The Utah Utes suffered from inexperience and a shortage of backup players along their offensive line in 2012.
To make sure such a situation doesn’t happen again, “Operation Line,” is well under way as the Utes ramp up their recruiting efforts.
The Utes have more than 20 players committed for their 2013 class but are still out on the recruiting trail as they try to lock up some of the top recruits available.
“We need linemen,” Utah coach Kyle Whittingham said recently. “That is the No. 1 priority for us. Most years linemen take up about one-third of our class and it should be no different this year.”
Whittingham cannot discuss specific recruits, but said he feels Utah’s class is on track.
The Utes have six players committed who could help the lines, but Utah has its eyes set on several highly rated players who remain undecided.
Among the player being targeted by the Utes are Kyle Peko, a defensive tackle out of Cerritos Community College in California, guard Reeve Koehler (Honolulu), Nic Purcell, an offensive tackle out of Golden West College (Huntington Beach, Calif.), and his teammate, Sese Ianu, a defensive tackle. Plus Kenneth Santa Marina, an offensive lineman out of New Orleans.
The 6-foot-2, 290-pound Peko lists Utah among his top choices, with Michigan State, Boise State and Washington State the others.
Peko has visits remaining with Washington State and Boise State but said his visit with the Utes went well.
“I had a great time,” he said. “I felt like I fit in with all the guys really well and fit into their defensive scheme, so they are high on my list right now.”
While Peko is a guy who could step in and immediately help, Purcell and Ianu are two interesting recruits who could be more project-types.
Ianu, 6-foot-3, 285-pounds, has been playing organized football for only three years, according to Golden West coach Nick Mitchell.
“He would fit right in line with some of the other great tackles Utah has produced,” Mitchell said. “He is still fairly raw but has a ton of tools.”
Oregon State and Washington State are also courting Ianu, while virtually every school in the Pac-12 is showing interest in Purcell, a 6-foot-6, 300-pounder.
He also has an offer from BYU, making him one of the few out-of-state recruits both the Cougars and Utes are courting heavily.
A returned missionary, Purcell is 26, but young in football experience since he grew up playing rugby in New Zealand.
He moved to California with his girlfriend, who also has family ties to the Salt Lake area.
He is still learning the nuances of football but is a fast learner, Mitchell said.
“He didn’t know too much at all, but he is a good athlete,” Mitchell said. “He started out on defense but he is learning the offense and has picked it up fast.”
Other athletes the Utes are interested in are 6-5, 200-pound d’Vante Henry, a linebacker out of Arizona Western, Cameron Artis-Payne, a running back out of Allan Hancock Community College in California who committed to Auburn but has since opened up his possibilities, and Joe Mathis, a defensive end out of Upland, Calif.
Utah recruiting update
Offensive outlook • The Utes have two quarterbacks committed in Brandon Cox and Conner Manning, both California prospects. The Utes could add another running back if Cameron Artis-Payne de-commits from Auburn.
Defensive outlook • The hunt for linemen continues while other spots might get some additions, such as linebacker. The Utes are courting Myles Jack, a UCLA commit who continues to keep his options open, and D’Vante Henry, a highly sought-after linebacker out of Arizona Western Community College.
The wild card • The recruiting world was buzzing this week with receiver Eldridge Massington out of Mesquite, Texas, de-committing from USC. He has offers from most of the top schools in the country. He’d be just the kind of impact player the Utes would love to get.