No doubt, Utah’s game Saturday against Oregon has enormous Pac-12 and postseason implications. 

But Utes coach Kyle Whittingham opened his weekly news conference Monday discussing a subject more important than football — the tragic deaths of football players at the University of Virginia over the weekend. 

It’s a situation that, unfortunately, Whittingham and the Utah football program can relate to in a deep and personal way. 

Whittingham extended his condolences to the University of Virginia, where a former Cavaliers player is suspected of killing three current players and wounding two other students late Sunday night.

Athletes and athletic programs call for prayers after 3 football players die in Virginia shooting

The suspect is in custody following a manhunt in Charlottesville, police confirmed Monday morning. 

Virginia president Jim Ryan announced during a news conference Monday that three football players — junior wide receiver Lavel Davis Jr., junior receiver Devin Chandler; and junior defensive end/linebacker D’Sean Perry — were shot and killed.

Christopher Darnell Jones Jr., the suspect in the shooting identified by authorities, was taken into custody. Jones was charged with three counts of second-degree murder and three counts of using a handgun in the commission of a felony, according to University of Virginia police chief Tim Longo. 

Utah has suffered the tragic loss of two football players over the past two years. 

If anyone can empathize with what’s happening at Virginia, it’s Whittingham.

“We’ve reached out (to the University of Virginia) and done some things to let them know that we’re thinking of them and praying for them. We have been through our share of tragedy,” he said. “It’s just horrific. … What they’re going through is difficult and who the apparent gunman was, I mean, I couldn’t think of a worse situation.”

A banner with the numbers and initials of three University of Virginia football players killed in a shooting hangs from a home near the crime scene, Monday, Nov. 14, 2022, in Charlottesville. Va. Lavel Davis Jr., Devin Chandler and D’Sean Perry were were killed in a shooting, Sunday, Nov. 13, 2022, in Charlottesville, Va., while returning from a class trip to see a play. | Nathan Ellgren, Associated Press

Freshman running back Ty Jordan died on Dec. 25, 2020, in what police called an accidental shooting. 

Then on Sept. 26, 2021, Jordan’s close friend and fellow Texan, defensive back Aaron Lowe, was shot and killed in Salt Lake City, hours after the Utes earned their first Pac-12 win of the season against Washington State. 

Lowe was the first recipient of the Ty Jordan Memorial Scholarship just before the season kicked off and he changed his jersey number from No. 2 to No. 22 to honor Jordan.

The university has since retired No. 22 in the football program.

In September, the program acknowledged the one-year anniversary of Lowe’s death. 

“We just wanted to let Aaron’s family know how they’re in our thoughts and prayers. We miss him,” Whittingham said at the time. “We want to make sure we acknowledge that. We’ll always remember Aaron and Ty.”

Since last season, Utah has started a new tradition. Between the third and fourth quarters of home games, the Utes hold a “Moment of Loudness” to honor Jordan and Lowe. 

During Monday’s news conference, Whittingham also offered condolences to the family of a Utah fan that died from a health-related issue during Saturday’s 42-7 win over Stanford

“Our thoughts and prayers with their family as well,” Whittingham said.

Yet more reminders that, even with a huge game looming, there are things more important than football.

Utes on the air

No. 13 Utah (8-2, 6-1)

at No. 6 Oregon (8-2, 6-1)

Saturday, 8:30 p.m. MST

Autzen Stadium


Radio: ESPN 700