One of the core values of the Utah football program is that its players should, specifically, be free of driving-under-the-influence charges.
Yet, the No. 20 Utes’ leading receiver — one of the people Stanford will need to contain Saturday night — had a DUI a little more than three months ago. But Darren Carrington II wasn’t on the roster then. He was still an Oregon student.
Willie Taggart, the Ducks’ new head coach, was eager to change the football culture in Eugene. That meant there was no place for Carrington, who had been involved in other negative incidents at the school.
He was suspended for the national title game after the 2014 season against Ohio State because, according to NBC Sports, he failed an NCAA drug test. He had an open-container violation in September 2015. According to the Oregonian, he was at one time accused of breaking the arm of an Oregon graduate, although he wasn’t charged.
As a graduate transfer, Carrington was able to play for Utah immediately, once both universities agreed to the move and the Pac-12 faculty representatives’ committee waived the intra-conference transfer penalty.
Utah head coach Kyle Whittingham said at the Pac-12 media days that he felt Carrington was “worthy of a second chance. He has the right attitude and right mentality for that.” Some critics felt it was hypocritical of him to take the All-Pac-12 player while claiming his program was built on discipline.
It’s highly unlikely, they pointed out, that the coach would have accepted him if he hadn’t been a strong NFL prospect. Doug Robinson of the Deseret News wrote, “It’s not a second chance; it’s more like a fourth chance.”
Whittingham said he had to determine “whether or not it’s worth trying to save somebody.” Salt Lake Tribune columnist Kurt Kragthorpe scoffed at that: “What he shouldn’t do is describe the transaction as a humanitarian act.”
The arrangement, Kragthorpe argues, was “a business deal between a coach and a player who need each other. Carrington is coming to Utah’s campus as a pair of hired hands.”
In a phone interview this week, Carrington said the people who criticized Utah for accepting him “don’t really know me. We’re all college kids and make mistakes. I don’t think a kid’s dream should be taken away because of a mistake.”
Taggart “didn’t know me. He never really talked to me. Coach Whit is a great coach. I don’t understand how people can hate on Coach Whit.”
When he was dismissed from the Ducks, Carrington said, he never thought his college career was over. “I talked to God a lot,” he said. “I asked God for another chance.”
Several other schools called him after his Oregon dismissal, he said, including Arizona, Arizona State, Washington State and Central Florida.
His new Utah teammates accepted him enthusiastically, he said. “That was cool to see because we beat them last year.”
Carrington played a key role in that game, making a spectacular game-winning touchdown catch in the corner of the end zone with two seconds left and Oregon trailing the No. 12 Utes by four points.
Carrington’s father is a retired San Diego Chargers safety, and his sister, DiJonai, plays basketball at Stanford.
In his first game with Utah, he had 10 catches for 127 yards and a touchdown in a win over North Dakota. He leads the Pac-12 in receiving yards per game (121.2) and is tied for sixth in the nation.
Stanford head coach David Shaw said he had no objection to Utah taking a player who was kicked off another conference team as long as the two universities — “not just the football programs” — agreed to it.
“If everybody’s comfortable with the situation, then I’m comfortable,” he said. “These are young people and they grow, hopefully, and learn. And they make mistakes. … If a young man is allowed a second chance or a third chance and takes advantage of that opportunity, then God bless him.”
Tom FitzGerald is a San Francisco Chronicle staff writer. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org Twitter: @tomgfitzgerald
Stanford (3-2, 2-1 Pac-12)
at No. 20 Utah (4-0, 1-0)
Where: Salt Lake City When: 7:15 p.m. PDT TV/Radio: FS1/1050
Injuries: Stanford — WR J.J.Arcega-Whiteside (undisclosed), CB Terrence Alexander (arm) and LB Mustafa Branch (undisclosed) are out. OT Devery Hamilton (undisclosed) is questionable. Utah — QB Tyler Huntley (shoulder) is doubtful. DE Kylie Fitts (undisclosed) is questionable.
What to watch for
Bryce Love will face the Pac-12’s top rushing defense. Utah ranks second in the conference in scoring defense and first in interceptions, forced turnovers and pass defense efficiency.
The Utes are coming off a bye week, which gave them extra time to prepare and allowed some injured players to heal. But one of the injured, QB Tyler Huntley, is unlikely to play, so ex-starter Troy Williams probably will be under center.
Utah kicker Matt Gay has made 14 straight field goals and leads the nation with 3.5 field goals per game. Punter Mitch Wishnowsky leads the Pac-12 with a 46.8-yard average.
— Tom FitzGerald
Chryst back as the starter against Utes
After two straight victories with K.J. Costello at quarterback, Stanford head coach David Shaw is going back to Keller Chryst as the starter Saturday night at Utah. Shaw indicated Friday that both quarterbacks will play.
Chryst, a redshirt junior, started the first four games of the season but was sidelined early in the UCLA game by an undisclosed injury. Costello, a redshirt freshman, took over and led nine scoring drives in a 58-34 win. He started last week when the Cardinal beat Arizona State behind Bryce Love’s 301 rushing yards.
Costello has better statistics than Chryst but in just two significant appearances. Shaw recently said he generally doesn’t take away a starter’s job because of an injury.
— Tom FitzGerald