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Utah football: Washington-native Paul Toala thrilled to take on childhood favorite team with the Utes

Utah Utes running back Armand Shyne (6) and offensive lineman Paul Toala (65) celebrate after their 35-27 win over the Brigham Young Cougars at Rice-Eccles Stadium in Salt Lake City on Saturday, Nov. 24, 2018.

SALT LAKE CITY — While Washington has three Utah athletes on its roster, the Utes have just one Washington native on their roster.

“Growing up I was a huge UW fan, a huge fan,” said Utah offensive lineman Paul Toala. “Obviously, they weren’t the school I ended up at, and I’ve always been a Utah fan, too.”

Toala lived in Sandy when he was in elementary school for a few years before his family moved to Burien, Washington, about 10 miles outside of Seattle.

“All my friends growing up, they all committed to UW,” Toala said. “Obviously, they’re not there anymore. But I still have some animosity toward them, especially because the games we have played (against Washington) in the last few years, we should have won.” In fact, Utah hasn’t beaten Washington since 2015 — before Toala walked on at Utah after playing at Dixie State in 2012. He served an LDS mission to Mexico and then walked on at Utah in 2015, when he used his redshirt season. He played in all 13 games in 2017, with one start at right guard, and earned a scholarship from the Utes.

The backup center and right guard played in seven games this season, including four on the offensive line. He said preparing for Friday’s Pac-12 title game featuring the school he grew up loving is a dream come true.

“It’s the biggest game that Utah has ever seen,” the junior said. “If my number is called, when my number is called, I’ll be ready, that’s for sure.” He said the energy at practices leading up to Friday’s game at Levi Stadium, which will start at 5 p.m. PST, is unlike anything he’s experienced.

“It’s the first time any Utah team has gone to a Pac-12 championship,” he said. “Obviously, we’re approaching it like any other game, but I think there is a little more of that emotion, especially for our seniors. They’ve done a great job leading us, and we want to do it for them, but also for the future classes, the future Utes that come through this program.” The opportunity to make history, he said, “That’s motivation enough.”

But the chance to extract a bit of revenge doesn’t hurt either.

“Of course,” he said of whether or not Utah’s earlier 21-7 loss provided extra desire. “We weren’t as prepared, it was early in the season, and we’re a lot more prepared this time. Revenge is a big motivator in our eyes, especially because you don’t always get another shot at a team.”


Rick Bowmer

BYU linebacker Isaiah Kaufusi, right, tackles Utah running back TJ Green (4) in the first half during an NCAA college football game Saturday Nov. 24, 2018, in Salt Lake City. (AP Photo/Rick Bowmer)

When starting running back Zack Moss went down with a season-ending injury, the mantle passed to Armand Shyne. And the Oakland native has delivered in impressive ways for Utah, a team that builds its offense on its run game.

But in the last couple of weeks, it’s redshirt freshman TJ Green who has turned some heads.

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Against BYU, he had eight carries for 45 yards, as well as two catches for another 12 yards. He said Moss’ injury was jarring, but Shyne has emerged as the group’s leader, and all of the running backs are working harder to help shoulder the load.

“You never like to see a teammate go down, but we can’t harp on it,” Green said. “We can’t harp on it; it’s just next man up. We’ve all prepared harder, and everybody is taking more reps.”

Green said he’s even more excited about the future after the last few weeks.

“I’ve always had confidence in myself, that I’m able to do a lot of things,” he said. “I’m excited for the future. I haven’t hit my potential, and I’m excited to show the U. fans what I’ve got.”

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