SALT LAKE CITY — Brant Kuithe has moved on. He says he's a changed person and not dwelling on the past.
The 2020 season happened, and that's about where he wants to leave it. It was a "tricky year," he said, and one defined by a pandemic that disrupted every facet of the college football game — no less the Utes football program. It was hard for the team to be on the same page as position groups were separated and multiple players were held out due to contact tracing on a consistent basis.
In short, nothing about the program was in sync, at least to the level Utah is traditionally known for under the guidance of the meticulous Kyle Whittingham. Utah football was a shell of what the program felt it could be, particularly on the offensive side of the ball where there was more consistency in its personnel.
But an anemic passing game over the five-game season led to Kuithe, at times, expressing his frustrations on the field or in media interviews.
Kuithe could have been a larger part of the offense — he was still the second-leading receiver on the team — but multiple overthrown passes over the course of season didn't help the situation. Add to that all the distractions and complications that COVID brought to the program and it is easy to see why the frustrations boiled over.
"I shouldn't have been showing that much emotion," Kuithe said now under more normal circumstances and a year's worth of perspective. "I just wasn't expecting what happened, but I'm not going to throw anybody under the bus just because a couple passes or whatnot. I just kind of let it get the best of me."
The junior tight end said he's worked over the offseason to not let the emotions get to him. As one of the more veteran players, and one with some of the most experience on offense, he felt he needed to take more of a leadership role with the team. With that role comes more composure, he said.
"I really worked on just — I shouldn't show much emotion. I mean, things are gonna happen and I've just got to learn from it and forget about it," he said. "This year, I think I've matured a little bit more about that aspect and just kind of becoming a better leader, because I know it shows the guys on the field that if I'm frustrated, then something may be wrong. So I've done a little bit better job just trying to keep my composure in that aspect."
Kuithe's effort was rewarded when he was named to the 16-member leadership council Monday for the second time — a player-voted system to pick the team leaders. And though he said he's "never been very vocal" as a person, he's trying to go "one up" from what he usually does — not a complete 180, but a concerted effort to push himself to be a leader and to be more vocal.
In return, his teammates respond to his leadership. The play on the field helps — and there's no doubting that Kuithe's a dynamic example on the field — but it's about being able to speak out and have his teammates listen and "be motivated by that."
"It really helps the team become more combined," he said.
And though he's working on his newfound leadership role, his play on the field will continue to be an important aspect of the game. He's one of the top returning tight ends in the Pac-12 and is expected to continue to be a primary playmaker in the passing game in Andy Ludwig's offense. But even his traditional role of the field may be changing, too.
"He's gonna be even more diverse in the offense playing at various positions — so expanding his role even more," said tight end coach Freddie Whittingham. "He's already kind of a hybrid player, but we're gonna move him all over the field so the defense doesn't know where to defend him — play by play, scheme by scheme."
That's good news for Utah and bad news for opposing teams.
For Utah, it's an opportunity to, once again, showcase Kuithe's diverse skill set on the field, even if some national award voters don't often respect his ability at tight end. Case in point, Kuithe was absent from this year's preseason John Mackey Award watchlist — he has been in the past, too.
Kuithe admitted that not being named to the honor was a tough pill to swallow at first, but it doesn't define who he is or his goal of helping Utah finally win a Pac-12 title.
"I was a little pissed, just because it's my third year in a row not being on it," he said. "But the more and more I thought about it, it's like at the end of the day, it's something that you can win. But at the end of day, I'm not gonna put myself in one category as a position. And if someone wins it, if someone's nominated, I mean, good for them — congratulate them.
"My main focus is winning a Pac-12 championship and going beyond that and doing things I need to do for the team. So I mean, at the beginning, it was a kind of a focus and kind of pissed me off a little bit. But in the long run, I look at the bigger picture, it doesn't really matter."
That bigger picture almost certainly means a look at the NFL, too.
Kuithe had an opportunity to pursue an NFL career last season but chose to return to Utah. After a couple days of deliberation with his family, it didn't feel right to leave the program without accomplishing what he came there to do: win a Pac-12 title and get a degree. He's four classes away from a degree and now has a full 12-game slate ahead of him where Utah is expected to be in contention for a conference title.
"I don't have a degree yet, so I think that played a role in that because getting a degree here was the main focus in coming here," Kuithe said. "Leaving early would have been nice, it's just also I'd be leaving guys back — I'd feel like I would be kind of just turning my back on them and I didn't want to do that.
"It was kind of an easy decision to come back. I didn't really give it much thought after I thought about that. My family actually helped me just because this in the long run, this is what's gonna last forever, and when you get up there it's a business, so I kind of put that in the role, too."
And while some things have changed in how he approaches the game, Kuithe remains a key component to Utah's football program.
"I'm just looking forward to a complete season and just not all this hectic stuff going around," Kuithe said.