Changing allegiances: These BYU and Utah fans went from blue to red, or red to blue. Here are their stories
Coaches and players in the famed Utah-BYU rivalry aren’t the only ones who have switched sides throughout the series. Many fans have, too
By now, almost everyone familiar with the BYU-Utah rivalry knows about the famous crossovers and ties between the schools 50 miles apart in the same media market.
Utes, Cougars on the air
No. 21 Utah (1-0)
at BYU (1-0)
Saturday, 8:15 p.m. MDT
LaVell Edwards Stadium
Radio: ESPN 700
More recently, defensive end Devin Kaufusi followed brothers Corbin and Bronson to BYU, but now plays for Utah. After catching a touchdown pass for the Utes in Utah’s 35-27 win over BYU in 2018, Samson Nacua now suits up for the Cougars.
The list goes on and on.
What about the fans? Do changes of allegiance happen in the stands as well?
Absolutely, the Deseret News learned after doing some crowdsourcing via social media for fans who once donned Cougar blue, but now sport Utah red. Or vice versa.
New York Jets quarterback Zach Wilson’s family in Draper is a prime example.
And although the response wasn’t overwhelming — finding Cougars-turned-Utes was tough — there are a significant number of fanatics out there who made the switch, crossing enemy lines and joining the other side in one of the fiercest, most unique rivalries in the country.
Their reasons are varied. Some put loyalty to family over loyalty to school. Others admit to jumping on the bandwagon when Utah got the so-called “golden ticket” and was invited to join the Pac-12. More than a few were turned off by how BYU fans were treated at events on The Hill and found more comfort in Provo even as rivalry losses piled up for a proud program that once dominated the football series.
The rivalry gets renewed Saturday at LaVell Edwards Stadium, with both teams 1-0 and looking to earn bragging rights for their fans for what could be quite some time. After Saturday, BYU and Utah aren’t scheduled to meet again until Sept. 7, 2024, at Rice-Eccles Stadium in Salt Lake City.
“The other two things that really flipped me were Max Hall, good old Max Hall, saying he hated everything about the U. and watching the Utes dominate Alabama in the Sugar Bowl.” — BYU fan-turned-Utah fan Don Eisenbarth
With BYU on the verge of joining the Big 12 and Utah’s Pac-12 having entered into an alliance with the Big Ten and ACC, who knows if the football rivalry is waning? The Utes and Cougars almost certainly won’t play as often in the next 20 years as they did during the previous 20.
But there will always be a lot of back-and-forth between the fans. That’s part of what makes this rivalry great — or not.
Here are some of their stories:
Don Eisenbarth — BYU to Utah
Growing up in Orem, Don Eisenbarth attended BYU football games with his season-ticket holding father until both realized that BYU losses made them physically ill. Eisenbarth, now a 36-year-old nutritional chemist who lives in Layton, took notes of each play during the Cougars’ fantastic 1996 14-1 season and was there when Cougar Stadium was renamed LaVell Edwards Stadium. He chanted “Gary, Gary, Gary” when the Cougars crushed Tulane in Gary Crowton’s first game.
He envied his best friend, who was born on the day the Cougars were declared 1984 national champions.
But when it came time to choose a college, Eisenbarth picked Utah “mostly because I could enter the U. as a sophomore instead of a freshman at BYU.” And so it began.
While on his mission to Iowa for The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, Eisenbarth snapped footballs during a Preparation Day touch football game to a fellow missionary and Arizona State commit by the name of Max Hall, who would later sign with BYU and deliver an anti-Utah rant after the Cougars’ last rivalry win, 26-23 in overtime.
By 2008, Eisenbarth’s flip from blue to red was also complete. He was at Rice-Eccles in 2008 when Utah completed a “miracle” comeback to beat Oregon State and keep alive its perfect season, yelling at fans who were leaving that the Utes would come back and win. He was right.
“The other two things that really flipped me were Max Hall, good old Max Hall, saying he hated everything about the U. and watching the Utes dominate Alabama in the Sugar Bowl,” he said.
Eisenbarth still catches flak for making the switch from family members, such as his older brother, “the biggest BYU fan I know,” who he took to the 2006 Utah-BYU game that the Cougars won 33-31 on John Beck’s game-winning touchdown pass to Jonny Harline.
