also could be dubbed the Sewell Bowl.
In an intriguing subplot to this huge showdown between No. 17 Utah and No. 10 Oregon, Nephi Sewell is a starting linebacker for the Utes and his brother, Noah, is a starting linebacker for the Ducks.
Though they won’t be on the field at the same time Friday (6 p.m. MST, ABC) when Utah and Oregon meet for the conference title at Allegiant Stadium in Las Vegas, it’s another giant moment for the Sewell family.
“It’s definitely different,” said Nephi, a 6-foot, 228-pound junior. “The good thing is, we both play defense. I don’t ever see him (on the field). I’m happy he’s doing his thing over there.”
Two years ago, the Sewells’ other brother, offensive lineman Penei, helped lead Oregon to a victory over Utah in the Pac-12 championship game.
While Penei — the 2019 Outland Trophy winner and unanimous All-American — was a star on that team, Nephi played in only three games that season for the Utes, including as a backup against the Ducks.
This time, both teams’ defenses are heavily influenced by the Sewells. It’s similar to the scenario on Nov. 20, when Utah drubbed Oregon 38-7 at Rice-Eccles Stadium.
In that game, Noah Sewell collected a team-high 10 tackles and a sack for -12 yards. Nephi Sewell recorded three tackles.
“It’s definitely not the ideal thing for my parents,” Nephi said. “I know the last game, they were emotional. My mom wasn’t really watching the game. She was about to cry every time she saw us both on the field.
“Just grateful we’ve all had the opportunity to play at such a high level.”
Noah Sewell suffered an injury that sidelined him in the second half of last Saturday’s win against Oregon State, but coach Mario Cristobal said Monday that Noah will play Friday against the Utes.
Penei Sewell was selected as the No. 7 overall pick of the Detroit Lions in last spring’s NFL draft. Nephi and Noah could also wind up playing at the next level.
“They’re both tremendous players. Noah is outstanding, and Nephi may be the most underrated player in the conference,” said Utah coach Kyle Whittingham.
“All he does is make play after play after play. He doesn’t get a whole lot of notoriety or recognition. He just quietly goes about his business and makes very few mistakes.”
How is it that the Sewell family has been able to produce so many talented football players?
“Genetics. Really good genetics. They have outstanding sons. All of them are tremendous players,” Whittingham said.
“They’re just genetically engineered for great football players. They’re all good. The Sewells are very good.”
Nephi Sewell, who is Utah’s second-leading tackler with 77 stops, credits his teammate at linebacker, Butkus Award finalist Devin Lloyd, for helping his development.
“I’ve learned a lot from him. He’s the reason why I go out and grind, even if I’m hurt. I know he’d do the same,” Nephi said of Lloyd. “That’s why I’ll play for him. That’s my brother, for real. More than a teammate, that’s my brother.”
“He’s ballin’. He’s an absolute baller. He’s starting to get more attention as he deserves,” Lloyd said of Nephi. “But he’s so instinctual and so smart. He’s just a flat-out baller. He deserves all the credit in the world for the plays that he makes.”
Cristobal has high praise for both Nephi Sewell and Lloyd.
“They’re very instinctive players and they get downhill in a hurry. They diagnose quickly. You can tell that they spend tons of time in the film room. It doesn’t take them long to figure out what an offense is doing,” he said. “They get it and when they get there, they get there with the right type of disposition.
“They’re knock-back tacklers. Obviously, we’re very familiar with the Sewell family. Devin Lloyd is a guy that with his length and his range, again, just an excellent football player as well as Nephi Sewell. Both those guys, they just do so much for them not only as linebackers but also in the blitz game and also just as pass rushers with the way that they use Lloyd. He’s just a really, really good football player.”
Noah Sewell, a 6-3, 251-pound freshman, prepped at Orem High. He was named the Deseret News’ Mr. Football in 2019 and he earned Pac-12 Freshman Defensive Player of the Year honors in 2020.
He is Oregon’s leading tackler with 94 stops and he’s had four sacks.
What does Whittingham like about Noah Sewell’s game?
“Everything. He’s got great size, and he moves like a cat. Guys that big typically don’t move that well,” he said.
“But he’s outstanding. His lateral movement and quickness. He’s instinctive. He’s a big-play guy, always seems to be around the ball. Always. What you look for in a middle linebacker, he embodies. He’s got the whole package.”
Noah is “the best I’ve been around at that position,” Cristobal has said. “I mean it’s almost deja vu with when Penei was here and I felt that way. I feel the same about Noah. That’s a guy that last year didn’t get a lot of time to train and only played in six or seven games. Now we’re in this season and every single game he is taking over.
“He’s doing so many great things and he does it in a physical manner. He is a knock-back tackler who changed the game at the line of scrimmage, he can rush the passer, he covers a lot of ground from sideline to sideline. … He’s an elite player and elite human being.”
Penei, Nephi and Noah were born in American Samoa before the family moved to the United States in 2012.
Not surprisingly, there’s plenty of competition in the Sewell home.
“Video games and basketball, we were competitive. I’m terrible at basketball but I’m just competitive. I like playing against Penei because he’s big,” Nephi said.
“Between my brothers, I’m probably the best video gamer. When they do beat me, it’s like the Super Bowl for them in a way. I won’t hear the end of it. But then when I win, I’m like, ‘Do you want a rematch?’ That’s basically how it was growing up.”
This week, leading up to a big showdown at Allegiant Stadium in Las Vegas, with so much on the line, Nephi and Noah are texting each other about their wardrobes, not about the game.
It promises to be an emotional Friday night for the Sewells. No matter the outcome, the family will deal with both winning, and losing, a Pac-12 championship.