SALT LAKE CITY — Utah football’s recruiting continues to rise.
A year removed from its second consecutive South Division title in the Pac-12, Utah signed its highest-rated recruiting class Wednesday as part of the NCAA’s early signing day period.
The Utes signed 12 players to its 2021 roster that included three four-star recruits to give Utah a No. 4 ranking in the Pac-12 and a No. 29 ranking nationally, according to 247 Sports.
“Well, we’re excited for the actual signing to take place,” Utah head coach Kyle Whittingham said Tuesday prior to signing day. “Our guys have been committed, most of them, for quite some time now, and this is just a culmination of a lot of hard work and effort. It’s always good to get them officially in the program, so there’s excitement, but it’s not like it used to be many years ago.”
Unlike previous years, Utah didn’t have any late-day decisions or many unknowns coming into Wednesday’s signing period, which is in part due to the NCCA’s dead period for recruiting due to the ongoing pandemic. And for Utah, most of its recruits that committed early stayed committed through the process up to signing.
The Class of 2021 is highlighted by four-star linebacker Ethan Calvert from Westlake Village, California, and four-star quarterback Peter Costelli from Mission Viejo, California.
Costelli was one of the first recruits to commit to Utah — he committed on April 11, 2020 — and set the tone for another strong recruiting class for the Utes. The dual-threat quarterback held offers from at least 20 Power Five programs, including LSU, Michigan State, Nebraska, Northwestern, Oregon and several other Pac-12 programs.
He plans to enroll in school in January where he’ll be able to compete in spring camp for a role in Utah’s quarterback room. Cam Rising, who was named Utah’s starter this season, is expected to miss spring as he recovers from shoulder surgery related to an injury sustained in Utah’s first game of the season.
Calvert, the No. 4-rated linebacker in the country and highest-rated recruit to Utah in this class according to 247 Sports, commit to the program a month ago after holding offers from schools like LSU, Michigan, Ohio State, Oregon, Washington and many others. He’s expected to compete immediately among three linebackers Utah signed Wednesday, though some are likely to move position once enrolled, such as Cole Bishop to safety.
Other linebackers signed Wednesday include Trey Reynolds, legacy recruit Jonah Elliss and the aforementioned Bishop. Mason Tufaga, a four-star recruit, is the only other linebacker committed to the program that’s expected to sign.
After losing two running backs to the transfer portal this week, Utah picked up three-star running back Ricky Parks from Tampa, Florida. The 5-foot-10, 192-pound back is expected to be in the mix next season and commit for playing time among freshman Ty Jordan and redshirt freshman Micah Bernard, among others.
Utah also officially signed two former recruits who served missions for The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. The two were Simote Pepa, a Class of 2019 defensive tackle from Bingham High, and Jonny Fanaika, a Class of 2018 defensive end from Pleasant Grove and brother to former Ute Jason Fanaika.
Earlier this season, the NCAA ruled that players would not lose a year of eligibility, which will make it complex for recruiting prospects in years to come. But Whittingham said Tuesday the incoming class for 2021 will have no impact on the 85-man roster limit regulated by the NCAA this season; however, next year’s recruiting class will have to fit within the 85-man roster limits.
“The real problematic situation is going to be the next class next year, the fall of 22, and not so much the guys you’ve got on your roster, but recruiting; there’s going to be very little room for new recruits because then everybody counts in fall 22,” Whittingham said.
Utah is expected to have 10 of their projected 17 players that are to sign Wednesday enroll in January, according to 247 Sports; however, only seven of the 10 have signed a National Letter of Intent as of Wednesday afternoon. Whittingham will discuss the 2021 signing class Thursday morning due to the team’s ongoing prep for Utah’s game Saturday against Washington State.