SALT LAKE CITY — In the blink of an eye, Nephi Sewell went from sitting out a year to playing in the Pac-12 Championship Game. 

Sewell transferred from Nevada during the offseason, and the NCAA did not grant his transfer waiver petition until before the Arizona game in November. 

Sewell still remembers where he was when Ute head coach Kyle Whittingham called him and told him the good news: His waiver was approved and he was eligible to play in the Arizona game. Unfortunately, Sewell was driving down to Orem and couldn’t make the flight, but Sewell’s sudden eligibility proved to be key for the Utes. After making an appearance in Utah’s win over Colorado, Sewell’s role became a lot different during the Pac-12 Championship Game. 

First, safety Julian Blackmon was injured and then R.J. Hubert went down in the third quarter, so Sewell, who had only made an appearance in one game during the entire season, was suddenly thrust into the spotlight at safety.

“I wasn’t expecting it, but I was for sure prepared for it. I’ve never been on a stage like that before. The atmosphere, there was so many people,” Sewell said. “It was a lot to take in, but I was ready for it.”

“I wasn’t expecting it, but I was for sure prepared for it. I’ve never been on a stage like that before. The atmosphere, there was so many people. It was a lot to take in, but I was ready for it.” — Utah’s Nephi Sewell

Sewell finished with four tackles in the Pac-12 Championship Game. After the game, he and his brother Penei Sewell — Oregon’s star offensive linemen — shared a moment postgame. The two brothers embraced on the field at Levi’s Stadium as Penei Sewell comforted his brother after a tough loss.

“It’s kind of hard to explain. I was sad, but I was happy for him,” Nephi Sewell said. “I told him everything that’s coming his way this year, he deserves it and he has many blessings to come. I’m just happy he stuck with me to get my hopes up before I return back to the team.”

Nephi Sewell said it was weird to face off against his brother and that he nearly got blocked by Penei Sewell a couple of times in the championship game. Penei Sewell recently received the Outland Trophy award, which is presented to the best interior lineman in college football, and Nephi Sewell has been happy to watch his brother’s success.

“It’s a testament to how he carries himself,” Nephi Sewell said of the award given to his brother.

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Nephi Sewell is one in a long line of successful Sewell football players. His uncles, Isa’ako Sopoago and Richard Brown, played in the NFL, brother Penei Sewell is succeeding at Oregon, brother Noah Sewell is a five-star recruit and just signed with Oregon and brother Gabriel Sewell plays at Nevada. Nephi followed Gabriel to Nevada to play his first two years with the Wolfpack. He had 53 tackles, an interception and a fumble recovery in his sophomore year, then decided to transfer to Utah to be closer to his family. He added with a smile that he hopes his parents come to more Utah games than Oregon games now.

“I just wanted to be closer to home, especially because my parents do take care of my cousins and my grandmother and I just wanted to be able to help them,” Sewell said. 

Even though sitting out much of the season was frustrating for him, Sewell learned a lot and was able to come in and play when his number was called in the Pac-12 Championship Game. It was a pretty seamless transition. 

Sewell almost didn’t make it to this point in his career. At Desert Hills, Sewell broke his neck, which caused him to miss his junior season. Coming back from a broken neck, Sewell had some doubts about being able to perform his best. 

“I did have doubts, especially because six months in a brace and then four months doing nothing besides being able to walk definitely tears down your confidence in coming back,” he said. 

He went to football camps that summer and went full-go to test it out, which increased his confidence. Sewell returned in 2016 and helped Desert Hills win a state championship 

Utah takes on Texas in the Alamo Bowl and Sewell and the Utes are determined to show that they are better than their performance against Oregon.

“I’m coming into the game ready. I know the guys are counting on me. We need to show what we really are. I feel like in the Pac-12 game, we didn’t really play like ourselves,” Sewell said. 

Whittingham likes what he sees from Sewell thus far.

“A ton of progress. He was a really good player when he got here. It’s not like he wasn’t good to begin with, but he’s a good fit for our program,” Whittingham said.

Sewell will compete for a starting spot next year, whether that is at linebacker or at safety.

“Still not positive that he’s going to be a linebacker or a safety, that’s still up in the air. That will be solidified this spring,” Whittingham said.