Utah Is Quite An Interesting State

Utah can be quite an interesting state if you ever get to visit it in person. Its neighbors of Nevada, Colorado, and Arizona are sometimes more famous, or just more well-traveled, but that does not mean that Utah is the rural desert space that so many assume it to be.

That’s not to say Utah doesn’t have desert, as it certainly does, but that’s not all there is to it. Salt Lake City is certainly not a desert, and it’s most definitely not devoid of people. The area is home to hundreds of thousands in fact. The city is considered somewhat remote, given the hundreds of miles between it and the next largest city, which is Denver by most estimates. However, Salt Lake City is large enough to support an NBA franchise, the Utah Jazz.

Salt Lake City of course sits next to a feature of Utah that few other places in the world can also say they have, which is the combination of Salt Lake itself and the salty flats around it. There’s actually quite a nice beach here, despite being so far from any continental coast. The flats are also famous places for races and land-speed records, as well as the occasional movie that gets filmed here.

The rest of the state is far from sand. Vast forests, canyons, mountain slopes, and epic valleys provide some of the nation’s best hunting, camping, skiing, rafting, and snowboarding. Utah is an outdoor enthusiast’s dream, and many flock here every time they get a chance to, even sometimes entire summers. Of those that do so, a hardy few choose to stay permanently, joining this state as lifetime residents.

Given the easy access Utah residents have to other Western states and their magnificence, it’s no wonder residents love it here.

Utah’s Orbit brings high-tech to summer lawn maintenance

Laura Seitz, Deseret News

NORTH SALT LAKE — Being able to control his home irrigation system from his smartphone saved Riverton resident Greg Palmer from a sad ending to his family vacation last year.

While out of town, he received notice that the secondary water system from which he draws would only be available on certain days of the week. On his old, timer-based system, Palmer’s lawn would likely have withered to brown. But, thanks to a computer-controlled, climate-based irrigation system he had purchased from Utah’s Orbit Irrigation Products, Palmer was able to make a quick and easy adjustment.

"I pulled up the app on my phone, reset the system for the days that my neighborhood was scheduled for, and that was it," Palmer said. "Without the change, my yard would have just burned up. When we got home, the grass looked great."

And the B-Hyve system that Palmer installed last spring not only makes monitoring and tweaking a breeze thanks to a user-friendly phone app, the digital brains behind the controller help conserve the Beehive State’s most precious resource — water.

Brad Wardle, Orbit’s director for the B-Hyve system and digital products, said the controller accounts for multiple lawn and landscape characteristics and incorporates real-time weather condition reports, via a National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration satellite, to optimize results for users. He also noted the system captures the company’s 40-plus years of knowledge and experience in innovating irrigation solutions.

"Every yard is a microclimate," Wardle said. "With B-Hyve, you’re accounting for soil type, slope, sun exposure and changing weather conditions. It makes all the adustments for you.

B-Hyve not only ensures your lawn looks great, but the savings in water use are significant."

Wardle said his company’s smart controller can garner as much as a 50 percent reduction in water use. Using older, timer-based systems, he said it’s typical for users to schedule an every-other-day cycle, which leads to about 92 watering days in a typical Utah summer. B-Hyve’s climate-reactive system carves about half those waterings out, making adjustments for recent rainfall as well as having the ability to put scheduled waterings on hold if precipitation is in a near forecast. Later, it will even account for a make-up watering if rainfall is sparce. And, with an average residential watering cycle consuming about 2,000 gallons, the conservation factor is significant.

"We estimated that the B-Hyve system captured 1.1 billion gallons of water savings in its first year on the market," Wardle said.

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Utah State University professor Kelly Kopp, who specializes in turfgrass irrigation efficiency and smart irrigation systems, said technological advancements captured in new, computer-controlled watering systems are a boon to conservation efforts.

"The idea of scheduling irrigation on local conditions and local weather is absolutely sound and a great way to conserve water," Kopp said. "When we schedule irrigation without accounting for local weather conditions, we’re just guessing and we tend to guess high."

Kopp is currently engaged in a research project assessing the efficacies of smart irrigation systems like the B-Hyve and said the systems are part of a larger trend of connected, intelligent home management systems that help optimize resource use.