“Never been flipped off more in my life,” he said.
He’s “super happy” that the Utes have won nine straight but admits there are a couple games in the streak where he legitimately felt bad for his family of BYU fans.
“My switchover happened, my schooling happened, when Utah got good and went to the Pac-12, so it comes across as bandwagoning,” Eisenbarth said. “I can’t argue with that. BYU was better in the ’80s and ’90s. Utah is better now. Any arguments otherwise fall short.”
Jaime Judkins Weeks — Utah to BYU
Growing up in Salt Lake City, Jaime Weeks “lived and breathed the University of Utah, mostly Utah men’s basketball.” There was a good reason for that. Her father, Jeff, played basketball for the Utes and was a longtime assistant coach there under Rick Majerus.
“I was that tom-boy girl who literally wore Utah sports attire every day to elementary school,” she said.
When she was 12, her father sat down his five kids and told them he was leaving Utah and going to BYU.
“I started bawling and felt like my whole life was ruined,” she said. “So instead of the Utah fight song, we would hear the BYU fight song in the morning. I never really got over it.”
However, during her senior year at Skyline High, she chose to play college basketball for her father, now the head women’s basketball coach at BYU, and the rest is history.
“I did feel like I betrayed my Utes when I chose to go to BYU, but there is a sense of pride when you are actually a part of the school you are cheering for,” she said.
Jeff Judkins still lives in Salt Lake City and makes the commute daily to Provo. Jaime married a die-hard BYU fan, “which worked out well for me. I can only imagine if I was still a Ute fan. Not sure our relationship would last. Ha ha,” she said. The couple have four children and live in Sandy, where there are a few more BYU fans than there were in her neighborhood growing up.
“All of my friends were Ute fans,” she said. “A lot of kids called my dad a turncoat and I was constantly made fun of at school. It was hard, because at the time I was still a Utah fan, but my dad was now at BYU. Many people in Utah say you cannot be both a BYU and a Utah fan, but I felt like I was a close one.”
As for Jeff Judkins, his daughter says he hasn’t entirely left his heart in Provo, either.
Years ago, after a shootaround before a BYU-Utah women’s basketball game at the Huntsman Center, Jaime found her dad sitting in the red chairs and reminiscing.
“He would say he spent a lot of hours in this gym and always feels like he is home,” she said. “Although BYU is his new home currently, I believe he still holds being a Ute in his heart.”
Chad Fotheringham — BYU to Utah
If that last name sounds familiar to Utah football fans, it should. Chad Fotheringham is the father of Utes tight end Cole Fotheringham, a senior from San Clemente, California.
Chad Fotheringham’s mom and dad were BYU graduates and big BYU fans, despite living five minutes from the U. in Salt Lake City when Chad was a youngster. The family moved to Southern California when he was 12 and remained true blue Cougar fans.
Chad attended Snow College and played football for Pacific before the Tigers dropped their program after his junior season.
“I went back to being a BYU fan and raised all my kids to be BYU fans,” he said.
The family started to change allegiances a little bit when San Clemente product Travis Wilson, a family friend, played quarterback for the Utes. BYU and Utah both recruited Cole and another San Clemente star, offensive lineman Tucker Scott, whose father Lance Scott also played for the Utes.
When Cole and Tucker chose Utah, the switch was complete.
“It was a little bit of an adjustment, especially for a lot of my family members,” Chad said. “At that point in time, BYU hadn’t been using their tight ends a lot, and Aaron Roderick was using tight ends heavily at Utah. It is ironic now that Roderick is at BYU and they are using their tight ends a lot.”
Chad doesn’t cheer specifically for BYU anymore, but wants to see Roderick and Sitake do well after getting to know them during the recruiting process. Also, Cougars tight end Isaac Rex is one of Cole Fotheringham’s best friends, and so Chad wants to see Rex do well.
“But I have to say my full allegiance is to the University of Utah now,” he said. “It has been neat to be a fan on both sides of the rivalry and see that there are really good people on both sides. It is natural for people to demonize the other school and the other side. In reality, I would say 80% of the fans on both sides are just awesome, great people, and it is just very healthy.”
Having been known in their Latter-day Saint ward as big BYU fans, the Fotheringhams haven’t received much flak for jumping to the other side of the rivalry.
