The left tackle position has a unique importance.

It’s one of the most vital positions along the offensive line for a right-handed quarterback, integral in protecting the quarterback’s blind slide, which is why it’s relatively rare for a true freshman to start at the position. Just two true freshmen in all of Division I football started this season at left tackle, including Utah’s Spencer Fano.

“It’s not very common to have your left tackle be a true freshman, but he’s talented enough and has performed well enough against really good players.” — Utah coach Kyle Whittingham on Spencer Fano

“It’s not very common to have your left tackle be a true freshman, but he’s talented enough and has performed well enough against really good players,” Utah coach Kyle Whittingham said.

A four-star recruit out of Timpview High, Fano was ranked as the No. 1 player in the state of Utah in the 2023 class and the No. 12 overall offensive tackle in the country by 247Sports. He had his pick of schools — Clemson, Michigan, Oregon, Colorado, LSU, Miami, USC, Tennessee, Penn State, Stanford and Washington were among the 26 schools that offered him, alongside in-state schools Utah, BYU and Utah State.

When recruiting players, Utah offensive line coach Jim Harding looks for athletic linemen with the physical attributes necessary to compete against Power Five defensive lines, plus intangibles like effort and tenacity.

Fano checked all the boxes.

“Certainly with Spencer coming out of Timpview, those attributes were all met when we looked at his film. He’s incredibly athletic. He has a mean streak to him, and obviously we felt very, very highly of him,” Harding said.

After receiving home visits from Whittingham, Michigan coach Jim Harbaugh and Oregon coach Dan Lanning, Fano put on the Utah hat in December, choosing the Utes over a final list that also included Clemson, Michigan and Oregon.

“I loved all the other schools that I got the chance to visit and stuff, but at the end of the day, the only place that felt like home and felt like right for me to go to was Utah,” Fano said.

Fano graduated high school early and enrolled at Utah for the spring semester, participating in spring camp, which helped give him a leg up in his transition to the college game.

“Certainly him coming in the spring, being an early graduate, helped him by having a training cycle with (strength coach Doug Elisaia), as well as getting 15 practices in understanding how we do things here, understanding the offense,” Harding said.

He got his “welcome to college football” moment in his first padded practice, when he got ran over by defensive end Gavin Nawahine.

“It took a little getting bigger and getting stronger and learning the plays to get used to it. It took a little while, but I feel like I’ve done a pretty good job,” Fano said.

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The 6-foot-5 freshman gained weight, going from 276 pounds in high school to 300 pounds by fall camp. He generated buzz with his spring camp performance, then pushed for a starting job when fall camp began. Fano showed consistency in practice, improving and not making the same mistakes twice. Harding could see his high celling.

“Really just the day-to-day consistency, how he approached wanting to get better, wanting to learn, asking questions, certainly put him in a position to be where he is at right now,” Harding said.

A lifelong dream was fulfilled when Fano was informed that he would be starting at left tackle in Utah’s season opener against Florida.

“I feel like it’s a goal that I’ve had my entire life ever since I started playing football. So yeah, it is a huge accomplishment, but it’s what I’ve always wanted, so it didn’t come as too much of a shock,” Fano said.

Harding had some nerves starting a true freshman against an SEC defensive line. As expected, Fano made some mistakes in his first collegiate start, like a false start on third down in the first quarter, and got beat a few times, allowing pressure to the quarterback twice. But Utah didn’t allow a sack all game.

“I’m not going to lie and say here that I assumed he was going to do as well as he did,” Harding said.

Even after holding his own against Florida, Fano said he felt like the Baylor game was when he started to really come into his own on the offensive line. In scorching temperatures that reached over 130 degrees on the field, Utah gutted out a 20-13 comeback win in Waco, Texas.

“I feel like I had that moment against Baylor. I mean, it was a really hard, really, really, really hard atmosphere to play in just because of the freaking heat, but I feel like we were able to persevere and come out with a win,” Fano said.

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Fano’s footwork has been good and he’s had his share of wins this season, including a terrific first career snap on Bryson Barnes’ season-opening 70-yard touchdown pass. But not everything has been perfect for the freshman. According to Pro Football Focus data, he’s allowed a team-high 12 quarterback pressures, but has been getting better each week.

“Certainly the consistency I talked about at practice needs to show up in the games. ... The level of play is going to continue to rise, and so he’s got to continue that upward trend of getting better each and every week,” Harding said. 

Utes on the air

No. 16 Utah (4-1)
vs. Cal (3-3)
Saturday, 1 p.m. MDT
Rice-Eccles Stadium
TV: Pac-12 Network
Radio: ESPN 700/92.1 FM

Spencer’s brother, defensive end Logan Fano, made the decision to transfer from BYU to Utah a day after Spencer’s commitment. Logan started three games for Utah, playing in all of Utah’s five contests, and was making a huge impact — 14 tackles, 3.5 sacks and two forced fumbles — before he tore his ACL on a sack against Oregon State. In that same game, Spencer would also go to the medical tent, though he returned to the field.

“It’s not our first time, but we’ve been through this, this is his third time going through this, so I’m going to be there however I can to support my brother as I always have been, I’m never going to stop supporting him and he’s going to be back and better than ever,” Spencer Fano said.

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