Former Timp star now a starter

first_imgWhen you see No. 11 in the red-and-white jersey playing the defensive line for the University of Utah, you might wonder — what the heck, is that a quarterback out there?Well, actually it is.No. 11 for the Utes is Paul Kruger, who was recruited to Utah out of Timpanogos High School as a quarterback, but quickly switched to the defensive line.On Saturday, the freshman quarterback-turned-lineman will make his first start at defensive end for the Utes against 11th-ranked UCLA after playing well in reserve in Utah’s first two games.”I’m very excited,” said Kruger. “We’ve made adjustments to where we feel we can succeed. We’re very confident.”Kruger came to Utah in 2004 under former coach Urban Meyer and redshirted during the Utes’ exciting undefeated Fiesta Bowl season.It was evident to Ute coaches that with his size and athletic ability, the 6-foot-5, 255-pounder might be better utilized as a lineman.”We knew if it didn’t work out at quarterback that he had a future as a tight end or defensive end,” said Ute coach Kyle Whittingham, who was defensive coordinator when Kruger was recruited. “We gave him the opportunity to play quarterback. Urban gave him a long time — about 36 hours, I believe.”The Utes came close to playing Kruger as a freshman, but decided to redshirt him. Kruger left on an LDS mission to Missouri in January 2005, and nine months after returning, he’s earned a starting spot.”He’s made the most of his opportunities and we couldn’t keep him out of the starting lineup,” Whittingham said. “He’s earned the starting job. Now it’s up to him to hang onto it.”For Kruger, it’s remarkable that he’s even able to play football.When he was 14, he was involved in a four-wheeling accident in the mountains when a jeep rolled and smashed his midsection. After being in the ICU for three weeks, he survived, but lost a kidney.”It was very serious and I didn’t ever plan on playing football or any contact sports again,” Kruger said.However, he has been cleared to play and wears a protective back flap to protect his one kidney.”It’s a risk I take, but the last thing I want to do is be scared of something my whole life,” he said.With nearly four full years to play, Kruger should be a mainstay on the defensive line for the Utes. Whittingham says he doesn’t want to jinx him but has no doubt he’ll eventually be an all-league performer for the Utes.”He’s got a lot of physical attributes,” Whittingham said. “He’s got size and strength, but the thing that sets him apart is speed and quickness. He’s very athletic and he understands football.”Kruger is one of several players the Utes have plucked out of Utah County in recent years. Kruger says although he grew up around BYU fans, “I grew up a Utah fan, surprisingly.”His father is from New York and his mother lived in Provo and both were athletes at Oregon State (football and track and field).”I always had a great feeling about the coaching staff up here,” Kruger said. “The type of people I met when I came up here were phenomenal. I wouldn’t be anywhere else.”Kruger has three younger brothers, who are all excellent football players. David Kruger is a senior at Timpanogos and being highly recruited nationally.Paul said his brother “loves Utah” and is also considering BYU, Oregon, Colorado, Arizona State and Cal. As for which way his brother is leaning, Kruger said, “I wish I knew.”So what’s the deal with that No. 11 jersey on the defensive line, where usually you see 98s and 99s?”It does look kind of funny,” Kruger said. “It’s always been my favorite number and I wore it in high school. Defensive linemen can wear anything, so I thought I might as well be the number I want to be.”As for Saturday’s game, Kruger says the Utes are still a confident team, and they expect to win. “We’re definitely the underdog — not many people besides us expect us to win,” he said. “But there’s no doubt in our minds that we can win. Our goal is to get a victory in front of the home crowd.” E-mail: [email protected] On the air No. 11 UCLA (2-0) at Utah (0-2)Saturday, 3 p.m., Rice-Eccles StadiumRadio: 700AM, TV: Versus Related Whittingham likes Utes’ effortlast_img

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