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January 23, 2022

With his eye already on the future, Whittingham likes where his Utah team is at in recruiting

SALT LAKE CITY — There were no surprises, no last-minute guesswork on who was signing, just another successful recruiting class for Utah football, head coach Kyle Whittingham said Thursday morning, a day after Utah signed 18 new players and landed the No. 29 best class in the country, according to 247Sports.

“I feel good about what transpired yesterday — no surprises either way,” he said. “It was as expected as far as how signings ended up. We signed 18 players yesterday and feel really solid about the class — addressed a lot of needs.”

The class featured three four-star athletes, including linebackers Ethan Calvert and Mason Tufaga and quarterback Peter Costelli, and several other high-profile athletes that are expected to have an immediate impact on the roster. It’s a class that will feature 10 athletes joining the program in January as they take steps to be immediately ready for the 2021 season.

“We have 10 players that will be enrolling in January; that’s well over half the class,” Whittingham said. “And when you figure in four players who were already here this fall that count in that class, we’ve got 14 guys that are either here already or will be here for spring semester, which is probably the highest number we’ve ever had.”

That bodes well for Utah as it builds upon an already promising young team that replaced nearly its entire starting defense and a handful of positions on offense, including running back and quarterback. That young defense already ranks No. 2 in the Pac-12 and No. 35 in the country in total defense after only four games, and the offense has found what appears to be a star in freshman running back Ty Jordan.

But guys like Costelli, who will likely be the only active scholarship quarterback in spring if senior Jake Bentley moves on from the program, and Calvert, the highest-rated recruit in this class, will bolster what Utah already has on its roster. A move that only makes Utah better for the foreseeable future.

“Absolutely,” Whittingham said about recruits noticing the success Utah has had the last few years. “Recruits take note of that. We’ve had more players drafted than any team in the Pac-12 over the last, I can’t remember the exact timeframe, four, five, six years — there’s a timeframe there that we have had the most draftees of any team in the Pac- 12.

“That’s absolutely a selling point — why wouldn’t it be? When recruits get here, they really should want two things: a degree and a chance to play at the next level. Our coaches have done a great job of offering both those things to them.”

Utah has scholarships available, by design, and will continue looking for incoming freshmen or look to the ever-changing transfer portal that will only become more active as the NCAA opens up the eligibility requirements for athletes. But as of now, Whittingham said they’re “not waiting on anybody for the second signing period — not right now, anyways.”

And though Utah filled many key position groups Wednesday, there’s still some need for depth at other position groups on offense, namely quarterback, running back and wide receiver.

That decision will likely start with Bentley, Utah’s quarterback this season, who is a senior and will have the option to remain with the team for another year under the NCAA’s free year of eligibility due to COVID-19 or choose to graduate out of the program. But given that Bentley lost the starting role to Cameron Rising before he suffered an injury, and Costelli joined the program Wednesday, the possibility of meaningful reps becomes even more difficult, even if he has the most experience on the team.

For now, Costelli, who will join the program in January, is expected to be the only scholarship quarterback available for spring play, pending Bentley’s decision, which could lead Utah to look to fill the room with another quarterback from the transfer portal.

But Whittingham has plans for everything.

“I’m going to tell you there’s a real likelihood that we’ll continue to try to address that position,” Whittingham said of Costelli potentially being the only available quarterback in spring. “That would be our worst-case scenario. … I don’t think we’re going to get to the worst-case scenario. I think we’ll be able to have a good situation by spring ball.

“Could be guys that haven’t signed yet; although there’s very few of those guys left. … But transfers is the other avenue, obviously; that would probably be more likely to go that route.”

And with Devin Brumfield and Jordan Wilmore entering the transfer portal due to Jordan’s emergence at the position, Utah may look to add depth there, too.

“Depending on who else transfers — I’m sure we’re not going to hang on to everybody, that’s just not the reality of it,” Whittingham said. “Something will materialize in a way of needs at a certain position, but right now I can’t make that prediction. … And so we’ve just got to continue to address the needs as they arise, but we know right now that there are a couple (of) needs that are already been.”

So while it’s easy to congratulate themselves for another strong recruiting class, even with some open needs, there’s no time to relax. Whittingham has his eye continually on the future and is already planning for the 2022 class.

“We feel like we’re off to a good start with the ’22 class, we’re already starting on those guys — the cycle never ends,” he said. “There’s never a day off in recruiting and it’s constant, and our assistant coaches should be commended for their hard work, and good job, as always, targeting the right guys and getting our type of players in the program.”

For now, though, Utah likes where it’s at.

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