Former BYU striker Gavin Baxter gets some hits at the University of Utah during a summer free practice session. Baxter moved to Utah after the 2021-22 season. (Utah Athletics)
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SALT LAKE CITY – Wearing red isn’t easy for Gavin Baxter. In a way, he’s still trying to fit in.
The Provo native and Timpview High graduate has always wanted the blue BYU jersey. And for four seasons, Baxter wore those colors with pride as one of the many family members who made BYU their home during their college life.
He worked tirelessly to make BYU the best possible program during his time there after serving a full-time mission for The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. But his last three seasons ended the same: end-of-season injuries.
With BYU on course for what was to be an NCAA tournament season, Baxter’s latest injury seemed to put a wrinkle in those plans as the Cougars struggled with depth in attacking position for the rest of the season. All Baxter could do was watch his time at BYU draw to a close.
A month after the season ended, former BYU assistant Chris Burgess accepted a coaching position on the University of Utah staff, Burgess alma mater, and Baxter entered his name into the transfer portal before following the his coach at his one-time rival school.
It was a decision to look for another opportunity to play, and largely due to Burgess’s move.
“To be honest, if he didn’t come here, I don’t know if I can make the move,” Baxter told KSL.com. “But he’s one of the best developing guys in the country. And for him to make the move, it was a pretty easy decision for me to come in and work with him and keep developing my game.”
Burgess, he said, has the ability to “really break things down and then do it with a level of intensity on the pitch that kids get pushed.” He is a manager who knows a player can improve and sincerely wants to see him do it.
“I think he does a phenomenal job,” added Baxter.
But turning BYU blue for Utah red was still a period of adjustment for Baxter.
“It’s a lot more red, of course, but it’s been a pretty good transition,” said Baxter. “The staff are fantastic, the players are really great and just to get to know everyone and get the ground layout, it wasn’t bad.
“Obviously, it was quite unexpected,” he added. “If I took a snapshot of my life many years ago and saw myself dressed in red, playing Utah, I think it’s a little crazy, but I think it all happens for a reason. Being a Cougar fan forever, I grew up in Provo, you realize it’s a rivalry and all, but in the end it’s just another team down the road and it gave me the opportunity to play another year. “
Baxter has been cleared to train as part of the team’s summer conditioning, he said, but he’s still “a couple of months” away from full contact and ready to adapt to Utah in a game. After three consecutive end-of-season injuries, he’s used to rehab and the work it takes to get back in shape, but the mental side of the game is still in the works, he admitted.
“Yeah, I mean, it’s really frustrating; and more than anything, I think it tested me more mentally than physically,” he said. “You get used to rehab, training and trying to get back into shape, but mentally, I think, is where you really need to stay resilient. So that’s something I had to make sure I was doing.
“For me, I think it’s just a matter of trust. I have to regain my confidence in my body, in my game. And once I bring them back to where they should be, I think the sky is the limit.”
As coach Craig Smith enters his second season at the helm of the program, Baxter’s eventual presence should be a welcome addition, if not just for the depth and experience. But regardless of where Baxter fits on the pitch when the season begins, he hopes to finally get a chance to show off the talent that many were excited about when he joined BYU.
And even though the two teams are still rivals, Baxter said he’s still a guy that BYU fans can cheer for next season.
“I’m a good guy,” he said. “We leave it like this.”
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