SALT LAKE CITY — Smiling as several media members gathered around him on the first day of fall camp, senior quarterback Tyler Huntley looked calm and collected as he answered the smattering of questions posed to him.
He looked confident, like a seasoned soldier ready to steer his troops into battle without the fear of whatever was coming his way.
It was a difference from last season, where Huntley generally avoided media and approached the season with a chip on his shoulder. It was Huntley versus the world, and a party of one of sorts.
This season, though, the confidence radiated on the first day of camp. He didn’t need validation from others — not that he was seeking that last season either.
But this year already seems different, even if it is just one day.
The Florida native is healthy and has added approximately 25 pounds to his frame. Huntley wants to add an additional five pounds before the season starts, which will allow him to absorb hits more and likely lengthen his playing opportunities. The previous injuries are a thing of the past and it’s now time to lead his team to the top of the Pac-12, as many have predicted the Utes can do.
The biggest difference in Huntley, though, is his team leadership, according to teammate and high school friend Zack Moss.
“Just more of a leader,” Moss said. “He’s demanding a lot more from the guys and demanding a lot from himself — just like he always has — but you can feel it’s different.”
Huntley enters the season as the bonafide starter — QB1 — in a system that plays well to his strengths. He’s a seasoned pro in the Pac-12, even if he isn’t talked about in the same breathe as fellow conference quarterbacks like Justin Herbert, K.J. Costello or Khalil Tate — even though he finished the season with a better completion rate (64.1%) than two of the three.
“You’re always going to hear everybody talking or whatnot, but it’s about how you go about your business,” Huntley said. “And I don’t, too much, listen to what people are saying.”
Huntley last season had the “fewest turnover worthy plays” in the conference, beating out the conference’s stars, according to Pro Football Focus who tracked his passing accuracy. But that’s all noise and just adds to the fodder to the build-up of the season.
His new offensive coordinator Andy Ludwig is giving him the latitude and autonomy to lead his team to victory, as long as he can “get the job done,” according to Huntley. “That’s what’s expected.”
Huntley, for his part, has done his job ever since he was sidelined against Arizona State last season with a broken collarbone. The mental reps, the push to get better, the building strength and size to his frame, it’s all the culmination of an offseason meant to get the senior quarterback to his best physical and mental self ahead of what is expected to be a special season for Utah.
“I’m real pleased with Tyler Huntley,” Ludwig said. “He’s a football fanatic and works really hard at it. He did a super job over the summer with the strength and conditioning and studying the game.
“Tyler’s putting himself in a position to play the best football of his career.”
At his peak before injury last season, Huntley orchestrated an offense that averaged 41 points per game in the month of October. If Huntley can maintain a similar approach to the 2019 season, Utah will have no problem returning to the Pac-12 championship game. And while there’s a lot that goes into Huntley performing at a high level and leading the offense, it’s a simple thing in his eyes:
“Just come out here and play football.”
The preseason expectations, the probable Top 25 rankings, the glory that comes as a top team in the conference and likely the nation is just a side note to a simple game.