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‘Three-headed monster’ competing to be starting QB for Utah Tech

Coming off a 1-10 season in 2021 and being pegged to finish last in the WAC this season, fourth-year coach Paul Peterson says his team could surprise some teams this year

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Sophomore running back Quali Conley will the starting nod after battling through injuries last season.

Sophomore running back Quali Conley will the starting nod after battling through injuries last season.

Stan Plewe, Utah Tech Athletics

Utah Tech, the school formerly known as Dixie State, will begin its second football season in the Western Athletic Conference next month with hopes of improving from last fall’s 1-10 record.

After joining the FCS ranks just two years ago, the Trailblazers are still in a probationary period, meaning they are not eligible for postseason play until 2024. Utah Tech fourth-year head coach Paul Peterson says that the school has appealed the regulation, hoping to be eligible for the playoffs at an earlier date. 

The school can, however, contend for a conference championship.

“The WAC came out (saying) that we’re able to compete for a WAC championship,” Peterson said. “That’s definitely on our mind. We want to play for that championship. That’s a goal of ours.”

The Trailblazers are uncertain who their starting quarterback will be, with three QBs hoping to get the nod. Peterson is planning to wait until the first game to announce his starter.

The trio of quarterbacks includes redshirt sophomore Kobe Tracy, who started the final five games of the year for the Trailblazers a season ago, as well as redshirt freshmen Victor Gabalis and Boone Abbott. Both Gabalis and Abbott transferred to Utah Tech during the offseason, with Gabalis transferring from Washington State and Abbott from Hawaii.

“(It’s) kind of like a three-headed monster going on right now at that position,” Peterson said. “We are going to try to find a way to play the best guy and if it’s multiple guys, we’ll do that. But they all add value to our team and (have) done a really good job and had a good camp so far.”

Peterson is excited about all the players returning on offense. His offensive line returns five starters from a year ago, with Nathen Aceves leading that group as the lone senior. The Trailblazers also return experienced players at wide receiver and running back, with sophomore Quali Conley getting the nod in the backfield after battling through injuries last season, and senior Deven Osborne, junior Rickie Johnson, and sophomore David Fisher lining up as receivers for Peterson’s squad.

On the flip side, sophomores Will Leota at linebacker and Tyrell Grayson at defensive back have been named to the Preseason All-WAC Defensive Team. Joining Grayson in the secondary is a player who NFL scouts are keeping an eye on in redshirt senior Darrius Nash. Peterson also expects big things out of recently graduated Dylan Hendrickson and sophomore Syrus Webster, both on the defensive line, as well as senior linebacker Malaki Malaki.

On special teams, the Trailblazers return sophomore punter Andrew Day and sophomore kicker Connor Brooksby.

“They’ve been really consistent and put up good numbers for us,” Peterson said of his specialists. “We hope never to punt. But if we do, (Day) does a good job for us and Connor does a great job scoring points for us.”

Utah Tech will kick its season off on the road Sept. 3 against one of the teams projected to be at the top of the FCS this season in Sacramento State. Two weeks later, the school will play at Weber State in the Trailblazers’ first of four games this year against teams from the state of Utah. Utah Tech will have a rare opportunity when it gets two shots at rival and WAC newcomer SUU, before finishing its season at BYU.

“It’s exciting just to be in one of the premier atmospheres in college football,” Peterson said of the opportunity to play at BYU, where he was a graduate assistant in 2006. “I think our kids, as far as being able to go up there and compete with them, want to prove that they can compete at that high level. So our guys are going to be excited to play there. It’ll be a great venue.”

After getting picked to finish last in the WAC in the preseason coaches poll, Utah Tech has extra motivation to succeed.

“We’ve got to stay healthy and get over that hump as far as execution and being more consistent,” Peterson said. “I think we’re going to have a really good season and … maybe surprise some teams.”

With plenty to prove and a wealth of returning talent, Utah Tech is hopeful it can put together a year that surprises those outside the program as it competes for a WAC championship in the school’s third year of FCS play.

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Utah Tech head coach Paul Peterson is in his fourth year leading the Trailblazers. Despite being picked to finish last in the WAC in the preseason poll, Peterson thinks his team could surprise some people this season.

Stan Plewe, Utah Tech Athletics