Freshman safety Eric Rowe never had the luxury of coming into the program and taking a year to make the transition from high school to college in every aspect of life or to learn the system. Instead of the normal freshman progression, Rowe had high expectations placed on him from day one.
With one day left in camp, he seems to be living up to them. After a slow first week of camp, Rowe has come on strong in week two with an interception nearly every day of practice and clamping down on Ute receivers incessantly.
Rowe's situation should look familiar to Ute fans. Brian Blechen came into the program under similar circumstances as Rowe last year, and was expected to contribute early while making the normal freshman transition and having to learn the complicated safety position on top of it.
Not a true safety, Blechen was also quickly out-growing the position, making him better suited to play linebacker in 2011. That left yet another hole open in the safety position, applying more pressure to Rowe as well as incoming JUCO transfer Keith McGill and converted corner to safety, Michael Walker.
With so many expectations, the pressure could have been overwhelming for the Texas native, but Rowe says he hasn't felt any.
"No one ever put any pressure on me. Everyone just let me ease into it when they were teaching me and no one said you have to do this and this and this," Rowe said. "They let me ease into it, which made it better, a better situation for me to learn the defense."
In terms of early playing time or earning a starting spot, Rowe was confident in his abilities and wanted to earn both, but it was never the primary focus, or goal.
"All I was thinking was that I would work hard. My high school coach always told me to work hard, and to work for what you want," Rowe explained. "So when I got here, that was the first thought in my mind. Work hard, then try to make my reps count as a freshman, I didn't really know what else I could do. If I did that, I believed I had the ability. So if I did that, I believed it was something that could happen."
Apparently, Greg Bird is to young safeties as Chaz Walker and Matt Martinez are to young linebackers. Bird, who has mentored redshirt sophomore Quade Chappuis and Michael Walker has also taken in Rowe and fellow freshman Texan Joseph Bryant.
"The playbook was very confusing to me when I got here. It actually had my mind turning at times. I didn't know which way I was going at times," admitted Rowe. "Actually, Greg Bird has helped me a lot. He walked me through it and we got in our play books every night. So Bird, and Quade [Chappuis] both really helped pull me along. Without them, I don't know where I'd be with this playbook."
With things going well on the field, Rowe is adjusting to life in Salt Lake City. Coming from Texas, everything about Utah is a huge departure. The change however is a huge positive.
"Coming from Texas, I've never seen Polynesians. I only thought they were in Hawaii until I came out here," Rowe admitted with a grin. "Since I've been out here, I've made a bunch of friends, so I'm actually learning their culture a little bit. I've learned a little bit of their language and they say I have to try the food, so I guess that's next for me."
Besides taking in some of the cultural differences, Rowe has also enjoyed taking in the view of the Wasatch Mountains, which border Salt Lake City to the East.
"The city, the mountains, I've never been around mountains, or this kind of weather before, so it all very different, but I really like it," said Rowe of his impressions of Salt Lake. "All of it was a factor in my decision to come."
Another very big factor was his position coach, Morgan Scalley, and the position group he'd be joining.
"When I came up here for a camp, I saw the way Coach Scalley coached, and I really loved it. I knew then that I wanted to play for him. Then when I saw the safety group on my visit, I saw them and they seemed like they had been friends forever," said Rowe. "It made me feel like I wanted to be part of that. Especially knowing I was going to be far away from home, coming from Texas. I felt that would be a huge positive for me."
Rowe hasn't missed a beat so far. He is battling for a starting position as a true freshman, has been taken into the family that is Utah football. He's also learned to speak their language.
"We all know what we can bring to the table. With all the people questioning the secondary, all I can say is, if you got to know us, saw us, you would know there's no questions in the secondary." Rowe proclaimed.