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‘As Cam goes, the Utes go’: How the return of Cam Rising, Brant Kuithe impacts Utah’s 2023 season

Rising’s return, presuming he’s healthy, makes Utah a legitimate contender, and perhaps the favorite, for another Pac-12 title

SHARE ‘As Cam goes, the Utes go’: How the return of Cam Rising, Brant Kuithe impacts Utah’s 2023 season
Utah Utes quarterback Cameron Rising celebrates his touchdown with Utah Utes tight end Brant Kuithe during the Rose Bowl.

Utah quarterback Cam Rising celebrates his touchdown with Utah tight end Brant Kuithe (80) during 2022 Rose Bowl in Pasadena, Calif. Both players announced Monday they will be returning to the Utes next season rather than enter their names in the NFL draft.

Jeffrey D. Allred, Deseret News

A couple of big puzzle pieces in the mosaic of Utah’s upcoming football season were put into place Monday morning.

That’s when quarterback Cam Rising and tight end Brant Kuithe announced they’re returning to the back-to-back Pac-12 champs to run it back one more time.

“Obviously the play against USC, the big hit where his helmet comes off and how he pops up, I think really just kind of illustrates who they are as a program. I’ve got a ton of respect for him.” — Penn State coach James Franklin on Cam Rising

With that news, the outlook for the Utes in 2023 became much clearer.

It also means Creedence Clearwater Revival’s “Bad Moon Rising,” which has become Rising’s unofficial anthem, will be blaring again inside Rice-Eccles Stadium next season when he takes the field.

“I’m excited, just looking forward to getting back in the building and going to work,” Rising said on an NIL podcast released Monday. “I’m excited to get back on the field at Rice-Eccles. It’s gonna be great.”

Rising revealed that he decided about a week before the Rose Bowl that he would be returning.

“I had some time to go home to my family and talk to them. It kind of felt right staying,” Rising said. “I was really looking forward to announcing but I didn’t want to take anything away from the game or the team.”

Why is Rising coming back?

“Everything just feels right about coming back. We have a great coaching staff with some great players. I know everyone is going to be itching to go out there and really go a step above winning the Pac-12 championship. I know everyone will be up to the test and we’ll be looking forward to working for it and attacking everything next year.”

What remains unclear is the extent and seriousness of the injury Rising sustained last week in the Rose Bowl. Rising was helped off the field in the third quarter in a 35-21 setback against Penn State. He did not return to the game.

Rising is one of several Pac-12 quarterbacks returning to their respective teams, along with USC Heisman Trophy winner Caleb Williams, Oregon’s Bo Nix, and Washington’s Michael Penix. 

Rising’s return, presuming that he’s healthy, makes Utah a legitimate contender, and perhaps the favorite, for another Pac-12 championship. And the Utes should be regarded as a contender for a College Football Playoff berth.

In 2022, Rising completed 249 of 385 passes for 3,034 yards with 26 touchdowns and eight interceptions. He also rushed 77 times for 465 yards and six TDs.

Prior to the Rose Bowl, Penn State coach James Franklin talked about Rising’s value to Utah and how he embodies the program’s culture. 

“I think their quarterback really makes them go. I’ve got a ton of respect for him,” he said. “I think sometimes when you think about quarterbacks, you don’t think about toughness, but really that position, that guy better be the toughest guy in your program. You’ve got to stand there and deliver a ball with an unblocked blitzer, and you know you’re going to get hit and you’re in a defenseless position and deliver the ball, and he’s done it time and time again.

“Obviously the play against USC, the big hit where his helmet comes off and how he pops up, I think really just kind of illustrates who they are as a program. I’ve got a ton of respect for him.”

Meanwhile, one of Rising’s favorite targets, Kuithe, gives the Utes another veteran, proven playmaker. 

Kuithe suffered a season-ending knee injury in the first half against Arizona State on Sept. 24. In 3 ½ games, he caught 19 passes for 206 yards and three touchdowns. 

Kuithe’s versatility has caused headaches for defensive coordinators, as he’s been moved all over the field, oftentimes creating mismatches. 

Some were surprised that Kuithe didn’t declare for the NFL draft after the 2021 season. But he explained that he wanted to come back to help the Utes win another Pac-12 title.

