A year ago at this time, Utah safety Cole Bishop should have still been in high school. 

The native of Peachtree City, Georgia, enrolled early last winter and went through spring practices with the Utes.

By the ninth game of the season against Stanford, Bishop became the starter at strong safety.

“He’s an outstanding player,” coach Kyle Whittingham said in the days after that game. “He’s just a true freshman and he’s going to be special.”

Last season Bishop recorded 35 tackles, including three sacks, five pass deflections and a fumble recovery. He also blocked a punt against Oregon

Now, in the spring, he’s become one of the leaders of the secondary. 

“Getting to be here for a year really helped me experience-wise,” Bishop said. “Instead of running around and trying to figure out where you’re really going the whole time, you know where you’re going already and you’re able to just worry about your job more.”

Arriving on campus early gave Bishop an important head start. 

“A lot of guys that don’t come until the summer really don’t actually start playing until fall camp,” he said. “So getting the four or five weeks of spring ball helps a lot.”

Defensive coordinator Morgan Scalley is happy with Bishop’s development.

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“You never know how freshmen are going to come into your program and handle everything that’s new, from college classes to college curriculum and getting used to our way of doing things. He was ready to go,” he said. “The one thing that limited him early on in the season was his hamstring. Otherwise, I think he would have played sooner than he did.

“Now, he’s everything you want. … You go into the safeties’ room right now and he’s watching film. He eats, sleeps and breathes football. He’s a great kid and he’s a great leader. His best days are ahead of him.”

Said Whittingham: “Cole Bishop is having a tremendous spring, picking up where he left off in the fall.”

Safety R.J. Hubert enjoys playing with Bishop. 

“I love Cole. Cole’s awesome. He first got here in the spring of 2021. I knew from then on that he was going to be a great contributor, somebody who’s solid. He’s a great athlete,” Hubert said. “He’s really somebody that’s taken on the role and embraced it. He’s already teaching younger guys.

“He’s young himself. But he’s already teaching some of the newer guys the plays and how to line up and the whole thought process of everything. I love being out there with Cole. He’s a lot of fun to play with. I don’t have to worry about whether he knows the plays or not.”

Utah safety Cole Bishop gets in some reps during spring camp in Salt Lake City City. | University of Utah Athletics

Hubert added that Bishop has quickly become a fan favorite. 

“The fan base already loves him. They eat it up. They love Cole,” he said. “I have no doubt that Cole is going to get better as he spends more time in this program.”

Originally, Bishop committed to Duke in March 2022. By October, after talking to Scalley, he flipped to Utah.

What was Scalley’s sales pitch?

“Speaking to his (high school) coach, it was just his football IQ. His football IQ was high. There are things you look for on film. Technique you can teach,” Scalley said. “But when he would break and drive and explode out of a break, you could see that he had the speed to do it. He’s a 4.5 guy playing at 205 (pounds) right now. He’s playing with a lot of confidence. He’s picked up the scheme. Now it’s about how to manipulate a quarterback and how to disguise. He’s doing a great job with that.”

So Bishop’s progress continues this spring. His preparation last year, including watching film and getting reps, helped him make big contributions as a freshman. 

Bishop is looking to accelerate his progression, like he did a year ago.

“I really focused on watching the other team, just trying to figure out their route combinations depending on formations,” he said. “Coach Scalley really helps with that. The more and more reps you get, the more comfortable you are on the field.”