When Florida linebacker Mohamoud Diabate entered the transfer portal after the 2021 season, he had a lot of “good options.”
Ultimately, he chose Utah, the reigning Pac-12 champions, and a program that had a big void to fill with the departure of consensus All-American Devin Lloyd.
“I wanted to go to a better situation than I was currently in; a team that could contend for a championship in their division. There was only a certain number of teams on that list,” Diabate said. “When it came down to that, I had to identify which one of those elite teams had a need at linebacker. Devin Lloyd coming out as one of the top linebackers and the way they use him, I saw the opportunity there. I had to make a business decision to put myself in that position.”
Yes, Diabate is on Utah’s campus, but he’s limited in what he can do during spring practices because he underwent labrum surgery in Florida before arriving in Salt Lake City.
“He’s here. He’s learning the defense, at least in the film room,” said coach Kyle Whittingham. “He’s unable to do much on the field, obviously. But we have all summer long and all fall camp. He’s a guy that’s played a lot of football.”
Diabate is making the most of this time, getting familiar with his new teammates, coaches and the playbook.
“One of the reasons I wanted to enroll early at whatever school I was going to go so I could mesh with the guys,” he said. “You want to know who you’re communicating with out there and who you’re going to war with.”
At Florida, Diabate wasn’t utilized as a pass rusher often but he has the ability to be a pass rusher — and it’s expected he will take on that role with the Utes.
“I feel that I’ll fit in in multiple places. I pride myself in versatility, being able to do different jobs, whether they be rush or cover from different places,” he said. “I can play the run in different places. In my career I’ve been able to play so many different positions in the front seven. Now, I’m ready to do whatever. I’m ready to work with coach (Morgan) Scalley, coach (Colton) Swan and coach Whitt and find whatever recipe is best for success.”
In three seasons with the Gators, Diabate recorded 170 tackles, 5.5 sacks and 10.5 tackles for loss.
“He has tremendous range sideline to sideline. He’s got great athleticism,” Whittingham said. “He’s got a good ability to deal with blockers. He’s just an athlete. That’s probably his best asset — his sheer athleticism.”
How does Diabate describe his game?
“Fast, physical and aggressive — that’s three things that I pride myself on. Speed, getting to wherever I want to go fast and being physical,” he said. “Having an aggressiveness and sharing that energy with the rest of the linebacking corps and the defense. That’s what (fans) should look for.”
As fate would have it, Diabate will face his former team on Sept. 3 in the 2022 season opener — at Florida.
It should be an emotional game for the 6-foot-4, 220-pound senior from Auburn, Alabama.
“It brings emotion because those are the guys you grew up with and you had more workouts with those guys. Those are some of my closest friends. But at the end of the day, I want to destroy them,” he said. “When I step on the field, they know how I am. You’re my enemy now.
“At the end of the day, all that stuff that we’ve been through, all those times we were together, that goes out the window. I’m trying to do my job and I know it’s going to be the same on their end. It will come down to who prepares the best and who’s ready.”
Moving from Florida to Utah has been a drastic change but Diabate said the transition has been a good one.
“Obviously, it’s a different culture compared to Florida and Alabama. It’s a different climate, for sure. But overall I’ve been adjusting well,” he said. “That’s why I felt comfortable coming out here because I know my intelligence level and how I’m able to communicate with people. I feel comfortable that I’d be able to mesh with any locker room.”
When looking for a new program to join, Diabate considered teams that could win a championship this season. He examined programs that won conference titles last season and played in New Year’s Six bowls, like Utah, which lost to Ohio State in the Rose Bowl.
“Which one of those teams are bringing back a lot of people? Which one of those teams have a chance to repeat the same success? When I looked at it, a lot of the core of the team was coming back,” Diabate said. “On defense, they’re getting back a lot except for inside linebacker and pass rusher. Those are two things I feel do exceptionally well. I felt like that was a good decision.
“Utah has been dominant out here in the Pac-12 and we expect to do the same thing. That’s why I came out here. … I’m really impressed with the program that coach Whittingham has built — the culture, the foundation … It’s definitely a place I’m really excited to be.”