HOLLYWOOD, California — When Utah coach Kyle Whittingham introduced defensive end Nate Orchard at Pac-12 media days, he described the senior as a “big-time player” and then some.
“He’s a big-play guy as well,” Whittingham said. “ ... He’ll have his degree in December, finishing up his academics right after his senior year.”
Whittingham added that Orchard never redshirted. The former Highland High star was thrown right into the mix.
Since joining the Utes in 2011, Orchard hasn’t missed a game. He’s appeared in 37 contests — making 102 tackles (54 solo) with 17 1/2 stops behind the line of scrimmage, seven pass deflections, 6 1/2 sacks, five forced fumbles and four fumble recoveries.
The numbers, though, aren’t enough to satisfy the 6-foot-4, 225-pound Orchard.
“I personally don’t think I’ve been that effective. I feel like I could have done more in so many ways,” he said. “I look over film the last year and previous years and it’s frustrating to watch.”
Orchard is his own worst critic.
“There’s so much I could do better,” he explained. “I know I could be a better player and so I’m hard on myself.”
As Orchard enters his final season with the Utes, he’s got a definite goal for improvement in mind.
“I want to be unpredictable on a week-to-week basis because I didn’t do a good job over the last couple of years kind of camouflaging what my opponent should expect of me,” Orchard said. “So I just want to bring something different out of the box this year and surprise them in different ways.”
That, however, may be a tall order. Orchard has stepped up big since becoming a starter at left end. In 2012, he forced a fumble, recovered it and returned it for a touchdown against USC. In last season’s upset of fifth-ranked Stanford, Orchard was named Athlon National Defensive Player of the Week after forcing two fumbles and recording two sacks against the Cardinal.
Despite the success, Orchard insists he can do better — a lot better.
“Maybe I could be better if Coach Whit threw me the ball. I don’t know,” he joked. “I feel like I’m where I need to be mentally but physically I know I could do a lot more.”
Orchard does, however, feel like he’s definitely progressed during his time at Utah.
“Coming in my freshman year I started off at the bottom of the totem pole and worked my way up to the top,” Orchard said. “A lot of guys guided and mentored me and paved the way for me.”
Orchard mentioned Star Lotulelei, Tevita Finau, Derrick Shelby and Trevor Reilly as very influential guys on and off the field. He’s especially grateful for the latter, which he said has kind of molded him into the father (Orchard and wife, Maegan, have a daughter Katherine) and player that he is today.
Now, Orchard feels as if the baton for Utah’s defensive line has been handed to him. With Reilly moving on to the NFL, Orchard considers himself the old man and dad on the team.
“I feel like that’s me even though I’m 21 years old,” he said. “I feel like I’ve seen and been through it all.”
As for a future in the NFL, Orchard acknowledged he’s looking forward to it. However, it’s not what drives him. He’s more interested in laying down a legacy for his family, so they’ll know his priorities.
“I’m more excited to graduate in December and get my degree in economics and kind of go from there because education is the most important thing to me,” Orchard said. “Football will only take you so far and I try not to bank on it too much.”
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