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SALT LAKE CITY — As you do the "third-down jump" with the Muss at a Utah football game this year, keep your ears open (if you can) and you'll likely hear the following words blaring from the stadium speakers: "We must protect this house!"
Under Armour's catchphrase equivalent of Nike's "Just do it" has been around for almost 15 years and part of the University of Utah for eight. Now entering its ninth season with the UA logo on their chest, the Utes know that what you wear and how you look matters, but are clear that it's just a small part of the formula for success.
Such things as the color or design of a uniform might not matter with old-school football purists, but statistics show they resonate with the current generation of football players.
The Huffington Post released a study done by FieldLevel, Inc. tracking brand loyalty amongst high school prospects receiving "verified interest" from at least one college team and the results were overwhelming; 73 percent of those contacted preferred Nike, compared to just 16 percent for Under Armour and 11 percent for Adidas and others. While that puts the Utes at an immediate disadvantage, it's not a concern for current players or coaches.
"I came here to play football, not to wear the fanciest gear," said senior tight end Evan Moeai. "Under Armour's been great, but it didn't affect my recruitment whatsoever."
For most Utah recruits, what brand sponsored their school meant little going in, and for the Utah coaching staff that suits them just fine.
"I think it (Under Armour) plays a role, but if it's the ultimate factor, we're recruiting the wrong guy," said defensive coordinator Morgan Scalley. He knows the recruiting pitch better than anyone, having prior to this season served as recruiting coordinator for the majority of his time in the program.
"I wasn't too familiar with any particular brand honestly, coming out of high school, but when I got up here I saw everybody rocking their (Under Armour) shorts, shoes, and socks," said senior defensive end Hunter Dimick. "At the time, I think we were one of only eight schools who had UA as a sponsor, so I knew we were a lot more exclusive and that there would be rewards with that; that made me excited to come up here."
That relative exclusivity of being one of a few Under Armour schools has persisted. Through the end of the 2015 season, 15 of 128 FBS schools endorsed Under Armour, compared to 68 schools sponsored by Nike; Adidas tallied 31 schools; and Russell tailed the pack at four.
Utah will continue to be the lone Pac-12 school to have a deal with the brand, although both UCLA and Cal announced earlier this year they would join the Utes as spokesmen in the Conference of Champions beginning July 1, 2017, inking deals worth $280 million and $86 million respectively. The UCLA deal ranks as the largest ever announced in amateur athletics. It also represents quite a coup on the Under Armour end, as UCLA had been with Adidas since 1999.
While just being an Under Armour school hasn't necessarily been a boon to the recruiting efforts of the program in the way that a Nike/Oregon relationship or Jordan/Michigan can be, the coaches are appreciative of Under Armour's role in their success.
"Under Armour's been great to us," Scalley said. "Do we sell that they're great to us? Yes we do, but the main thing that we want to sell as a coaching staff is to make sure that you as a player look clean. Coach (Kyle) Whittingham's mentality is that it's up to the guys to decide which uniforms to wear, but we will be uniform."
Since joining the UA stable in 2008, Utah has debuted a vast array of red, black, and white uniforms in a dizzying amount of variations. Last year alone, the Utes debuted a new uniform combination in 12 of 13 games, with "blackout" and "red-out" specific games designed to incorporate fans into the experience, something the players love. "The all-black is so sweet," said newcomer Alec Dana. "It's cold, it's fierce, it's intimidating."
While the black uniforms are a favorite amongst many team members, fans across the board were quick to recognize last season's throwback uniforms, unique for their old-school interlocking U design, as the best of all of last season's offerings. In a "name your favorite" poll taken by @UtesEquipment on twitter, hundreds voted to make the throwbacks top dog.
Athlon Sports also ranked Utah's throwback uniform as the fourth best alternate uniform in all of college football.
The Utes have decisions to make concerning their future with the brand, as the Under Armour deal is up at the end of the season. Obviously, money governs what schools decide to do in terms of their sponsor deals, but there's little doubt the Utes will continue to push their way forward, whatever logo they find on their chest. In an era defined more by style and less by substance, the Utes are a unique combination of both.
Stephen Lindsey is a student at the University of Utah currently working as an intern with KSL.com. Contact him at email@example.com or interact via his twitter handle, @th3sl3.