Damuni had a team-high 10 tackles as the Utes held the Sun Devils to only 83 yards of offense, and after leaving the stadium, he went to see his family. His mom, Val, once sold her wedding ring to pay for Dumani and his siblings’ Little League football dues and having her able to watch his games in person, along with increased family time, was a big reason that Damuni transferred from Stanford, where he was a team captain.
“Week by week he’s gotten better. You can see his play increase, his production increase and nothing but good things coming from him. And I think he’s gaining more and more confidence every week.” — Utah linebackers coach Colton Swan on Levani Damuni
“I’ve loved it. It’s been great seeing the family on the weekends, going home too when we have the early kicks and so it’s been great. I’ve loved it. It’s the whole reason I wanted to come closer to home,” Damuni said.
Though he starred at Stanford, leading the team with 76 tackles in 2022, a starting job wasn’t guaranteed to the junior with a deep linebacker room that included Lander Barton and Karene Reid.
And though Damuni had plenty of experience as a linebacker in Power Five football, every defense is different, and it took some time for Damuni to get completely comfortable in Morgan Scalley’s scheme throughout fall camp.
“In this defense, the linebacker position is not easy. I’ll be the first to admit that,” linebackers coach Colton Swan said. “There’s a lot of intricate parts that take a lot of work. We ask a lot of our linebackers and the tempos the offenses are going at these days, it makes it really strenuous on a linebacker.”
Damuni started off his Utah career with eight tackles vs. Florida and nine tackles at Baylor, and since becoming the full-time starter prior to the Oregon game, has had double-digit tackles in his last three games.
“Week by week he’s gotten better. You can see his play increase, his production increase and nothing but good things coming from him. And I think he’s gaining more and more confidence every week. I think that’s the biggest thing,” Swan said. “Earlier in the year when Lander and Karene and himself were all healthy and they were swapping reps, he wasn’t seeing as much as he is now to where he is full-time going. And I think that that’s really helped him progress.”
Utes on the air
No. 22 Utah (7-3, 4-3 Pac-12)
at No. 17 Arizona (7-3, 5-2 Pac-12)
Saturday, 12:30 p.m. MST
TV: Pac-12 Network
Radio: ESPN 700/92.1 FM
Even though he didn’t get a starting position early on, Damuni has played in every game but one and has logged 378 total snaps, which ranks seventh on the defense. But he took on the starting role once Barton got injured in Utah’s win against USC.
His preparation hasn’t changed much as a starter — he was already preparing as if he was going to start and he was getting lots of playing time — but he has become more in sync with Reid since becoming a starter.
“I think that over the last couple of weeks, it’s taken those two time to get in sync, but I think they’re in really good sync,” Swan said. “They’re understanding one another. They can swap assignments easily and quickly. They can line up and play assignment-sound football.”
This season, he’s totaled 60 tackles (one for loss), and has been a key part of Utah’s ability to stop the run. Damuni grades out as Utah’s best player against the run by Pro Football Focus.
“I think just being disciplined and having gap integrity when they run the ball, and that’s just something that comes with practice,” Damuni said of his success this season.
In case you missed it
Utah has had success running the up-tempo offense at times this season. Here’s why wide receiver Devaughn Vele feels like it gives Utah’s offense a boost.
From the archives
- What Craig Smith sees in Runnin’ Utes signees Jaxon Johnson and David Katoa (Deseret News)
- After being eliminated from Pac-12 title contention, what bowl games are on the table for Utah? (Deseret News)
- There’s an update on Utah’s on-campus ballpark (Deseret News)
- Nov. 16 | 7 p.m. | Men’s basketball | Wake Forest (Charleston Classic) | @ Charleston, South Carolina
- Nov. 17 | TBD | Men’s basketball | Houston or Towson (Charleston Classic) | @ Charleston, South Carolina
- Nov. 17 | 7 p.m. | Volleyball | Washington | @ Salt Lake City
- Nov. 18 | 8:20 a.m. | Cross-country | NCAA Championships | @ Earlysville, Virginia
- Nov. 18 | 12:30 p.m. | Football | Arizona | @ Tucson, Arizona
- Nov. 18 | 9:30 p.m. | Women’s basketball | Alaska Anchorage (Great Alaska Shootout) | @ Anchorage, Alaska