"The latest iteration of smart irrigation systems has brought them into the realm of the internet of things," Kopp said. "These are akin to internet-connected and controllable devices like thermostats and lighting controllers. Like those, there’s a great potential for improving how we consume limited resources."

Stuart Eyring, Orbit’s chief operating officer, said that conservation element has been at the heart of his company’s guiding principles for developing new products.

"Our motto has been conservation through innovation," Eyring said. "And now we have the technology online to make that an easy and affordable reality."

Eyring also noted the company is dominating market share for residential irrigation systems and components and has additional new products in the pipeline aimed at increasing its offerings in what he describes as a "Smart Yard" program.

Kopp, who in addition to her academic work at USU is also a board member and past president of the Utah Water Conservation Forum, said numerous Utah water districts have worked to encourage residents to upgrade their irrigation systems to smart controllers through rebate programs — an effort she supports.

"Rebate programs are a great way to get people thinking about what they can do to reduce their water usage," Kopp said. "We’re not talking a huge amount of money, but if a cost offset is incentivizing people to do something to help save water, I think it’s worth it."

Another incentive, according to Orbit executives, is how the phone-based B-Hyve app improves users’ engagement with, and interest in, how their home irrigation systems are functioning. Eyring said the company closely monitors customer feedback and not only uses the information to make tweaks and upgrades to their products, but learns what is working well for users.

"One of the really interesting things that we’ve observed from customers that are using the B-Hyve system is the level of emotional engagement with their yard increases dramatically," Eyring said. "The old system is, turn it on in the spring and turn it off in the fall. With B-Hyve there is regular and very personal interaction with the system. It really makes them smart waterers."

Palmer’s experience with maintaining his ¼-acre lot in Riverton using the B-Hyve-controlled irrigation system seems to support that assessment.

"I’m on the app all the time and I love it," Palmer said. "I’ve played around with the different zones in my yard and have been able to really customize my cycles to make it work perfectly for my yard."

To learn more about water conservation strategies and see a list of rebate programs that may be available in your area, visit https://conservewater.utah.gov/

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Salt Lake Bees GM learned his trade doing everything for the old Salt Lake Golden Eagles

(Leah Hogsten | The Salt Lake Tribune) Salt Lake Bees general manager Marc Amicone, left, can be seen most game nights greeting fans at the ballpark.

Marc Amicone pieced together a minor-league hockey team that won a championship, and the opposing owner was not pleased.

The Muskegon (Mich.) Lumberjacks’ Larry Gordon, a longtime hockey executive who once signed Wayne Gretzky, muttered about losing the Adams Cup to “a baseball guy who doesn’t even know how to skate.”

The description was fairly accurate then and now. Amicone, a former baseball player for Granger High School and the University of Utah, is the vice president/general manager of the Salt Lake Bees. Yet his sports management career started in hockey, with a college internship that turned into a nine-year stay with the Salt Lake Golden Eagles.

“I had so much fun,” he said. “You made very little money, [but] it didn’t matter.”

In his early 20s, Amicone made a lasting impression on his co-workers. Mark Kelly remembers a colleague who “flew right by me” in the sports business. And he’s the same guy as ever, someone “who did a lot of listening and not a lot of talking,” Kelly said.

As an intern, Amicone was featured in the Eagles’ 1980 highlight video, carrying champagne into the locker room as the team celebrated a Central Hockey League championship. Amicone worked in an era when the Eagles’ following was comparable to the Utah Jazz’s in the Salt Lake Valley, as strange as that seems now. In those days, “We were really the big dog in town,” Amicone said.

Not that his job was easy after the internship led to a full-time position as one of five administrative employees working for owner Art Teece. With the impressive-sounding title of promotions/sales director, Amicone would take $5 ticket vouchers around town. An average day? “Walk around for three or four hours, and be told, ‘No, no, no,’” he said. “I’d either go back to the office or say to heck with it and go play golf.”

Then came the triumphant day when an engineering firm near Decker Lake bought 20 tickets, launching Amicone toward an eventual promotion to general manager during a tenure that included the usual adventures of minor-league sports.

