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Utah transfer RBs T.J. Pledger, Chris Curry know what the big stage is all about

Pledger enjoyed a career day in the Red River Showdown last fall for Oklahoma, while Curry received an endorsement from LSU’s Heisman Trophy-winning quarterback Joe Burrow during the Tigers’ national championship run

Utah running back T.J. Pledger carries the ball during spring workouts at the University of Utah in Salt Lake City. Pledger is one of two Power Five transfer running backs joining the Utes this spring.
University of Utah Athletics

Though both T.J. Pledger and Chris Curry were mostly backups during their time with teams from other Power Five conferences, they both have experience shining on a big stage.

The pair of running backs transferred to Utah during the offseason because there was a chance to make a major impact in the Ute backfield.

Pledger, a 5-foot-9, 193-pound junior, previously played at Oklahoma, while Curry, a 5-11, 216-pound sophomore, helped LSU win a national championship in 2019.

Running backs coach Kiel McDonald said both players are a “great fit” at Utah.

“We have a great tradition here at the running back position. This is a run-first team. There’s no secret about that. We run to win and that’s kind of our philosophy,” he said. “They were looking for a place where they could come in and compete right now.

“I’m all about competition. The best player will play. The best player will start. And they wanted that opportunity. They were looking for a school that was able to grant them that opportunity. It worked out for both the players and for us.”

Last fall, Pledger enjoyed a career day with 22 carries and 131 yards and two touchdowns in Oklahoma’s 53-45 victory over rival Texas in four overtimes in the Red River Showdown.

Oklahoma quarterback Spencer Rattler congratulates running back T.J. Pledger after Pledger scored against Texas during the second half of game in Dallas on Saturday, Oct. 10, 2020. Oklahoma defeated Texas 53-45 in four overtimes. Pledger enjoyed a career day with 22 carries and 131 yards and two touchdowns in the annual Red River Showdown.
Michael Ainsworth, Associated Press

A four-star prospect, Pledger had waited patiently for his shot to show what he could do and that chance came against the Longhorns.

Head coach Kyle Whittingham, McDonald and other members of the staff “watched that game extensively,” McDonald said.

“Not only can he catch the ball, but he breaks a lot of tackles and he’s very elusive,” McDonald added. “We thought that with his technique and skill set, he could come into this offensive and be very, very productive.”

Pledger hails from Pacoima, California, outside of Los Angeles. He became a four-star prospect at IMG Academy in Florida before signing with the Sooners. Pledger saw action in 30 games at Oklahoma.

Being able to play closer to home is important to him.

“It means everything. Winding down my college career, being able to come back to this side of the coast and play in front of family and new fans means a lot to me,” Pledger said. “I haven’t played a lot of people that I know because I’ve been in the Big 12. But coming back to the West Coast and being able to play familiar faces is going to be a lot of fun.”

For Pledger, it’s all about “being able to look at the opportunity and understand the position I’m walking into and aiming to take advantage of that.”

Pledger likes Utah’s tradition with running backs and he has established a strong relationship with McDonald. During spring practices, Pledger is feeling comfortable with offensive coordinator Andy Ludwig’s system.

“We have a great team. Being around these guys, being able to transition from winter workouts to spring, this is a fast, physical team on both sides of the ball,” he said. “Definitely up front, on both sides. Everything’s going good. The offense, I’m loving it. I’m just trying to work on different things every day so I can be my best self and be able to play fast and not have to think.”

Aside from ability, Pledger and Curry bring maturity and experience to the Utes.

“They’ve been in programs that have been very successful. They’re good players. That’s something we desperately needed to add to the room — more talent,” said Whittingham. “The transition they’ve made has been really good. They know the deal in big-time college football. They’ve been there, done that. This is nothing new to them and so far they fit right in.”

Utah running back Chris Curry carries the ball during spring workouts at the University of Utah in Salt Lake City. Curry is one of two Power Five transfer running backs joining the Utes this spring.

Curry played in 27 games at LSU, and, ironically, his biggest moment came against Pledger’s Oklahoma team in the Tigers’ 63-28 Peach Bowl national semifinal victory.

With starter Clyde Edwards-Helaire injured, LSU coach Ed Orgeron turned to Curry, who ran 16 times for 90 yards.

After the game, Curry found out that Heisman Trophy-winning quarterback Joe Burrow had stood up for Curry, telling the coaches they should give him a shot to play ahead of other backup running backs on the roster.

“Joe is an amazing guy. Great character, great human being,” Curry recalled this week of that experience. “It’s an honor to play with a Heisman Trophy winner. For him to speak up for me speaks volumes.”

What can Curry add to Utah’s offense?

“Physicality, toughness, the swagger,” he said. “We played with a lot of swagger and I feel like we can bring that to the University of Utah.”

McDonald was impressed with what he saw from Curry against the Sooners.

“Chris is a big, physical kid that runs downhill. We paid a lot of attention to that game that he had against Oklahoma,” he said. “You saw that he got stronger and stronger as the game went on. I think that fits who we are and who we’ve been — big, tough, physical guys that can have some run after contact.”

LSU running back Chris Curry runs against Oklahoma during the first half of the Peach Bowl semifinal college football playoff game on Saturday, Dec. 28, 2019, in Atlanta. Curry had his number called after starting running back Clyde Edwards-Helaire suffered an injury.
John Bazemore, Associated Press

Pledger and Curry have different running styles that could complement each other.

“T.J. is more of a scatback. You could maybe compare him to John White, who was here several years ago, a terrific running back,” Whittingham said. “Chris Curry is a bigger kid, although he does have good speed and quickness to get outside. He’s 20-25 pounds heavier than T.J.”

Since signing Pledger and Curry, Whittingham has felt better about his running back depth and he’s confident about what they will provide the Utes this fall.

“We’re elated to have them. Our track record and past history with running backs has been very good here as far as production,” Whittingham said. “It’s an attractive place for running backs to come. They know that we’ll run the ball and it’s a very balanced attack. It’s running back-friendly.”

Pledger and Curry are looking to create more memorable performances on a big stage — now at Utah.