“Everyone understands,” he said. “Family comes first.”
After watching the way the rivalry has turned the past decade, Chad believes he has the best of both worlds now.
“I don’t imagine there have been many people who have been BYU fans their whole lives and then flipped over to Utah,” he said. “But I have to say it is really kind of fun to have been a BYU fan during all those good years and now to be a Utah fan during all these good years. It has been fortuitous timing.”
Jacob Flinders — Utah to BYU
Former University of Utah basketball star Craig Rydalch was one of Jacob Flinders’ sports heroes growing up in Oakley and Kamas. After playing for the Utes in the early 1990s, Rydalch coached Flinders in youth basketball games and often took his own son, Beau, and his friends, such as Flinders, to Utes basketball and football games.
Flinders’ favorite memory of being a Utah fan was a 2008 blackout football game when the No. 8 Utes downed No. 12 TCU 13-10 to keep their BCS hopes alive.
After a Latter-day Saints mission, Flinders got accepted into Utah, Utah State and BYU, and after a lot of deep thought, chose to attend BYU. He bought a ROC pass, and the rest is history, although he still doesn’t consider himself a die-hard BYU fan.
“I was there when Taysom Hill and Jamaal Williams were playing, and they were so fun to watch,” he said. “I guess I consider myself a BYU fan now, but I really do love watching both teams. I like watching good football. With Utah it has been easy to do that, and with BYU it has been easier lately.”
Another factor that pushed him into BYU’s corner is his father-in-law, Dave Neff. Neff played football for BYU and was a member of the 1984 national championship team.
Flinders, 29, lives in Heber City now but still runs into the Rydalchs occasionally and still gets ribbed for taking his allegiance south.
“Oh yeah, Craig will tease me,” he said. “He will tell me to stop drinking the BYU Kool-Aid. It is always lighthearted, always fun.”
His dad is still a Utes fan, but there’s no doubt who Flinders will be cheering for Saturday.
“BYU, for sure,” he said. “I am a BYU season ticket holder now. My joke is that I have to cheer for the school I paid tuition at.”
Ty Sorenson — BYU to Utah
Ty Sorenson, a 30-year-old who lives in Saratoga Springs, has been called “Tiger” his entire life. But football is his preferred sport to follow, not golf.
He was born in Utah County and lived there until he was 10. His family moved to Northern California, but BYU was his dad’s team and he says he didn’t have a choice but to grow up cheering on the Cougars.
“When I really started to understand football it was BYU over everything,” he said. “I always wanted them to have the highest ranking. Actively cheered against Utah growing up.”
Everything changed when the Utes were invited to the Pac-12 in 2011 and BYU went independent. Living in California, where everyone is a fan of Pac-12 teams such as Oregon, Stanford, Cal and USC, left Sorenson feeling left out.
“I stopped really caring (about BYU) because it never stood a chance at winning anything,” he said. “Rooting for an (independent) was never fun and something I did because of my dad.”
So after a “couple years off of not caring about college football,” Sorenson went searching for a Pac-12 team and went with his home state team.
“My Utah fandom is very, very intense,” he said.
Sorenson still catches heat from his dad, who “has all the receipts and memories of me being a BYU fan. He won’t ever let me live it down.”
But he loves the idea of having a Power Five team to cheer for, especially now that the Utes are finding their footing in the Pac-12 South.
Michael Goldman — Utah to BYU
Having just returned from a Latter-day Saints mission to Japan in 2002, Utah student Michael Goldman used his free student pass to watch the Utes edge BYU 13-6 at Rice-Eccles Stadium to ensure the Cougars’ first losing season in 29 years. But he had a hard time joining in his fellow students’ cheers, which he says were obscene and derogatory toward BYU.
At that moment, he wondered aloud to himself what he was doing there. Goldman grew up a Utah fan from a Utah family. Some of his friends and family members played for Utah from 1999-2002 and his mom was a Utah graduate.
His Utah fandom was solidified when his brother became a BYU fan and later attended BYU.
“Being ultra-competitive, I had to hate BYU. I really hated BYU,” he said. “I totally understand the hatred toward BYU. They had a passing game that was unmatched, though I couldn’t even admit it at the time.”
