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UNFINISHED BUSINESS: The Return of Moss

Over the last three seasons, Utah running back Zack Moss has accumulated 2,651 yards on 477 attempts, scored 23 touchdowns and helped lead the Utes to a resurgent 2018 Pac-12-South title. 

He’s not done just yet.  

Moss’s return means he’ll have a shot to break a litany of program records. His 23 career rushing touchdowns is 12 off the mark set by Del Rodgers in 1981. Eddie Johnson’s career rushing yards record is 3,219 yards while Moss sits 2,651. The single-season record is 1,519 yards (John White, 2011). The individual records are attractive and there’s no doubt that Zack wants them, but his main goals remain larger. 

“I see where this team can go and I definitely want to be a part of it… I want to win a conference championship,” Moss said. “I also want to get my degree. I’d be the first person in my immediate family to get one so that’s really important to me.” 

The team goals Moss speaks of are most definitely realistic. With the entire junior class returning, the Utes run back the majority of their starters from a division title winning team. The Pac-12 South path to Santa Clara runs through Salt Lake City in 2019. 

The Trio 

When he was a junior in high school, Zack Moss to the U was a forgone conclusion. Not the U of U, though. Being a high-profile running back coming out of Dade County, Florida, going to the University of Miami was just the expectation. 

Moss received offers from some of the nation’s top schools including Alabama, Georgia, Wisconsin and, of course, the Hurricanes. He committed to Miami in his junior year, seemingly shutting the proverbial door on his recruitment… seemingly. 

Moss joined two of his closest friends, Tyler Huntley and Demari Simkins, at Hallandale High School for his senior year. Their 2015 numbers make it pretty apparent, the three thrived as Chargers at HHS. Huntley threw for 3,636 yards/42 TD’s, Moss ran for 1,098 yards/17 TD’s and Simkins caught 38 passes for 506 yards/7 TD’s in their final prep school campaign. 

The ending, however, wasn’t a happy one. The Chargers dropped the Florida 5A regional final 51-46 to Bishop Moore High School after Huntley suffered a severe ankle sprain mid-game. The newly dubbed ‘Hallandale Trio’ went out on a somewhat sour note. 

“It hurt to go out like that,” Moss said. “We really wanted to do something special there and I think we would have if everyone stayed healthy. I feel the same way about this year’s [Utah] team.” 

Each of them had opportunities to play at the college level and desired to do it together. Moss knew he wanted a change of scenery and subsequently de-committed from Miami. Into the fold came former Miami national championship winning head coach Dennis Erickson, who was working as an OC for Utah at the time. Erickson gave them an opportunity to play at the power five level while staying together. At Utah, they all felt that they would see the field fairly early and the unfamiliarity was just what Moss wanted. 

Zack grew up with no knowledge of the Utah football program, admitting that the first time he saw them was when former Ute Kaelin Clay made an appearance on SportsCenter’s Not Top 10 against Oregon. After a snowmobiling trip in the Wasatch Mountains, Zack lost any doubt that he may have previously had: “This place is dope.” 

So, Utah it was. The Trio headed 2,500 miles west to Salt Lake City with lofty goals in mind. In 2019, they’ll hope to go out on a better note than they did at Hallandale High. 

ON THE HILL 

It didn’t take long for Moss and his comrades to make noise at the University of Utah. All three of them were earning reps as early as their freshman season. By their sophomore year, each of the Hallandale Trio had started in some capacity. 

For Moss, the early success wasn’t unexpected. 

“We came here to succeed,” Moss said. “We thought that this program gave us the opportunities we needed and it would just be up to us to take advantage. We wouldn’t have come here if we didn’t believe we could do special things.” 

As a freshman, Moss started three games and played in a total of 10 as he backed up Joe Williams. “I think that year helped me out a lot,” Moss said. “I was able to take a backseat and learn a lot from the sideline and from Joe. It was almost like a redshirt year for me.” 

Moss burst onto the scene in his sophomore season, playing in all 13 games and leading the Utes in rushing with 1,173 yards, taking 10 trips to the end zone. He quickly established himself as a legitimate Pac-12 threat and NFL prospect. 

By 2018, Moss had somehow packed on even more muscle and gotten lighter on his feet. He was poised to have another breakout year in an audition for pro scouts. Nine games in, the plan seemed to be right on track. Moss had 179 carries for 1,092 yards thorough nine games before his season ended due to a knee injury. He was ranked third in the conference and seventh in the nation in rushing yards per game (121.3) at the time of the injury. Those numbers were enough to garner Moss Second-team All-Pac-12 honors and the Utes were able to win a division title. The lingering injury, one that originally surfaced in the 2017 season at Oregon, ended Moss’s prolific season. It’s not the finish Zack had envisioned: 

“Everything was clicking perfectly when I went down,” Moss said. “I felt like we were on a roll that no one was going to knock us off of. It sucks that we weren’t all able to finish it together but I guess injuries are just part of the game.” 

He’s right. Injuries are a reality of the game and the Utes experienced plenty of that in 2018. Both Moss and Huntley went down in week 9, forcing Utah to replace 84% of their offensive yardage production. The ‘next man up’ mantra was enough for the team to get a division title and score a historic win over a crosstown rival. It wasn’t enough for real postseason success, though. Utah dropped the conference championship to Washington and lost two more stars, Britain Covey and Chase Hansen, in the process. 

The shorthanded Utes then gave up 28 unanswered second half points and fell 31-20 to Northwestern in the Holiday Bowl. It wasn’t the way Moss saw his final days as a Ute. 

“It was hard to sit out and watch the season end like that,” Moss said. “We definitely have some unfinished business.” 


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