Senior Night isn’t what it used to be in college sports.

Part of the reason is that the NCAA granted all student-athletes an extra year of eligibility to compensate for the pandemic-impacted 2020-21 sports year. On top of that, some already know they will forgo eligibility to play at the next level.

“If you’re leaning toward (leaving), go ahead and get recognized. Worst thing, you come back and you get recognized again next year.” — Kyle Whittingham on the advice he’s giving his players

As Utah gets ready to stage Senior Night Saturday (8 p.m. MST, ESPN) at Rice-Eccles Stadium before its game against Stanford, knowing exactly which players, including nonseniors, will be honored is a bit of a mystery. 

“It’s our last home game — ‘Senior Night.’ We’ll be honoring our seniors, as well as some underclassmen. It will be an opportunity to have our seniors get recognized one last time,” said coach Kyle Whittingham. “We’ve had a good run at home the last few years and we need to keep that going. We seem to play very well at Rice-Eccles.

“A big part of that is our fans, they do a great job of supporting us — the MUSS and the band and everything we’ve got going on there. Looking forward to those seniors being able to play in Rice-Eccles for the last time.”

Asked which specific players will be recognized, Whittingham said, “You’ll find out Saturday.”

Among the seniors listed on the roster are tight end Dalton Kincaid; wide receivers Solomon Enis and Jaylen Dixon; defensive linemen Devin Kaufusi and Gabe Reid; linebacker Mohamoud Diabate; and safety R.J. Hubert.

It is expected that junior quarterback Cam Rising will be one of those non-seniors that will be honored Saturday, as well as tight end Brant Kuithe, who suffered a season-ending injury in late September. Both could be NFL-bound but both have eligibility remaining.

What does Kyle Whittingham think about the possibility of SDSU joining the Pac-12?
What is Utah’s plan for backup quarterback Nate Johnson? Will Utes burn his redshirt?
Utah’s sacks leader is out for the season

Kuithe played in only four games this season before his injury and he could return for a sixth season, if he chooses. 

Then there’s sophomore cornerback Clark Phillips, who is projected as a first-round NFL draft pick next spring.

“Everyone’s been here a year longer. Some guys have two majors and still a year of eligibility and they’re kind of getting a little antsy,” Whittingham said. “It will probably be the same next year and the year after and then it will go back to a normal situation. With everyone getting that free year in 2020, we had eight underclassmen come out last year. It’s probably going to be the same number this year.”

Whittingham is encouraging those players in limbo to walk on Senior Night. 

“If you’re leaning toward (leaving), go ahead and get recognized,” he said. “Worst thing, you come back and you get recognized again next year. We’ll have some guys this year that were recognized last year. … There’s nothing sacred about a guy getting recognized and then staying. We just want to make sure the guys that are leaving get their due recognition.”

As usual, Whittingham is dedicating this week to the seniors.

Utah defensive tackle Devin Kaufusi pressures Ohio State quarterback C.J. Stroud during the Rose Bowl in Pasadena, Calif.
Utah defensive tackle Devin Kaufusi pressures Ohio State quarterback C.J. Stroud during the Rose Bowl in Pasadena, Calif., on Saturday, Jan. 1, 2022. | Jeffrey D. Allred, Deseret News

“It’s all about the seniors this week. That’s the focus and the whole focal point is sending those guys out the right way,” he said. “It’s our objective every single year and this year is no different. We absolutely have had conversations about that in team meetings about everyone giving their best effort to make sure those guys end their career in Rice-Eccles on a positive note.”

One of the seniors that will be recognized Saturday is Kaufusi, a team captain.

The BYU transfer has had quite a journey in his collegiate career. He signed with the Cougars back in 2015, served a mission for The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, played for two seasons at BYU, then transferred to Utah, where he was reunited with his close friend Britain Covey

Kaufusi has brought a lot to the program, Whittingham said, particularly off the field. 

“Devin contributes in many ways. He hasn’t had as much playing time as I’m sure that he’s wanted this year. His snaps are down. But his leadership — he’s a captain. That tells you what his teammates think of him,” Whittingham said. “He was voted a captain at the beginning of the season.

“He’s got a great attitude. He’s just a great guy to have on our team. He’s an excellent teammate. He’s a guy that supports everybody and never complains. Like I said, his playing time probably isn’t what he had hoped it would be but he’s all-in. He does whatever we ask him to do.”

Utes on the air

Stanford (3-6, 1-6)

at No. 13 Utah (7-2, 5-1) 

Saturday, 8 p.m. MST

Rice-Eccles Stadium


Radio: ESPN 700