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SALT LAKE CITY — It's been an up-and-down season for sports in Utah. There were moments of brilliance mixed in with moments of frustration. All in all, there was a lot going on in the state that fans could get excited about.
Although there were several moments throughout the year — and we can't touch on all of them — the following are 10 of the biggest things that happened in sports in 2013 not in any particular order.
The year started and ended with several coaching changes in state. It all started when BYU head coach Bronco Mendenhall decided to repurpose his staff and hired former BYU coach Robert Anae as the team's offensive coordinator. The hiring confused many but was seen by others as a great hire.
Utah also changed up their coaching staff by hiring former Arizona State head coach Dennis Erickson to be a co-offensive coordinator with Brian Johnson. The hiring was seen as a big get, especially in the recruiting world. However, following Utah's second losing season, head coach Kyle Whittingham moved Erickson to coach the running backs and Johnson to coach the quarterbacks. Whittingham hired the team's seventh offensive coordinator in seven seasons, former Wyoming head coach Dave Christensen.
Weber State football also went through some quick changes after a disappointing season under Jody Sears. Sears was with the team one year before being replaced by University of Utah special teams coach Jay Hill.
The Jazz, too, lost one of their coaches as former Jazzman Jeff Hornacek took a head coaching position with the Phoenix Suns. Hornacek has taken a team that was expected to be near the bottom of the Western Conference to a playoff-contending team.
The Jazz also added a few pieces to their staff, bringing on Hall-of-Famer and former Jazzman Karl Malone as a position coach for the bigs. In the offseason, Malone worked with Derrick Favors and Enes Kanter to develop their talent in the NBA. Later, the Jazz also brought on longtime Jazz coach and Hall-of-Famer Jerry Sloan to be a senior advisor to the team. Sloan will be honored by the organization next year as the team retires his jersey.
Also leaving the state was Real Salt Lake head coach Jason Kreis. Kreis accepted a job with the MLS' newest franchise, New York City FC, after the team concluded its regular season with a loss in the MLS Cup final game. RSL then hired assistant coach Jeff Cassar to fill the void as head coach.
Despite the up-and-down season for both BYU and Utah football, both programs had signature wins that had the nation talking for days. And in BYU's case, it got a defensive coach fired.
Based on their loss to Virginia to start the season, a loss to No. 15 Texas seemed imminent. However, Taysom Hill and the Cougars dominated the Longhorns and made Texas look like a completely inferior opponent that didn't belong in the game. BYU went on to a dominating victory. Texas, however, turned their season around and went on to play Oregon in the Alamo Bowl.
Utah started out with a lot of promise as they competed in both their non-conference and conference schedule, yet a victory over the No. 5 team in the country, Stanford, seemed improbable. But the Utes played their best game of the season and managed to get a victory over a team that returned to the No. 5 spot and went on to play in the Rose Bowl against Michigan State.
Despite losing their starting quarterback and Heisman hopeful, Chuckie Keeton, the Aggies went on to play in the Mountain West Conference championship game and then onto a win over No. 23 Northern Illinois in the Poinsettia Bowl.
Every team has to deal with injuries as part of their season; it's just the nature of sports. However, Utah State and Utah both suffered season-ending injuries from their starting quarterbacks.
Utah State quarterback Chuckie Keeton was on a path for a special season, with many looking at him as a potential Heisman candidate. However, in a play during the in-state rivalry game against BYU, Keeton dropped to the ground with a season-ending knee injury. Many expected the Aggies to struggle for the remainder of the season, but managed to salvage a good season. And head coach Matt Wells managed to win the Mountain West Conference Coach of the Year award.
In a form of more bad luck, Utah was forced again to play a backup quarterback. Despite several interceptions, starting quarterback Travis Wilson was expected to be the future of the program. However, following testing for a concussion sustained during one of the games, it was discovered that Wilson had a pre-existing condition. The condition brought a lot of uncertainty for the future and could be a potential condition to keep Wilson out of football forever.
