Utah Football Named 2021 Capital One Orange Bowl-FWAA Courage Award Winners
The definition of the word "courage" is to show strength in the face of pain, to persevere without fear. The 2021 Utah Football program has been the epitome of courage this season, facing unimaginable loss and adversity, but moving forward and together as a unit.
The Utes have been named the 2021 Capital One Orange Bowl-FWAA Courage Award winners, earning the distinction after coming together as a program with one simple message – to become 22-percent better each and every day.
After what was a season full of hardships due to COVID, the Utes finished the 2020 season on a high note with three straight wins. It was then that tragedy struck.
Just days after he had been named Pac-12 Offensive Freshman of the Year and Freshman All-America, Ty Jordan passed away on the night of Christmas. Fast forward to the start of the 2021 season, the Utes began just 1-2 after dropping two of its first games of the year.
The Utes headed into the game against Washington State with a new goal, and a new vision for the season, beating the Cougars in front of their home fans in Rice-Eccles Stadium. The game was on Sept. 25, and in the early morning hours of Sept. 26, the Utes were given devastating news.
Aaron Lowe, who was best friends with Jordan and had just become the first recipient of the Ty Jordan Memorial Scholarship, had passed away in a senseless tragedy almost nine months to the date of Jordan's death.
The team traveled to Mesquite, Texas, for Lowe's funeral on Monday, Oct. 11, a trip they had already made earlier in the year for Jordan. It was there that Utah's mantra, 22-percent better, came to fruition through cornerbacks coach Sharrieff Shah's message.
"I will be 22-percent better in all capacities that God has placed me in," Shah said. "That was Aaron to all of his brothers that sat here, every single coach that loved him. That was Aaron. So as I sit down, I just want you to remember to please live as Aaron lived. Be infectiously optimistic, not just positive, but infectiously optimistic."
Optimism and passion for the game became obvious as each week passed with the Utah Football program. After starting the season 1-2, the Utes have won nine of their last 10 games, heading to their first-ever Rose Bowl after winning the Pac-12 Championship Game for the first time in program history.
Utah is 10-3 overall this season, which is the fifth 10+ win season under the direction of the Utes' head coach Kyle Whittingham.
The Utes have been consistently ranked among the best in the nation on both sides of the ball, ranking 14th in the FBS in rushing offense, seventh in sacks allowed, 12th in total defense and 11th in both defensive sacks and tackles for loss per game. The Utes are currently one of six Power Five programs (only Pac-12 team) that is ranked in the top 30 in the FBS in scoring offense and scoring defense as well.
"We always tell our guys that adversity will hit at some point, but what matters most is how we respond to it," Whittingham said. "This team has been faced with more adversity than we ever thought possible, and watching our players overcome it and respond to it the way they have has been incredible. The level of unity and love this team has for one another is something special. They define courage, and we are proud to coach them."