BASEBALL/SOFTBALL TIES • Marc Amicone has worked in three sports operations in Salt Lake City for 38 years, with each job stemming from his baseball or fastpitch softball playing days. After his University of Utah baseball career ended, he played for the Yates Industrial Park softball team, managed by Salt Lake Golden Eagles general manager Chuck Schell. That connection led to Amicone joining the Eagles as an intern in 1979. • In 1975, after Amicone graduated from Granger High School, Chris Hill had become Granger’s basketball coach and worked with Kent Norris, who was Amicone’s baseball coach. Soon after Hill became the University of Utah’s athletic director in 1987, he hired Amicone in a marketing role. • Amicone spent 16 years at Utah, then Larry H. Miller — his former softball teammate with Engh Floral — bought Salt Lake’s Triple-A baseball franchise and hired him as general manager in 2005.

Amicone secured a Larry H. Miller Toyota sponsorship of a fans’ puck shoot between periods for the use of a car. The contest required a shot from the opposite blue line (140 feet away) into a hole barely bigger than the puck. One fan succeeded, and Tony Divino, the dealership’s operations manager, attended a game a few weeks later to award the prize. That night, with Divino watching, another fan hit the shot. “And it never happened again, ever,” Amicone said.

The Eagles’ attendance peak came in 1981-82, when they averaged 6,927 fans as the Central Hockey League’s two-time defending champions. The Jazz, a losing NBA team in their third season in town, drew 7,665 fans.

The CHL folded in 1984, and joining the International Hockey League, based in the East, meant the Eagles would subsidize opponents’ travel. The franchise never really recovered financially. Yet the Eagles won two IHL championships, including the 1987 title over Muskegon with a roster partly stocked by the NHL’s Calgary Flames and partly by coach Wayne Thomas, with Amicone managing the player payroll and negotiating deals.

(Leah Hogsten | The Salt Lake Tribune) Salt Lake Bees general manager Marc Amicone is pictured in 1986 with the Salt Lake Golden Eagles hockey team. Amicone is the third person from the right in the front row.

His stories of “trading a player or two for hockey sticks” might be true. “We didn’t have any money,” Amicone said. “We lived from week to week a lot of times.”

He learned to how to market the team with a billboard here or there and a strategy of hoping people would come. The Eagles’ attendance dropped off markedly in the new league, as interest in the Jazz surged in the late ’80s, and the hockey team struggled to stay in business.

The Eagles kept winning. But contrary to Teece’s longheld belief, success in the rink or ballpark doesn’t always drive attendance in minor-league sports. When he moved to the University of Utah athletic department in 1988, Amicone had four championship rings and was a two-time IHL executive of the year.

Amicone had a tough time telling Teece he was leaving the Eagles, even though he always wanted to work for the University of Utah and got his chance shortly after Chris Hill became the Utes’ athletic director in 1987. Teece sold the Eagles to Larry H. Miller in 1989, and Miller sold the team to a Detroit group five years later.

All that’s missing from Amicone’s baseball career is the part he really can’t control as a minor-league operator – winning a league championship. The Bees are in the PCL race this summer, though, so Amicone may become part of another title celebration in September.

ABOUT THE SERIES “First Jobs” is an occasion series detailing an early segment in the careers of notable Utah sports figures. Today: Marc Amicone, vice president/general manager, Salt Lake Bees.
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‘Baby bear’ could have impact on Utah defensive line if he realizes how ‘ferocious’ he can be

Laura Seitz, Deseret News

SALT LAKE CITY — Leki Fotu cried when his mother told him she’d signed him up for rugby. The teen, who’d just moved to Utah, wanted to focus on his first love — football.

“I thought rugby would help him develop, be more aggressive and more confident so that he can face the opponent,” said Toakase Fotu of her son, who became an All-American in the sport at age 14. “In Little League, he was the biggest kid on the field. But the offense would come running, and he would move away. … He was scared.” Needless to say, this made him the object of teasing — especially from his two older brothers.

But Toakase knew why her son responded the way he did, and she hoped rugby could give him the edge he needed without crushing his tender heart.

“He’s not a mama’s boy, he’s a grandma’s boy,” she said giggling. “My mom was spoiling him with her love and attention. She’s all about Leki. They’d sleep together, play together, sit together. He’s always had long hair; we never cut it. My mom would sit and comb and brush it and braid it. … His siblings would say, ‘You’re soft! You’re a girl!’”

His mother decided to sign him up for rugby the year before he started high school, but he didn’t want to play. She put him on the phone with his grandmother, Manu Mahe, who lives in San Francisco. “He’s had this bond that develop around Grandma since the day he was born,” she said. “I see him sitting there crying, tears running down his eyes, but he listens to my mom. He played rugby, and the coaches loved him. … After rugby, he became a mature young man.”

