Another of Utah's freshman who thrived in 2021, defensive end Van Fillinger blossomed at the end of last season and became a notable contributor down the stretch. Now looking ahead to 2022, Fillinger has a greater understanding of his job and living up to the high expectations the coaching staff has set.
"The last four games of our season is where he came on," Defensive coordinator Morgan Scalley said. "We expect him to make plays. He's not a guy that you're like, 'Ok you're young, you're still coming a long.' He's a guy now that you should expect to make that play. He's done a great job with his body during the offseason. He's gotten stronger, the strength gains are there so we expect a big year."
When you look back at last season, Fillinger really did come into his own towards the end and was an important playmaker in the Pac-12 Championship against Oregon, finishing with a career-high seven tackles. Now with a full season under his belt, Fillinger has been busy working on the small details in order to take his game to the next level.
"I'm really just trying to get better. I got a job on this team and I understand what I need to do every play in order to do my part. If I can do my job at the highest level and push myself to get to the highest level, then I think the plays will come to me. I don't really have goals in terms of sacks or in terms of tackles. It's really just in terms of doing my job, I want to be able to do my job at the highest level and the plays will come to me. So I don't want to set any goals and jinx myself or get emotional about anything. I want to just come to practice with an open mind and just get better."
As Fillinger focuses on elevating his game, an important focal point for this defense during camp will be figuring out who will be playing opposite of him on the other side of the line. While its still an open competition and nothing has been confirmed, Fillinger spoke highly of Stanford-transfer Gabe Reid, his experience and how he can execute at a high level.
"Gabe's good because he does everything the right way. You can tell that, you know, he's been doing everything the right way. Based on just his attitude, he shows up positive. He's always asking questions, always trying to get better. It's good to have a leader like that, a senior that knows what to expect and that has been through the loop before. He just provides us with, what's it called, seniority? Yeah, he gives us a good thing to look at for leadership," Fillinger said.
With just three and a half weeks until Gainesville, guys like Reid, Jonah Ellis, Connor O'Toole and Miki Suguturaga will continue competing for that other starting position. Meanwhile, Fillinger will remain focused on improving his game in preparation for a big sophomore season.
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