Utah offensive coordinator Andy Ludwig has seen quarterback Cam Rising battle back from major injuries before. 

That explains, in part, why he’s optimistic that Rising will be ready for the Utes’ season opener against Florida on Aug. 31 at Rice-Eccles Stadium.

“The guy has a history and an internal makeup and fortitude that being a great player, being a great Utah teammate, is so important to him. He’s going to do everything possible to get himself ready to go.” — Utah OC Andy Ludwig on Cam Rising

For now, Rising, who underwent knee surgery after the Rose Bowl, is observing spring practices and not participating. 

He’s already been in this situation.

In Rising’s first collegiate start in 2020 against USC, he suffered a season-ending shoulder injury and missed the ensuing spring practices. In 2021, Rising began the season as Charlie Brewer’s backup, became the starter in the fourth game and helped lead Utah to its first Pac-12 championship

Last season, Rising scored the game-winning touchdown and two-point conversion in a 43-42 victory against the Trojans. He suffered an injury in that game that sidelined him for Utah’s next contest against Washington State. Rising ended up leading the Utes to a second consecutive Pac-12 title

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

How is the senior from Ventura, California, able to bounce back from injuries? 

“His resilience. His physical and mental toughness. When he first came here from the University of Texas, he was one of the few quarterbacks in the country that didn’t get a waiver granted by the NCAA,” Ludwig said. “All he did was battle and grind through it. He gets hurt in his first game as a starter. All he did was battle and grind from that upper body injury.

“The guy has a history and an internal makeup and fortitude that being a great player, being a great Utah teammate is so important to him. He’s going to do everything possible to get himself ready to go.”

Coach Kyle Whittingham described Rising’s current status. 

“He’s made good progress so far, no setbacks,” he said. “It’s still really early in the process but so far, so good.”

Of course, Ludwig is not a medical expert. But he’s “confident” that Rising will be ready to go once the season begins. 

“But I’m listening to the trainer and the doctors and Cam,” he said. “That’s out of my expertise. I’m just following their lead.”

Rising is not being made available for interviews during the spring because he’s not participating in practices. 

Ludwig said that because of Rising’s experience, the QB doesn’t need to fully participate in fall camp to be able to start in the opener. 

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“It’s really going to come down to when he feels a confidence level that he has in his physical wellness,” he said. “If it’s 10 days of work and you’re seeing Cam move in the pocket and extend plays and do the things that Cam does, you feel great. But as we know from Washington State, nobody is going to be more honest in the self-assessment, saying ‘I’m ready to play’ or if he’s not ready, he’ll let us know.”

The fact that Rising, and tight end Brant Kuithe, who is also recovering from a serious knee injury, aren’t participating in spring isn’t necessarily a negative, according to Ludwig and Whittingham. 

“Would you prefer to have them out there? Absolutely. Do I see it as a big negative? No. Because it opens the doors for all these younger players for their evaluation and development,” Ludwig said. “Summer will be big for both of those players. Summer is big for every one of them.

“How many reps do we need (offensive lineman) Keaton Bills to take in spring football? He’s played over 2,000 live snaps. We don’t need a long, drawn-out evaluation process on a player like that, and Cam and Brant. I don’t see that as a big negative.”

Whittingham said it’s a benefit to have Rising work with the younger quarterbacks, like Nate Johnson and Brandon Rose.

“He knows the system inside and out,” Whittingham said about Rising. “He knows all of the subtle nuances of what coach Lud is looking for. That’s just like having another coach on the field. It’s a big positive.”

Johnson appreciates Rising’s leadership and mentoring abilities. 

Utah Utes running back Nate Johnson spins into the end zone for a touchdown over Arizona Wildcats cornerback Ephesians Prysock.
Utah backup quarterback Nate Johnson spins into the end zone for a touchdown against Arizona at Rice-Eccles Stadium in Salt Lake City on Saturday, Nov. 5, 2022. | Scott G Winterton, Deseret News

“He brings the energy. When he went down, he was gone for a while and we all missed his speeches,” he said. “He came back and was giving speeches. We love the way he’s a leader. He’s a big leader on and off the field. Just having Cam in the room and on the field, he’s a great leader and a great guy to look up to.”

How is Rising helping the other QBs

“He has a high football intellect. He’s a great communicator and a great teammate. He wants to help these young guys be great players,” Ludwig said. “There’s no threat from those players. We’ve all seen and heard stories about something like that. He’s not that type of player. He’s a great teammate.”

Wide receiver Devaughn Vele likes what he’s seen from the backup QBs so far this spring. 

“They’re looking really good. It’s really nice getting a different look at the quarterbacks that are in the backfield. I have high expectations for them. They came in and a few of them got looks early on in the season like Nate Johnson did,” he said. “There are younger guys, like Brandon Rose and Luke Bottari that are coming out from behind the scenes that nobody really knows about.

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“Bryson Barnes is another name everyone knows about. Just getting that familiarization with them, I think that’s the biggest thing for our receivers and the whole offensive unit. Not just depending on Cam doing all the talking, but hearing it from other guys.”

The Utes are hoping that Rising is fully healthy in time for the 2023 season. In the meantime, Utah’s young, inexperienced quarterbacks are receiving valuable reps. 

“Most of the guys that came back (from last season) are rehabbing right now. So I didn’t see a lot of them on the field,” Vele said. “But a lot of the younger guys, like Nate Johnson, Bryson Barnes and Brandon Rose, connecting with those guys rather than Cam is a different look but it’s good to see what those guys are bringing to the table and getting that connection early on.”

Without Rising available on the field, Ludwig is focused on helping the other QBs progress. 

“It’s about the nuts and bolts of the offense,” he said, “and getting the quarterback position as comfortable as possible.”

Rising will be there watching, helping — and getting ready for the 2023 season.

Utah Utes QB Cameron Rising, wearing black, warms up
Utah quarterback Cam Rising warms up before playing USC for the Pac-12 Championship at the Allegiant Stadium in Las Vegas on Friday, Dec. 2, 2022. Rising is recovering from an injury but making himself useful at spring camp. | Ben B. Braun, Deseret News