Because Kuithe’s injury occurred in the fourth game, he was eligible to return for another season.

“It breaks your heart to see something like that happen to a senior. … The silver lining, if there is one, he’s inside the four games to redshirt. He does have a redshirt year,” coach Kyle Whittingham said in the days after Kuithe’s injury. “So if he chooses, and wants the opportunity to come back next season, that’s available to him.”

In 51 games, the 6-foot-2, 219-pound senior from Katy, Texas, has 148 receptions for 1,882 yards and 16 touchdowns while rushing 17 times for 162 yards and four scores. 

He also possesses plenty of intangibles.

“He’s a great leader and a great person,” Whittingham has said of Kuithe.

A three-time All-Pac-12 performer, Kuithe earned second-team all-conference honors in 2019, 2020 and 2021. His 148 catches are the most by a Utah tight end since at least 1996. He ranks eighth overall in school history in receptions.

Together, Kuithe and Rising are a vaunted one-two punch. 

For two years, Whittingham has called Rising “an alpha dog” on his team

“He is a leader in every sense of the word,” he said. “He does command the room. He’s the leader of the offense.”

“I love his leadership,” said wide receiver Devaughn Vele, who’s also returning in 2023. “He’s the one always bringing the group together. That’s what we need on the team, especially when we’re going through adversity. Having that guy that can be vocal and bring up the guys is what we need in tough situations.”

Added Vele about Rising’s will to win: “He’s a huge competitor. Even if we’re playing pool at the football facility, he wants to win in everything. I love that guy and his competitiveness. It drives everyone to want to win. He’d rather die than lose a game.”

Prior to the Rose Bowl, offensive coordinator Andy Ludwig discussed Rising’s emergence and his relationship with his starting QB. 

“I’ve got so much respect for Cam. My first day back at the University of Utah was Jan. 10, 2019. Cam was on his official visit that day,” he said. “He showed up, so I’ve known Cam as long as I’ve known any other Ute player. The thing that I respect so much about Cam is his tenacity and his resolve because that 2019 season he was one of the very few quarterbacks in the country that did not get granted a waiver to become immediately eligible.”

Rising suffered a season-ending shoulder injury in the first half of his first career start in 2020 against USC. 

“The guy just battles. He just battles. He had to rehab a shoulder injury, battled back, keeps battling back. We brought in a transfer quarterback because we weren’t sure if Cam’s shoulder was going to be healthy enough, did not win that quarterback battle, got voted captain the next day,” Ludwig recalled. “Takes over against San Diego State in the third game of the year, completely changes the ’21 season for us, and the rest is history.”

Rising provides leadership, continuity and consistency within Utah’s offense. 

“He’s a great leader, great vocal but very positive voice. There’s not a negative tone or anything about that in his approach, but very positive in his approach,” Ludwig said. “The thing when he talks, because he’s been in the same system for four years, he’s got great system mastery, he can talk O-lineman language, he can talk wide receiver language. He can get guys lined up and dialed in, and he’s got great appreciation of that.”

Ludwig added that Rising’s teammates respect him and listen to him.

“I think one of his strongest quarterback traits is his leadership, is his personality,” he said. “As Cam goes, the Utes go on offense without a doubt.”

Ludwig loves designing plays for Rising. And Ludwig will have one more season with Rising at the controls of the offense. 

“He’s such an athletic guy that you love to design plays where he can move in the pocket. His ability to make decisions, throw with accuracy down the field, he’s a very good runner. We don’t run the quarterback a whole lot, but we’re not afraid to do it with him because he is athletic and tough,” he said. “I’ve got so much confidence in the way that he carries himself, in my mind there’s nothing he can’t do. But we can’t do it all at the same time, so we just try to draw on all our strengths.”

Utah head coach Kyle Whittingham and QB Cam Rising listen to an official as Utah and Penn State play in the 2023 Rose Bowl.

Utah head coach Kyle Whittingham and Utah Utes QB Cam Rising listen to an official as Utah and Penn State play in the Rose Bowl in Pasadena, California, on Monday, Jan. 2, 2023.

Scott G Winterton, Deseret News