Colorado’s Travis Hunter has made national headlines as one of the few two-way players in college football, playing wide receiver and defensive back for the Buffaloes.

On Saturday, Utah safety Sione Vaki joined the two-way ranks.

Vaki saw action on both sides of the ball in the Utes’ 34-14 win over Cal, playing both running back and safety. He looked like a natural at the running back position, rushing for 158 yards and two touchdowns on 15 carries (10.5 yards per rush) while still playing his regular position, totaling four tackles at safety.

“It was fun. I was just glad that the coaches placed enough trust in me to go both ways,” Vaki said.

Though there have been players who have converted from offense to defense and vice versa over Kyle Whittingham’s tenure at the University of Utah, the Utes have rarely had someone play on both sides of the ball in the same game.

Micah Bernard was the most recent player to do it, playing cornerback and running back in the 2022 Rose Bowl against Ohio State. With a lot of injuries at cornerback, coaches felt that Bernard was the best option at the position.

With Utah’s running back room now decimated by injuries — Bernard and Chris Curry are out for the season and Charlie Vincent dressed but didn’t play after suffering an injury at Oregon State — and with neither of the four-star freshman running backs, Dijon Stanley and John Randle Jr., ready for game action yet, Utah turned to Vaki for help with the ground game.

It helped take some of the load off of Ja’Quinden Jackson, who also had a good game, rushing for 94 yards and a score on 22 carries. It looked like the bye week helped Jackson, who has been dealing with an ankle injury the whole season.

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“It helped a lot to just take some of the load off of some of us, but he’s taking on a lot more load because he’s playing both sides. But it is a big help. I’m glad he’s doing his thing and helped us come out with the win,” Jackson said.

The running back position isn’t completely foreign to Vaki, who had 358 yards rushing and six touchdowns in his junior season at Liberty High School in Brentwood, California.

After a couple of two-yard runs and a rush for a loss of one to start his stint in the offensive backfield Saturday, Vaki took the handoff and hit the hole hard, exploding for a 32-yard gain.

He got more comfortable as the game went along with a few nine- and eight-yard gains. Vaki at running back didn’t look like a gimmick — he looked like the real deal at the position, showing some good vision, speed and cutting ability.

“Sione Vaki really added to what we were doing on offense. He provided a spark. You saw his speed on that breakaway run there at the end, also had another big gainer, 30-plus yards, converted some big third downs it with some tough runs, so he was a big positive,” Whittingham said.

Vaki’s magnum opus run at the position thus far came with seven minutes left. Cole Bishop had been ejected for targeting on the previous drive, and though Cal missed a 30-yard field goal attempt on that possession that would have cut its deficit to seven points, Utah still needed to score to put the game away.

Vaki did exactly that with a 72-yard touchdown run. After getting around the edge, he turned on the burners and no Cal defender could catch him.

“I didn’t think I was that fast,” Vaki said, while Jackson interjected with, “Yes, you did.”

Vaki became the first Utah defensive player to score a rushing touchdown since Eric Weddle did it in the 2006 Armed Forces Bowl win against Tulsa.

Vaki wasn’t utilized at just running back, either. On Utah’s first drive, quarterback Bryson Barnes just overthrew a wide-open Vaki on what looked to be a sure touchdown if the two connected.

It appears Jaylon Glover is still in the mix at running back — he got four of his five carries in at the end of the game — but it looks like Vaki is going to keep playing both ways and get plenty of carries.

Jackson will likely remain the No. 1 back, with Vaki slotting in at No. 2.

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“We don’t want to wear him out, but he’s a real durable, tough kid. You see (Hunter) playing 100-plus snaps every week. Now of course (Hunter) did get injured, but we’re conscious of that. Yes, we’re conscious of that. We want to make sure that we don’t overdo it,” Whittingham said.

Utah doesn’t have a snap count in mind for Vaki, but Whittingham says “if he’s starting to get exhausted, then we got to give him a break and we just kind of do it by how he feels. That’s the plan.”

While Vaki said he was tired, he certainly didn’t look like it.

“It was good,” he said. “I was trying to act like I wasn’t tired, but I’m tired. But it was good.”

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