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There’s a reason game at The Swamp is dream come true for this Utes safety

For R.J. Hubert, who served a church mission in the South, some of his earliest memories of college football involve the University of Florida

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Washington State Cougars running back Max Borghi (21) carries the ball against Utah Utes safety R.J. Hubert during a game.

Utes safety R.J. Hubert gives chase during game against Washington State at Rice-Eccles Stadium in Salt Lake City on Saturday, Dec. 19, 2020.

Yukai Peng, Deseret News

Due to injuries, Utah senior safety R.J. Hubert hasn’t played much the past two seasons.

But when the No. 7 Utes open the season Saturday (5 p.m. MDT, ESPN) at Florida, he’ll be back on the field, starting against the Gators.

“It will definitely be special,” Hubert said. 

And it’s not just that he’ll be playing — it’s where he’ll be playing.

Utes TV

Utes on the air


No. 7 Utah (0-0)

at Florida (0-0)

Saturday, 5 p.m. MDT

Gainesville, Florida

TV: ESPN

Radio: ESPN 700


Some of his earliest memories of college football involve the University of Florida. 

“I remember Saturdays when I was in sixth or seventh grade, watching Tim Tebow play in The Swamp,” Hubert said. “Man, I loved college football growing up. It was always my dream to play college football. It’s going to be a dream come true to play there. I’m excited for what happens. Florida was a powerhouse at that time. They’re a blue-blood school when it comes to football. It’s going to be an exciting matchup.”

While much has been made about the oppressive humidity in Florida, Hubert said it’s something he and his teammates will be able to handle. 

“Obviously, it’s going to be humid. But we’ve got a lot of people on this team from Florida and Texas,” he said. “I served my mission (for The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints) in Mississippi and Louisiana. So it’s not too much of a foreign thing. But it’s different and it’s a different environment. It’s a good thing we’re going two days early.”

During his mission, Hubert, who committed to Utah in 2016 prior to his missionary service, talked about his aspirations of playing college football. 

“Oh, yeah. I would tell people that I was going to play college football after my mission,” he recalled. “They said, ‘You’re going to get crushed. You’re too small.’ They love their football down there and I love that for them.”

But he never had any idea that one day he would have the opportunity to play in a storied Southeastern Conference stadium like The Swamp.

“I didn’t because I didn’t know that Florida would be on the schedule five years down the line,” he said. “I didn’t know that I’d still be here five years down the line. I’m happy to get that experience.”

Hubert suffered a season-ending knee injury in the Pac-12 championship game against Oregon in 2019. Then after a pandemic-shortened 2020 campaign when he saw limited playing time, Hubert suffered another season-ending knee injury in the spring game a year ago.

But Hubert is healthy now. 

“It’s definitely been a while since I’ve been in this position,” he said. “I feel good because while I haven’t played in the games, I’ve still been practicing the last couple of years. I’ve been practicing a lot. So I feel prepared.”

Hubert actually saw some action in last year’s Rose Bowl. 

“That was the tail end of my rehab from the right ACL. It was awesome,” he said. “I dreamed of playing in the Rose Bowl as a kid. It was an opportunity that I couldn’t pass up, especially with my rehab going so well.”

Now, Hubert will be able to fulfill another dream — playing at The Swamp. 

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Utah defensive back R.J. Hubert tackles Washington State wide receiver Renard Bell at Rice-Eccles Stadium in Salt Lake City on Saturday, Sept. 28, 2019.

Spenser Heaps, Deseret News