SALT LAKE CITY — Last year as Utah approached the annual game with BYU, Jason Shelley was the man, the Utes’ quarterback, after taking over for an injured Tyler Huntley four games before.
Following a slow start by the Ute offense, Shelley led the Utes on a spirited fourth-quarter comeback to beat their rivals 35-27, a victory he’ll always remember. He threw for one touchdown and ran for another, a game-clinching 33-yard scamper with 1:43 left.
This year as the Utes prepare for their opening game against the Cougars on Aug. 29, Shelley is pretty much a forgotten figure as Huntley is back in the saddle as the starting quarterback, healthy and ready to lead the Utes this year.
That might be discouraging to some, but the 5-foot-11, 200-pounder from Texas is keeping a positive attitude, staying ready and knowing he’s just a play away from being the main man again.
“It’s cool — I’ve been the underdog my whole life,” he said after practice Monday. “It’s nothing new to me. I’ll keep working because I know whenever it’s my time to shine, I’m going to go out there and do the best I can and lead the team to victory.”
A year ago at this time Shelley was battling for the backup quarterback job and he surprised a lot of people when he beat out highly touted freshman Jack Tuttle as the No. 2 man behind Huntley. Then when Huntley went down with his shoulder injury against Arizona State in early November, Shelley took over and after that loss in Tempe, led the Utes to three straight victories as a starter before the bowl-game loss to Northwestern.
Recalling his best memories of 2018, Shelley mentioned the Colorado game in the snow when he passed for 221 yards and two touchdowns in a 30-7 victory and the last quarter of the BYU game when his team overcame a 20-point deficit. He also relishes the Utes’ Pac-12 South Division title, saying, “Most definitely it’s fun being part of the reason the team wins a championship and you lead the guys to victory.”
During the offseason Shelley has trained hard, putting on a few pounds, working on his footwork, his arm strength and watching a lot of film. He’s also working on the mental side, “being more patient, letting things come to me and not trying to do too much.”
So far he’s been impressed with new offensive coordinator Andy Ludwig and how the offense is shaping up for this season.
“I like it for sure — we’ve got big things coming,” he said. “I believe in the guys on the team. We’re just excited to start the season and showcase what we’ve got. Coach Lud is putting us in the right positions to be successful and I think it’s going to be a good season for the offense.”
Although he’s not expecting to surpass Huntley as the No. 1 QB over the next three weeks, Shelley knows from experience that no position is set in stone, remembering how Huntley beat out incumbent starter Troy Williams in 2017 and how he beat out Tuttle a year ago for the backup spot.
“You’ve always got to be ready and keep preparing,” he said. “Even if I’m not the starter, I’ll keep preparing as the starter and get better every day. Sooner or later it’s going to be my time, whether it’s Week 2 or in 2020 — you never know.”