Toakase has four sons, and she said the 6-foot-5, 323-pound sophomore defensive lineman is not like his brothers.

“It’s very easy to describe Leki because he’s totally different from the other three,” she said, pointing out that he’s always been concerned about others, especially his mother and grandmother. “When we moved here to Utah, Leki was more like a big brother to everybody. He doesn’t think about himself. That’s just who he is.” That selflessness made him a great teammate, but his physical abilities and attributes made him a unique talent.

“I knew he was special,” said his high school coach, Herriman’s Dustin Pearce. “I’ve never had a player that big move that well. He moved from spot to spot faster than some of my skill kids. He’s a superior athlete, and it’s not a coincidence that he’s where he’s at.”

Utah defensive coordinator Morgan Scalley said the sophomore, who is listed as Utah’s backup left tackle on the fall camp’s first depth chart, isn’t aware of how powerful he is.

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“He’s like a baby bear,” Scalley said during spring camp. “He doesn’t know how ferocious he can be. Once he figures it out, I feel very bad for offensive linemen.”

Soft-spoken and a little shy, Fotu doesn’t have a lot to say about himself. In fact, when asked to grade his improvement in the last year on a scale of one to 10, he wasn’t very generous.

“I’m nowhere near a 10 right now,” he said. “Compared to last year, I do think my technique has gotten way better, but that’s just thanks to the older guys, just being around them. But compared to last year, I’d say I went from a one to a five or six …No, maybe a four or five.”

Fotu said the only reason he’s made any improvement is become of the older players on the team, especially the team’s seniors — Filipo Mokofisi (whom he backs up heading into fall camp), Lowell Lotulelei and Kylie Fitts.

“I really look up to our three seniors,” he said. “Just their leadership and their experience, just the examples they set for us, not only on the field, but off the field too.”

Fotu said his only goal is to get better. He shakes his head when asked about winning a starting spot or trying to challenge any season or school sack records. In fact, he’s reluctant to even contemplate the possibility of an NFL future, even in the wake of Utah’s massive success in putting linemen in the NFL.

“I don’t really want to pay attention to any of that,” he said. “I’m just here to do what they ask me to do. Whatever happens, happens.”

Pearce said Fotu has always been the kind of player who puts the team first.

“I kind of looked at him as the silent assassin,” Pearce said. “He didn’t ever have very much to say. He’s very polite, very humble. He wanted no recognition. He’s a true team guy and very coachable.”

Toakase said that Leki chooses to live at home so he can use his housing allowance to help his family. And he isn’t just working hard on the football field. He’s made the dean’s list in his freshman year at the U.

“I’m so thankful to heaven that they put a good brain in my son,” she said, pointing out that Leki doesn’t even turn 19 until late August. “When the hype is high, he is calm. He knows how to handle the situation, the pressure.”

In fact, when she gets anxious or worried, it’s her son who calms her down.

“When I start asking him questions about this or that, he says, ‘Mom, are you reading the paper?’” she laughes. “He really respects his team, his coaches, and he loves the school.”

Scalley said Fotu has made progress thanks to that hard work.

“Last year I don’t think he could bench 225 pounds one time,” he said. “So he’s come a long way. Doug (Elisaia, Utah’s strength and conditioning coach) has done a great job with him. He’s gotten much stronger, and he’s getting more confident.”

And while Leki Fotu works hard to get on the field and earn his degree, his loudest, proudest cheerleader does her part. “My mom is 74, but when she’s here, she comes to my kids’ games since they were little,” Toakase said. “When we went to the Ute walk, I was scared because the elevation here is different, but my mom was walking fast. We sit at the top because Leki is a freshman, but my mom (doesn’t) care, she cheered for Leki, even though he’s standing on the side most of the time.”

Everyone hopes to see more of Fotu on the field this season. So how does one teach a baby bear just how ferocious he can be?

“A baby bear learns it by getting scraped up once in a while,” Scalley said smiling. “All of a sudden tasting blood for the first time. We’ve got to get him to taste blood for the first time, and then, you know, he’ll really like it.”

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Utah football: 4 storylines going into fall camp

SALT LAKE CITY — Football is back this week with the University of Utah kicking off fall camp on Friday.