RSL returns to MLS Cup
Real Salt Lake started off the season with owner Dave Checketts selling his majority share to minority owner Dell Loy Hansen. The year was expected to be a rebuilding year, but RSL had other plans. With a talented roster putting forth tremendous effort, RSL managed to get back to the MLS Cup final game against Sporting Kansas City. The game was for the taking, but RSL narrowly missed out after falling short in a round of penalty kicks.
Jazz secure Trey Burke in NBA draft
After missing the playoffs for the second consecutive season, the Jazz looked to the NBA draft for some help. And with only a few players set to return for the next season, the Jazz needed to go big with who they selected as the 14th and 21st pick — a new video board would not be enough to fill the seats in EnergySolutions Arena. The Jazz pulled off an unexpected trade and moved up to pick Michigan star Trey Burke as the ninth pick in the draft, exciting much of the fan base.
Damian Lillard rookie season
The former Weber State basketball star Damian Lillard had a tremendous rookie season with the Portland Trail Blazers. Lillard managed to win the Skills Competition during the NBA All Star weekend. But the Skills Challenge would not be the highlight of his first season; Lillard went on to win over fans and the NBA's Rookie of the Year award.
Lone Peak basketball declared National Champions
After completing an impressive 26-1 season and third consecutive state title, Lone Peak was named the National Champions by MaxPreps.com. Lone Peak beat in-state competition by an average of 30 points but were also dominant against out-of-state competition.
BYU JerseygateLeading up the regular college football season, BYU head coach Bronco Mendenhall decided to surprise the team and media with new jerseys for the season. His decision? Instead of putting a player's name on the back of a jersey, Mendenhall wanted to vary spirit, tradition or honor on the back of the jerseys. Quickly the jersey decision spread on Twitter and the feelings were less than welcoming to the idea. Mendenhall later reversed his decision and decided the jerseys would only be used during the Homecoming game — whew! It made for a fun day or two on Twitter though.
Local athletes in the NFL
The anticipation of where Ziggy Ansah and Star Lotulelei would end up was all the rave leading up to the NFL draft. Star, once considered a top draft pick, dropped in the projections as a result of a heart condition that had NFL teams worried. However, both he and Ziggy made quite a mark in the NFL, and they're likely to only get better.
Despite leading the San Francisco 49ers since he was drafted, former Ute quarterback Alex Smith was traded to the Kansas City Chiefs to join new head coach Andy Reid. Smith and the Chiefs went on to go 9-0 for the best record in the NFL after winning only two games the year prior.
Former BYU receiver Dennis Pitta helped the Baltimore Ravens win the Super Bowl earlier in the year and was expected to have another great season. A fractured hip injury in practice at the beginning of the season, however, was expected to sideline Pitta for the rest of the season. But Pitta returned at the end of the season to play once again for the Ravens.
John Stockton writes a book
Former Jazzman and Hall-of-Famer John Stockton published and released his autobiography in the fall, surprising many because of his desire for a private life when playing for the Jazz. Stockton, however, did several book signings and media interviews to promote his book. As a result, several fans got an opportunity to talk with one of their idols.
- The Jazz let Paul Millsap, Al Jefferson and several other players go in an effort to play the young players.
- The University of Utah opened up a new state-of-the-art football facility to help Utah compete in the Pac-12 and to help with recruiting.
- In tragic news, the University of Utah football team lost one of its players in a car accident before he season started. Gaius Vaenuku and his cousins were killed on a trip to Texas.
- Because students were struggling with academics and cyber bullying, Union High School head coach Matt Labrum suspended his team and told them they had to do service to earn a spot back on the team. The story went viral and many supported the coaches decision to help the players learn a valuable lesson.
- The Duchesne High School football team broke a state record, surpassing 36 consecutive wins. The Eagles remain unbeaten and will continue their streak next year.