One day under the Utah coaching staff can leave your ears burning.
On Wednesday, in the Utes’ football indoor complex, about two dozen assistants and program players were showing high school prospects how far they still have to go to get to the next level.
“Work, work, work!” assistant coach Sharrief Shah shouted at would-be cornerbacks as they tried to keep pace with receivers. “Stay there, stay there!”
Six hours in Utah Elite Prospect camp was a lot of effort for the young Division I hopefuls, but it’s often taxing for Utah coaches as well. And even though the Utes won’t host another camp on their campus, it’s hardly the end of their summer circuit: Several assistants will be assisting the All Poly camp this weekend, and the program will host two more camps in California next week.
As important as camps may be for recruits hoping to be noticed, the increasing number of such opportunities also works the other way. That means the Utes are working harder to get out more to spot and assess talent and try to build the relationships that bring commitments.
“It’s a great recruiting tool, not just for us,” coach Kyle Whittingham said. “It gives the players the chance to know us better and decide if they want to accept our offer. The process has changed a lot in the last 20 years because there’s so many camps, so we have to try to sell them on coming to ours.”
In other words, get out to where the recruits are.
Camps offer some of the best live evaluation coaches can get. Utah’s Elite camp has padded practice, which is the most helpful to helping staffs understand the strengths and weaknesses of different players. But even non-padded workouts give a flavor to what recruits bring to the table.
Scrutinizing tape is still the meat and potatoes of evaluation, but live action always tells a little something extra.
“You can see what kind of feet they have, how they move, if they have good hands,” running backs coach Dennis Erickson said. “You’re not going to necessarily see how they tackle or if they have physical toughness, but it’s important to see where they are athletically.”
Utah had one California-based camp last year, but this year will have one in Long Beach and one in Rancho Cucamonga. It’s part of Utah’s ongoing effort to make its imprint in the Pac-12’s key state for recruits. While their home-based camps are their best opportunities to catch up win in-state recruits, California camps open doors to out-of-staters who might not have previously considered the Utes.
Utah signed four California prospects in February, and the current roster includes 26 players who hail from the Golden State.
“I believe it’s really important to get out there,” Erickson. “That is an area that produces a lot of really good players, and we’ve got to get a lot of players from there.”
Collectively, the staff can count more than a few “discoveries” through camps they’ve had over the years. Erickson first met John Friesz at a camp he ran in Idaho, and he went on to be an NFL quarterback. Before he was Pro Bowler with the Bengals, Chad Johnson attended one of Erickson’s Miami camps as a high school underclassman.
But for the Utes, it’s just as much about getting recruits to discover them now. And they’ll go to whatever lengths they can to make sure they’re seen.
“It’s a two-way street,” safeties coach and recruiting coordinator Morgan Scalley said. “They get to know how we coach, and we get to see how they react to us and how they compete. There’s just so much you can tell in person.”