After leading the Pac-12 in sacks and earning first-team all-conference honors, Bradlee Anae had a choice to make.
The 2016 Kahuku alumnus was eligible for the NFL Draft after his junior season, but felt he had some unfinished business to attend to at Utah.
One of two players representing the Utes at Pac-12 Media Day in California on Wednesday, Anae spoke for a Utah team picked to win the conference this year in a vote by media covering the league.
Utah received 33 of 35 votes to win the South Division over Southern California and earned one more vote than Oregon and three more votes than defending champion Washington to win the Pac-12 Championship game in December.
The Utes won seven of their final eight games last season to advance to the title game but lost to the Huskies 10-3 in Santa Clara, Calif.
Anae, who had six tackles against UW, admitted he has thought about that game a lot since.
“It stuck with me when it was fresh just like a fresh wound would but it was definitely motivation for us,” Anae said in an interview on the Pac-12 Network. “Especially for us seniors that’s not how we wanted to go out with two losses (including the bowl game) … (The) decision to come back had a lot to do with unfinished business.”
A first-team All-State defensive end his senior year at Kahuku, Anae chose to follow his sister, Adora, who played volleyball for the Utes, to Utah over offers from Brigham Young, Oregon State, Vanderbilt and Virginia.
He played six games as a true freshman and was a starter by the middle of his sophomore season and has been an impact player since. He’s led the Utes in sacks in each of the last two years and his 15.5 tackles for loss tied for third-best in the conference last year.
“Bradlee has really grown up since he has gotten into our program,” Utah coach Kyle Whittingham said in a Pac-12 Network interview. “He came as a 220-pound freshman fresh out of high school and he’s really become a leader and the type of player we thought had an extremely high ceiling. Through sheer hard work and determination he’s developed into that guy we thought he would be and we’re looking for a big senior year out of him.”
The Utes are in unfamiliar territory after reaching their first Pac-12 title game since joining the conference in 2011. They had never been picked to win their division until now and had a conference-best five players selected to the preseason All-Pac-12 first team, including four on defense.
Anae was well aware the expectations are high for the program this season.
“We know we have a lot of guys who are praised a lot by the media and what not, but I think a lot of guys on the defense we share the same mentality whether we are underdogs or guys people would love to compete against and play,” Anae said. “It never changes. Everybody wants to try to better their game especially in the offseason. We share that mentality of always trying to get better.”
Anae is one of five players who graduated from high school in Hawaii on the Utes roster.
>> Malik Haynes, a 2015 Kahuku alum, played two seasons at Ventura College before walking on at Utah and is now a senior defensive end.
>> Miki Suguturaga, a 2017 Punahou alumnus, is a freshman defensive end of serving a two-year church mission.
>> Mika Tafua, a 2015 Kamehameha graduate, originally signed with Brigham Young out of high school but enrolled at Utah after serving a two-year church mission and played in 11 games with six starts and made 23 tackles as a redshirt freshman last year.
>> Another Kahuku alumnus, Keala Santiago, a junior defensive back who began his career at Hawaii before transferring, sat out last year due to the transfer rule and has two years to play two now that he is eligible.