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Utes behind the lines: Running backs

By Josh Furlong | Posted - Sep. 7, 2011 at 4:01 p.m.



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SALT LAKE CITY -- Losing its senior running backs in Matt Asiata and Eddie Wide, one of the biggest questions leading up to Utah's season debut was who would fill the running back position.

Last Thursday, junior college transfer John White IV made a name for himself in Utah's season opener against Montana State, rushing for 150 yards on 19 carries, positioning himself as a leading candidate for the running back position for the Utes.

But with an inexperienced running back position still untested against Pac-12 teams, Utah may look to other players to fill this important role. We take a look at the players who might get some time in this position.

John White IV:

Prior to joining the Utes in spring, White played for L.A. Harbor College where he set several school records, including rushing yards (2,527), rushing touchdowns (34), total touchdowns (41), points (248) and all-purpose yards (3,767). He was also named the Central West Conference Offensive Player of the Year. White brings to the Utes an extremely talented run game, which was only highlighted in his first game in Division 1 football against Montana State last Thursday.

Player Profile:
John White IV
  • Number: 15
  • Class: Junior
  • Hometown: Torrance, Calif.
  • Last College: L.A. Harbor College
  • Height /Weight: 5-8 /186
  • Birthdate: 04/07/1991
  • Experience: JC
Harvey Langi
  • Number: 21
  • Class: Freshman
  • Hometown: South Jordan, Utah
  • High School: Bingham HS
  • Height /Weight: 6-1 /225
  • Birthdate: 09/24/1992
  • Experience: HS
Thretton Palamo
  • Number: 22
  • Class: Sophomore
  • Hometown: Sacramento, Calif.
  • High School: Davis HS
  • Height /Weight: 6-2 /240
  • Birthdate: 09/22/1988
  • Experience: HS
Tauni Vakapuna
  • Number: 24
  • Class: Senior
  • Hometown: North Salt Lake, Utah
  • Last College: Dixie State College
  • Height /Weight: 5-9 /229
  • Birthdate: 05/30/1986
  • Experience: 1VL

Growing up in California, White was a fan of the USC Trojans, attending games on a regular basis. But now that he's with Utah, he's ready to take on his once favorite team.

"Once I get on the field, all the fans just disappear to me. I just go out there to play. All I see is defenders," White said. "Coming from L.A., coming from South High and going to L.A. Harbor College and now being here at Utah, I never thought I'd be playing against the Trojans, but it's just another game. So I'm just going out there prepared and ready."

Off the field, White's interests include computer graphics, drawing, music and wolves. While attending school, White is pursing a degree in sociology.

Harvey Langi:

Harvey Langi is a familiar face to the state of Utah, where he led his high school football team, Bingham High, to back-to-back 5A state championships in 2009 and 2010. While at Bingham, Langi had a total of 570 career carries for 4,289 yards and 55 touchdowns, with 152 carries for 1,399 yards and 17 touchdowns as a senior.

Langi's explosive power as a leading rusher made him a top recruit in not only Utah, but with some of the biggest school's in the country. The high school All-Star and heavily recruited running back decided to make Utah his home after turning down USC and Stanford following his appearance in the Army All-American Bowl in San Antonio, Texas.

Now, Langi is ready to take on USC without looking back.

"It means I'm not with them, they're enemies," Langi said. "Everything's for Utah. I met my new family here and I've been bonding with them these past couple months. It's just going to be a battle out there with them."

As part of his pre-game ritual to prepare for an upcoming game, Langi said he likes to take a laid back approach, including listening to softer music to calm him down.

"I like to listen to slow jams before (a game)," Langi said as he smiled. "I'm not a big hype guy, so when it comes down to it, I listen to the soft music; it calms me down."

He also said he takes the time to thank "the guy up there" for being given the opportunity to play football and to "play the sport with these people at this time."

As a kid, Langi idolized Walter Payton, one of the most prolific running backs in NFL history. "I've always played video games and I've always made Walter Payton. I always created him in a football game," Langi said. "He's one of my role models."

Langi said it was Payton's productive downhill run game and his unselfish play that attracted him as a younger kid. "I just really wish I could learn every aspect of life and football the way he did it," Langi added.

When Langi is not on the field, he spends most of his time with fellow running backs John White and Thretton Palamo. "Thret, John, we're all on each other's recent calls. I'm always hanging out with them," Langi said. "We're good friends off the field."

"We're all trying to learn at the same time, but we're all helping each other learn. ... If someone does a good play, we praise them. We're good friends and we know how to be good friends, but we know how to compete at the same time. We all have good relationships with each other."

Which, Langi said, allows for the occasional prank, typically by Palamo, who hides players' gear and throws in random jokes to liven the mood.

Thretton Palamo

John White Highlights:

As a walk on in spring, international rugby star Thretton Palamo joined the Utes to battle it out for the running back position.

Growing up, Palamo did not play competitive sports until he was 17 years old, eventually becoming the captain for the USA Rugby sevens in the 2009 World Games. He was also the youngest player to participate in the Rugby World Cup in 2007 at age 19.

Harvey Langi Highlights:

Palamo decided to take a shot with football, saying he wanted to have no regrets.

"It was just kind of like you don't want to live with regrets. I've always watched football," Palamo said. "I've always been curious about how I'd do. So I thought I'd try it out while I still had a shot at it. I just didn't want to live with regrets."

Prior to Thursday's game against Montana State, Palamo had never attended a live football game.

"I've never been to a football game," he said. "My first football game was actually the one I played in. So it was kind of fun."

Thretton Palamo Highlights:

Although Palamo has only recently made the transition to football, he has picked up the game quickly. But he says there is still more to learn.

"I thought when I put these pads on they are going to protect me, but it just gives the defense more reason to throw their entire body at me," Palamo said during spring training. "It's not really protecting anything."

But with the adjustment of learning a new game, Palamo still finds time to relax and enjoy the game.

"You always need to have fun. We're out here four, five hours a day; you can't be serious for that long," Palamo said. "It's good to have a jokester on the team."

But in the end, Palamo said he's living a dream.

"Everybody dreams to do this," he said. "To walk on and try out and get a shot at playing for a school with a great reputation for football. I'm excited. I'm aware of the situation and the competition that I have. I'm going to take it step-by-step and hopefully good things work out for me."

Tauni Vakapuna

Tauni Vakapuna joined the Utes in spring as a walk on after playing two years of football at Dixie State, where he was selected as second team all-Great Northwest Athletic Conference in 2009. As a sophomore, Vakapuna had 138 carries for 512 yards with six touchdowns.

Vakapuna also helped lead Hunter High to their 2003 5A state title and a 14-0 record, with over 1,600 yards and 20 touchdowns. While at Hunter High, he split carries with former Ute running back Matt Asiata.

Vakapuna has a brother, Fui, who played football at BYU and is currently a running back for the Cincinnati Bengals. In his spare time, Vakapuna enjoys hiking. He is currently pursuing a degree in exercise and sport science.

*Email: jfurlong@ksl.com*Twitter: @JFurKSL

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