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Utah football: Utes fill their need for speed (video)

(Trent Nelson | The Salt Lake Tribune) Utah Utes head coach Kyle Whittingham, as the University of Utah hosts Arizona State, college football at Rice-Eccles Stadium in Salt Lake City, Saturday November 9, 2013.

By lya wodraska

The Salt Lake Tribune

First published Feb 05 2014 08:20AM
Updated Feb 26, 2014 02:41PM

The Utah Utes put a priority on adding recruits with a lot of speed for their 2014 signing class. Apparently they found the talent they need in the southland.

The Utes signed five players from Florida and two from Louisiana in an effort to upgrade their quickness and talent at the skill positions.

Many of the recruits, such as defensive back Monte Seabrook, receiver Kenric Young and running back Tavaris Williams, starred in track as well as on the football field.

"Speed, speed, speed, that was the focal point of the entire class," Utah coach Kyle Whittingham said in reviewing Utah’s latest group of football players. "To be on equal footing, we needed to improve our speed and athleticism on the perimeter."

A late addition to the Florida group was Dacorius Law, a running back out of Haines City, Fla. Law showed up on Ole Miss’ board earlier in the day, but after much discussion with his family, who wanted him to go to Ole Miss, as well as Utah’s compliance personnel, Law was announced as a Ute.

Whittingham said he wasn’t sure of all the details of the drama involving Law, but had the compliance office’s assurance he was a Ute.

"We have the letter, and as far as we know we are good to go," he said. "I’m excited about DJ and I know the fans are excited about him."

Whittingham credited former offensive coordinator Dennis Erickson, now the running backs coach, for helping the Utes recruit in Florida and other traditional hotbeds of talent.

"He has been in a lot of places, but where we felt it the most was in Florida," he said.

Although the Utes felt they scored with some speedy players, most recruiting services were more critical in assessing Utah’s group, ranking it near the bottom of the Pac-12.

The Utes failed to land several players they were pushing for, including Tre Watson, a running back out of California who stuck with Cal despite Utah’s hard efforts to land him, and Granger lineman Kenyon Frison, who committed to the Utes early but ultimately signed with Oklahoma, while receiver Brayden Lenius went with Washington.

East High product Joe Tukuafu signed with Utah State rather than going on an LDS Church mission and joining the Utes, while Bingham tight end Dalton Schultz went with Stanford.

Whittingham, sticking to his past habits, brushed aside the rankings and said the success of a class is played out on the field as well as which players reach the NFL.

"It always comes down to your evaluation and projection," he said.

The Utes hope several players from the class can step in and have an immediate impact, to help the Utes improve on back-to-back 5-7 seasons.

Receiver Kaelin Clay, offensive lineman Jackson Barton and safety Tevin Carter all drew praise from Whittingham.

The Utes did succeed in securing the lone quarterback they were after with Donovan Isom, a dual threat quarterback out of Louisiana, signing with the Utes.

He passed for 2,600-plus yards and 33 touchdowns with just two interceptions. He also rushed 82 times for 530 yards and nine touchdowns as a senior.

Whittingham said it could be another four months before the Utes know if Travis Wilson will be able to return. If he can’t, Adam Schulz, Brandon Cox and Conner Manning will be the main contenders for the starting role, but having Isom in the mix could make things interesting.

The Utes added heft to the class as well in the likes of defensive tackle Pasoni Tasini and Lowell Lotulelei. The 6-foot-2, 260-pound Tasini has three years to play two, but is expected to contend for a starting role since the Utes need replacements for Tenny Palepoi and LT Tuipulotu.

Lotulelei committed to the Utes last year but didn’t enroll since he was involved in church service duties. The 6-1, 310-pound tackle is the younger brother of former Ute Star Lotuelei, now with the Carolina Panthers.

Whittingham acknowledged the Utes were thin at the line positions, but said it was more critical to load up on the skill positions.

"We needed safeties and corners, and we think we filled those needs," he said.

The Utes can only announce players expected to participate in the upcoming season, so any players who plan to serve church missions before enrolling aren’t on Utah’s official list.

Kyle Christiansen, a defensive tackle out of Mountain Crest H.S., Amone Finau, a Kearns High product, linebacker Thor Katoa out of Pine View H.S., defensive tackle Pita Tonga out of Highland H.S. and Howard Pututau, a linebacker out of Cottonwood H.S., all plan to serve missions before enrolling at Utah.

Wednesday’s group combined with the players from a year ago who will receive scholarships brings Utah’s number to 24 players signed. Whittingham said he and his staff would discuss the best way to use the final scholarship they have available.

"Often times there are guys who slip through the cracks or don’t end up anywhere on signing day, so we’ll do our homework and see who is available," he said.

Twitter: @lyawodraska

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