On the best approach to hitting baseballs, Hall of Famer Wee Willie Keeler famously said to “hit ’em where they ain’t.”
Recruiting requires the inverse of that.
Utah football coaches go — no-brainer — where they are. After the Beehive State, the staff’s top priorities are California, Texas, Florida and Louisiana, because the bulk of D-I prospects hail from those locales.
And counterintuitively, that’s where hidden gems are most often found.
With the advent of services like Hudl — in which recruits can post video of their prep highlights — big schools no longer overlook potential stars who weren’t raised in football hotbeds.
“It’s much harder to hide diamonds in the rough,” said Utah safeties coach and recruiting coordinator Morgan Scalley. “There’s film on everyone.”
Who they may still overlook, Scalley says, are the guys who have no highlights yet: the guys from prep powers who didn’t play until their senior year because they were buried behind other D-I talent.
California, Texas, Florida and Louisiana have those guys.
So Utah differentiates itself somewhat from the swarms of other coaches descending on those campuses by continuing to evaluate players through their senior seasons, and hoping the patience pays off.
Those players then may also have less time to be “poached” from other schools that value Utah’s talent evaluation, which has yielded former no-star stars like Eric Weddle and Stevenson Sylvester.
Another change apparent in Utah’s results recently is the increased attention paid to the Southeast.
Last year, after inroads had been made there by former Utah offensive coordinator Brian Johnson (now a Mississippi State quarterbacks coach), the Utes received a pair of commitments from Louisiana.
Utah has also capitalized on the ties of running backs coach Dennis Erickson from his national title-winning days in Florida, with Erickson and defensive coordinator Kalani Sitake combining to bring in four 2014 commits from the Sunshine State.
Scalley said new wide receivers coach Taylor Stubblefield has contacts in the South, while fellow newbie Jim Harding (offensive line) “busts his butt” in Northern California.
But the most important real estate remains the same.
“We’ve gotta do a great job, No. 1, of protecting our home turf,” Scalley said. “Do our kids in-state feel like they’re loved up more than by these other programs?”
Home turf — where Utah scored eight of its 21 recruits last year — is overseen by Utah defensive line coach Ilaisa Tuiaki.
He has a tough job. It’s no longer such a well-guarded secret that Utah has more than its fair share of in-state talent. Scalley estimates that Utah’s D-I output is about on a par with Arizona, and greater than two-school Pac-12 states Washington and Oregon.
Tuiaki now frequently has to fend off the likes of Notre Dame, which sent Bingham’s Dalton Schultz 477 handwritten letters last year in one of its “Pots of Gold.”
(Schultz eventually chose Stanford.)
But Scalley said Utah isn’t going to mimic “Pots of Gold” and the programs “that have 100 minions.”
“I don’t think you need to,” he said. “Some kids get annoyed by that, some kids love it. Ultimately, I don’t think a kid is going to choose a school because he got more mail from one school than the other. … You do need to be unique. You need to be consistent.”
Utah brands itself — accurately, Scalley feels — with the beauty of its campus and its commitment to academics.
Beyond that, there’s only one thing they can do.
“We’re not blind to the fact that we’ve had two 5-7 seasons in a row,” Scalley said. “We’ve gotta win. Hopefully those players in-state have been paying attention to the quality of football that we’ve been playing. We are competing.”
Utah’s 2015 class
Utah safeties coach and recruiting coordinator Morgan Scalley said the Utes “very rarely” end up signing a full class of 25 players — due to returned missionaries and awarding walk-on scholarships — and this year’s class size will be “about average.” The focuses are offensive line, wide receiver, pass-rushing defensive ends, linebackers and cornerbacks.
2015 commits that The Tribune knows of at this time: wide receivers Brandon Snell, Donzale Roddie, Justice Murphy; athletes Michael Jacquet and Tuli Wily-Matagi; offensive linemen Jake Grant and Zach Lindsay; linebacker Cody Barton; and kicker Chayden Johnston.