Fall camp comes a week earlier this year after the NCAA adopted a new policy in April that eliminates two-a-day practices, citing safety reasons. The change allows for an extra week of practices to make up for the lost time.

Utah is heading into its seventh season in the Pac-12 with significant turnover for both its offensive and defensive teams. The university had a record eight players drafted to the NFL, including first-round pick Garett Bolles. As a result, Utah has only a few weeks to put together an effective starting unit.

The following are four storylines coming into this year’s fall camp.

It’s the offense, stupid!

This feels like a perennial storyline coming into each season. The problem is the offense continues to find ways to beat itself each season while only marginally improving. Production has been limited and games are blown after the offense stalls. Could this be the year things change?

New offensive coordinator Troy Taylor seemingly embodies the type of offense Kyle Whittingham has spoken about wanting over the years — a multifaceted, quick offense that can hurt defense with deep routes while hashing it with a strong running game. But with essentially new personnel in almost every position, is it too much to ask for a renewed offensive strategy in Taylor’s first season?

One plus in Taylor’s corner is that he is a bona fide quarterback coach, having played and coached the position, and can give the position a much-needed boost, particularly in helping his players understand defensive schemes. Incumbent starter, Troy Williams, will battle it out for the starting role his senior season against guys more than capable of replacing him.

Sophomore Tyler Huntley, who showed off his skills in last season’s Foster Farms Bowl, and Alabama transfer Cooper Bateman will each get equal reps to start camp. Williams is expected to remain the starter, but a new offensive coordinator and scheme may suit the skill set of someone like Huntley better.

Once again, all the attention will be on the quarterback.

University of Utah football offensive coordinator Troy Taylor in Salt Lake City on Friday, Jan. 20, 2017. (Photo: Jeffrey D. Allred, Deseret News)
Building an offensive wall

Although the quarterback position will garner most of the attention in fall camp, the least talked about position group — the offensive line — could be the most integral to Utah’s overall success this season. The only returning starter is right tackle Salesi Uhatafe, who was previously at right guard.

Slated to start in the four remaining positions are Jackson Barton at left tackle, Darrin Paulo at left guard, Lo Falemaka at center and junior college transfer Jordan Agasiva at right guard. Of this group, Barton and Falemaka have the most experience on the line at Utah, but in limited minutes.

Agasiva was a highly talked about recruit and could make a significant impact to the line, but time will tell. Whittingham will put the five best players out on the field and will likely change up the positions in camp to find the best fit. Don’t be surprised to see some movement in this position group.

Production in the secondary

Never question the defense under Whittingham and his talented coaches Morgan Scalley and Sharrieff Shah. But can that continue to hold? The secondary lost nearly everybody last season, with safety Chase Hansen as the lone starter in the backfield.

Hansen will undoubtedly continue to be an impressive player as he thwarts opposing offenses, but he’s only one man. Junior college transfer Corrion Ballard is expected to provide a big boost at free safety but is inexperienced in Division I football. In spring, Ballard delivered hard hits and appeared seasoned for the role, but the competition in Pac-12 play is steep with little room for error.

The cornerback and nickelback position will be the most questionable aspect of the defense coming into camp, solely from the lack of starting experience with the group. Utah lists Julian Blackmon and Nygel King as potential starters for the right corner and Casey Hughes, Tyrone Smith and Jaylon Johnson as potential starters for left corner.

Players coming off injury

Utah had a spell of injuries last season, taking out key players for much of last season due to season-ending injuries. However, several of those players will return this fall as they look to resume starting spots.

Defensive end Kylie Fitts, tight end Siale Fakailoatonga and running back Armand Shyne each return to the lineup as projected starters for their respective roles. Fitts should continue to be the disruptor of opposing offenses, but Fakailoatonga and Shyne don’t quite have a guaranteed starting spot coming into camp.

Shyne was starting to make a name for himself last season, rushing for 373 yards and four touchdowns, but suffered a season-ending injury. Shyne was a strong runner and seemed capable of taking the most reps, but Zack Moss and Devonta’e Henry-Cole, who had a strong spring, will look to earn minutes as well.

Fakailoatonga was the projected starter coming into last season, but a season-ending injury sidelined him all season. Utah’s offense could be boosted by a strong tight end and should find some success should Fakailoatonga be able to resume his role.

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