SALT LAKE CITY (AP) — Utah stars Zack Moss, Bradlee Anae and Leki Fotu decided to go all in with the Utes when they opted to forego the NFL draft to return for their senior year. That now includes Utah’s bowl game.
Bucking an annual trend where some NFL prospects skip their team’s bowl game as they look toward a pro future, Moss, Anae and Fotu are all expected to be on the field when the 12th-ranked Utes (11-2) face Texas (7-5) in the Alamo Bowl in San Antonio on Dec. 31.
“I just wanted to play with my guys,” Moss said. “It’s one reason I came back, was to play with these guys again and I definitely want us to go ahead and finish it off. I’m healthy enough to go ahead and play so, I mean, that's exactly what I want to do.”
The three -- all of whom are AP All-American third-team selections -- skipped this year’s NFL draft to return for their senior seasons, despite the potential to get taken in the early rounds.
A desire to make a run at a Pac-12 championship drove their decision at that time, a goal the Utes fell short of when they lost to Oregon in the title game. Sending Utah out with a bowl victory is the goal now. The Utes are trying to become the first Pac-12 team to win a bowl game after losing in the conference championship game.
“They're finishing what they started,” Utah coach Kyle Whittingham said. “They've been a great group to be around all season long, ever since they got on campus. That's very gratifying and rewarding and speaks to who they are as a group.”
Moss returning for his senior season ended up having a ripple effect on Utah's fortunes. He set six school career rushing records during the regular season: rushing yards (4,010), rushing attempts (696), rushing touchdowns (38), total touchdowns (41), 100-yard rushing games (19) and 1,000-yard rushing seasons (3).
Moss is 75 yards away from also becoming the school's career all-purpose yardage leader.
“He's established quite a legacy here,” Whittingham said.
Getting Anae and Fotu back offered an equal boost on the defensive side of the ball.
Anae ranked second in sacks (12.5) and tackles for loss (13.5) in the Pac-12 during the regular season. He tied the school's career sack record with 29.5 sacks.
Fotu added 8.5 tackles for loss and a sack while anchoring the defensive line with Anae.
The standout seniors helped Utah finish the regular season with the nation's No. 1 rushing defense. The Utes have held 10 opponents to fewer than 70 rushing yards this season, the most since the 2006 Michigan Wolverines.
For Moss, there was not any question of coming back one last time for the Alamo Bowl.
He felt like he owed it to himself and his teammates to finish out the season with them rather than sit out what will be his collegiate finale.
Moss did not play in Utah's 31-20 loss to Northwestern in the Holiday Bowl last season after suffering a season-ending injury a few weeks earlier.
“I get the trend. I do. Not knocking it or anything like that,” Moss said. “But if you're healthy enough, then you should go ahead and play with your guys no matter what.”