SALT LAKE CITY -- In the late 1980s and early '90s, Jody Sears was a walk-on wide receiver at Washington State who became a two-year letter-winner while playing for three different coaches.
Flash forward to today, when Sears, who eventually became a defensive coordinator at Wazzu before becoming the head coach at Weber State, will pit his defense against the offense of one of those coaches, Dennis Erickson, who went on to win two national titles at Miami and be a head coach in the NFL.
Weber State (1-0) and Utah (1-0) kick off at noon in a game that will be televised by the Pac-12 network.
Erickson, now an offensive co-coordinator for the University of Utah, called the plays from the box last week as the Utes defeated Utah State, 30-26. Sears says he sees Erickson's fingerprints all over when he looks at film of Utah.
Now it's cool to have a chance to compete with Erickson all these years after playing for him, Sears said. He's followed Erickson's career and kept in touch with him a handful of times through the years.
"It's very unique. Here I am, 25 years later. My first year with him was in 1987 when he came from Wyoming and to be here in this situation, I'm extremely honored and humbled because I looked up to that man a lot," Sears said.
Sears was hired at Weber State by John L. Smith, who had been a defensive coordinator for Erickson at Idaho, Wyoming and Washington State, though Sears said he didn't need his college coach to pull any strings to get Smith to hire him. Sears was originally hired as the Wildcats' defensive coordinator before becoming the coach after Smith's sudden departure in April 2012.
Sears laughs when asked if he'd rather be facing Division II Fort Lewis -- where Smith is coaching now after leaving Weber State to serve a single season as the interim coach at Arkansas -- than Erickson and a Pac-12 team this week.
"If ifs and buts were candy and nuts, oh what a glorious life we'd have," he joked. "I'm just glad we're playing. I'm glad we're healthy. I'll be honest with you. I'm looking forward to playing Utah. That's an awesome stage, an awesome venue. It's going to be an awesome experience for our kids and I think we can grow a lot more from this experience than maybe playing a Fort Lewis or Dixie or a Division II school. There's more to gain, better competition. ... If we want to make a run and have a chance to win (the Big Sky) Conference, you've got to go on the road and you've got to beat Eastern (Washington) and you've got to beat Montana at their home. Then this ought to give us pretty darn good practice."
Fort Lewis is playing Southern Utah today instead, though there have been discussions about bringing Smith's team to Ogden in a future season.
Though FCS schools have gained a lot of notoriety early this season for knocking off FBS schools, head coach Kyle Whittingham's Utes will be heavily favored today. With Utah State up next, Weber State will be facing in-state FBS rivals in consecutive weeks, a tough schedule that makes the Wildcats' 50-40 win over Stephen F. Austin in Week 1 all the more important.
Whittingham has been using the FCS victories to remind his team to not take WSU lightly.
"I think there were seven or eight (FBS) teams that got beat by (FCS) teams this past weekend, so that certainly will get our players' attention," he said. "Weber's coming off a big win, a lot of offense, rushed the ball extremely well and put up a lot of points so we've got our work cut out for us on defense."
The Wildcats rushed for 315 yards, good for sixth in the FCS after one game, while quarterback Jordan Adamczyk completed 14 of 29 passes for 118 yards and one touchdown.
"To win a college football game, you've got to be able to run the ball, period," Sears said. "I learned that years ago from Dennis Erickson. ... But at the same time, we can't be one dimensional. We've got to be able to have a certain amount of balance and one phase has got to be able to balance the other."
Weber State gave up a lot of points too, and allowed SFA quarterback Brady Attaway to throw for 450 yards and four touchdowns, an area Utah offensive co-coordinators Erickson and Brian Johnson will try to exploit with quarterback Travis Wilson, who threw for 302 yards and two scores against USU.
Weber State is 0-3 against Utah all-time and just 3-48 overall against FBS programs. The Wildcats have lost 25 straight games to upper-division teams.