Goldman applied at both schools, knowing he would go to Utah but wanting to show his family he was “smart enough” to be accepted into BYU, which happened.
After the 2002 rivalry game, he transferred to BYU, but still held onto his Utah fandom. He wore red in the BYU student section during the 2003 game, a 3-0 Utah win in a blizzard, while sitting beside his girlfriend, a BYU student, and was surprised that he wasn’t harassed.
He “proudly” wore his Utah gear around BYU’s campus before graduating in 2006. He became friends with BYU player Justin Maddox and would “cheer for him only” when the rivals met.
Ironically, it wasn’t until after Goldman graduated from BYU, a few years after, that he made the switch from red to blue.
After getting called an “idiot” in a store by a Utah fan in 2006 because he was wearing a BYU alumni polo, Goldman thought long and hard about what fanbase he wanted to be associated with and eventually went all-in on the Cougars.
“I felt like more Utah fans hated BYU than liked Utah,” he said. “I found out that a pretty easy test is to ask for the name of three (Utah) football players. I used to, and probably still do, know more about the Utah football program than most Utah fans.”
The kicker came in 2008 when Utah won the Sugar Bowl and Goldman saw “BYU lifers” posting their congratulations and “total support” of the Utes on their Facebook pages.
“Now I am fully invested in the quest for perfection, due to other benefits,” he said, noting the family environment at BYU games, the school’s worldwide fan base and even superior food choices at home games.
The 40-year-old Herriman father recently named one of his boys after his favorite player, quarterback Baylor Romney.
“My son was born with red hair and I almost shaved his head,” he said. “It turned blond.”
After he turned blue.
More BYU to Utah stories:
• Spencer Ferrero grew up a BYU fan in Murray because his parents had a pair of season tickets and he would occasionally get to go to games when one parent had to miss. After a Latter-day Saints mission, he went to the U. and played water polo for the Utes.
“I decided that I couldn’t represent the school playing against other colleges and universities and cheer for their rival, so I made the switch and haven’t looked back,” he said. “Tiny bit of flak from my parents, but good-natured only.”
Ferrero moved to Los Angeles in early 2008 so he isn’t a Utes season ticket holder, but he has made it to some of the big games such as Michigan in 2008 and many of the USC and UCLA games in L.A.
• Ryan Erickson, of Lehi, can relate to Chad Fotheringham. Erickson was a legacy member of the Cougar Club and a huge BYU fan.
“Now I am all-in with the Utes,” he said.
Why? His son, Hayden Erickson, recently returned home from a mission and is a freshman lineman on Utah’s 2021 team.
“Ha ha, family first,” Ryan Erickson said.
More Utah to BYU stories:
• After graduating from Kearns High in 1980, Joseph Walker attended the U. and even had a T-shirt that read “Anywhere but BYU” on the front. But while he was on a Latter-day Saints mission to Japan, Walker’s family moved to California and he couldn’t afford out-of-state tuition to return to the U.
So he applied at BYU and was accepted. He’s been a “really, really big BYU fan” ever since.
“I am now a Cougar for life,” said Walker, who just turned 59 and lives in Spring, Texas. “I bleed blue. I won’t even allow my kids to consider going to Utah.”
Walker has a quick retort to old high school friends when they remind him he once bitterly opposed BYU.
“I just tell them my former Utah loyalties were an illness, but I got better,” he said.
• Dylan McMinn, 20 grew up in a family of die-hard BYU fans in Layton. His parents met at BYU. He wanted to be different than all his siblings, so he gravitated toward the Utes. He attended a Utah-Oregon game with a friend’s family and thought he was hooked on the team that he says most of Layton cheers for.
But in 2013, he was introduced to former BYU quarterback Taysom Hill. He decided to give BYU a chance, and attended a few games the following seasons. Former BYU running back Jamaal Williams took time to sign a cap that McMinn had received for Christmas after one particular game in Provo, “and it made me completely flip to BYU,” he said.
He doesn’t root against Utah, but he has more in common with BYU players, he believes, and will continue to support the Cougars. As for this week’s game, McMinn is predicting a 24-21 BYU win.
“I see a lot of BYU fans panicking because we didn’t beat Arizona by as much as we wanted,” he said. “But I saw that as a first-game fluke.”