SALT LAKE CITY — Ute football coach Kyle Whittingham and his linebacker son say they avoid talking shop at home. But for cornerbacks coach Sharrieff Shah, and son Sharrieff Jr., that’s not a problem.
It’s a condition.
“My wife knows football never ends in the house; it doesn’t,” the elder Shah says. “It’s just an extension of the field.”
What can a dad do if his son asks during dinner about defending the wildcat formation?
Pass him the coleslaw, of course. Then answer.
So yes, football and life are blended like a fruit smoothie at the Shah house. Where one ends, the other begins. There’s Sharrieff Sr., the coach and former safety who played for the Utes when they were just beginning to attend bowl games. And there’s Sharrieff Jr., the sophomore linebacker who will see rotation and special teams play this year. (He redshirted as a freshman at Utah State in 2012.) There’s also mom, Jennifer, a former basketball player and cheerleader, and 9-year-old Omar, who his dad says “is tough as nails.”
They do indeed talk football. As Dr. Seuss might say, they would talk football in a box, and with a fox, and in a house, and with a mouse; they would talk football here and there; they would talk it anywhere.
“When we’re at dinner, my son will say, ‘Dad, what about this coverage? Can you just tell me what you think?’ and I’m like, ‘OK, here’s what I think ’ and my wife’s like, ‘You listen to your dad ’” Shah says.
For the elder Shah, these are exhilarating days, despite the fact Utah has had consecutive losing seasons. The Eccles Football Center is up, a monument to the school’s commitment to top-shelf athletics. The stadium is full. When he arrived in 1990, the program was just beginning to emerge from decades of disappointment. Under coach Ron McBride, the 1992 team earned a bowl invitation for the first time in 28 years. Shah suffered a career-ending injury three games into his senior season.
But the Utah program was clearly on the move. Starting in 1992, it played in 15 bowl games in 20 years.
“It’s such a blessing to be catapulted, so to speak, into such lofty air,” says the loquacious former attorney. “So now we just have to live up to expectations.”
Right now that isn’t hard. The Utes are picked to finish fifth in the Pac-12 South, ahead of only Colorado. At the same time, positive expectations also exist. The Utes didn’t build their football facility and upgrade the stadium just for the aesthetics.
As Shah puts it, “We have to get back to doing what we’re supposed to do.”
The younger Shah grew up in Utah and played at Juan Diego, where he was part of three championship teams. With a lawyer/coach father and a CEO mother, it’s not like family expectations were minimal. At 6-feet, 217 pounds, he’s small for an NFL prospect. That’s OK. In high school he made the honor roll eight consecutive semesters and says his goal is to be a doctor.
“My father told me I had to be something better than a lawyer,” he says. “Only thing I could think of was a doctor.”
Gumshoe and journalist are also apparently out.
The younger Shah says for now he just loves playing for his dad. His father once told him, “If you want me to leave you alone, and let you enjoy the experience, just ask me,” to which the son replied, “Dad, if you stop, I wouldn’t want to be here. I came here because of you.”
“It made me cry,” says Sharrieff Sr.
So it’s true they will be talking on the sidelines at Thursday’s opener against Idaho State.
“Always,” says Sharrieff the coach. “Always, always, always. I’ll always tell him what I see.”
What he sees right now is a kid who’s going to do nicely, inside and outside football. It’s just what the doctor ordered.
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