Time for Utah's Hunter Dimick to make superhero transition

SALT LAKE CITY — From Robin to Mini-Me to Igor to Kato to Chewbacca, history has been filled with great sidekicks. Sports, too. There’s Scottie Pippen, Mark Messier, Tony Parker, Rocky Bleier, etc.

Last year, Utah sophomore defensive end Hunter Dimick ranked ninth in the nation in sacks per game. But he was almost an afterthought, as sidekicks often are, to All-American Nate Orchard, who led the nation in sacks per game and won the Hendricks Award as the nation’s best defensive end.

Orchard is off to the NFL, as are many of the Pac-12’s panoply of defensive superstars from 2014. Just four of the 14 front-seven players to make first-team or second-team All-Pac-12 are back in 2015, and only Arizona linebacker Scooby Wright returns to represent the first-team.

So there is an opportunity for Dimick, a guy with no obvious holes in his game who won honorable mention all-conference honors in 2014, to doff the “Holy Pimento Cheese!” sidekickery of a Robin and become a full-fledged, top-of-the-marquee Dark Knight. Yet when a reporter presents the notion to him, practically calling upon an angelic chorus to celebrate the transition, Dimick, well, shrugs.

“If I’m the guy who takes up more attention that will just free up more people to be successful,” Dimick said. “I’ll probably be redundant when I say I want to have a successful season as a team more than anything else.”

Dimick’s superstar strut, suffice it to say, needs some work.

When you ask Dimick what he was most happy about last season, when he recorded 10 sacks, 14.5 tackles for a loss and two forced fumbles, he says he was most happy to earn a starting spot. When you ask him about the NFL, the 6-foot-3, 266 pounder with vice-like hands pretty much blushes.

“I don’t even dare hope for that,” he said. “We’ll see. If that happens, that would be beyond a dream come true. I’ll just keep working and see where that takes me.”

Obviously when it comes to talking about Dimick, Dimick isn’t necessarily the best place to go. Coach Kyle Whittingham fortunately is willing to help out. He said the key for Dimick is to keep doing what he’s been doing, which is working hard and being relentless.

“There’s not any facet of his game that is lacking,” Whittingham said. “He just needs to continue getting better. He’s tough against the run. He sets the edge of the defense for us. He’s a relentless pass-rusher. Excellent with his technique, his hands. He’s developed another move or two off the edge with his pass rush.”

Sure, Whittingham admits, Dimick benefited from having Orchard opposite him. But so did Orchard find the going easier — see 18.5 sacks — because Dimick couldn’t be ignored.

“It wasn’t like without Nate he would have been a no-factor,” Whittingham said. “This is Hunter’s year to be even more than a factor than he was last year.”

And Dimick won’t be a wagyu rib eye surrounded by hamburger on the Utes defense, which should have one of the saltiest front-sevens in the Pac-12. Fellow ends Jason Fanaika and Pita Taumoepenu combined for 10.5 sacks last season and UCLA transfer Kylie Fitts has been one of the stars of spring practices. With a strong assortment of beef inside, the Utes, who led the nation in sacks a year ago, should be pretty hard on opposing quarterback.

There is one topic that lights up Dimick: His hometown of Syracuse, Utah — "Gateway to Antelope Island” — a community of 27,000 25 miles north of Salt Lake City where he grew up a Utes fan and became its first FBS football star.

“Sunny Syracuse, man! We got a Wal-Mart when I was in junior high,” he exclaimed. “That was a pretty huge deal. We’re kind of on the map now.”

[Cue “The Good, the Bad and the Ugly” Music] “Hunter Dimick, The Man from Syracuse … coming to a stadium near you.”