The future left on a Wednesday night.
It was a stunner, and it still is.
The why must wait. The judgement shall, too, although many fanatics have already digested the news in their own fanatical way. A personal decision, by a teenager no less, shouldn’t receive the sort of venomous blowback accompanied by the news of another college football transfer in 2018. Too often, however, they’re cast as quitters or fame-seekers elsewhere, in different colors, in a different helmet, in front of different fans.
But Jack Tuttle left because he wanted to. Less than a year after signing his National Letter of Intent and faxing it into the Utah football offices in late December 2017, the four-star QB, the San Diego kid who said thanks-but-no-thanks to Ohio State, Alabama, Oregon, LSU, USC — the list goes on and on — left the Utah program. The future was off to elsewhere. During his recruiting process, Utes fans drooled over the game film that coaches around the country couldn’t ignore:
A smooth 6-foot-4, 200-something pocket-passing QB who could make all the throws. Ask around, and that football-specific catchphrase perhaps leads to the root of what has become a trend around college football. Student-athletes having what it takes, being told by those in their inner circle they’ve had it since Day 1, and doing whatever it takes to get under center or in shotgun formation as soon as possible.
That’s not an indictment on Tuttle or any kid who chooses to move on. That’s just the nature of things now, former coaches, players and those covering the money-making monster that is college football say. Young quarterbacks want to start. And they have leverage. According to the Associated Press, eight of the top 20 QB recruits from the class of 2016 have transferred. Four of the top 20 from the 2017 class have already left teams they initially signed with.
“I think you’re just seeing the tip of the iceberg right now,” said Brandon Huffman, national recruiting editor for 247 Sports. “With guys enrolling early, with guys wanting to get to the NFL as soon as possible, sometimes the path is not as clear at the first school that they picked.”
It’s not a blip. No, it’s just the beginning, they say. And it’s not the worse thing ever, because odds are, your team might benefit down the road. Sooner than later, too.
It’s now-or-never. Or at least that’s the mindset. For so many college quarterbacks, they’re facing the daunting prospect of winning the job outright now, and then finding a way to stave off whatever next hotshot signal-caller enters the program in the coming seasons. Once the hunter, they immediately become the hunted as QB1.
And if you’re waiting in the wings, like Tuttle was as a true freshman QB, and if you see the path to starting is perhaps a little longer than you thought, maybe you make an executive decision sooner than later.
“That’s what’s happening with a lot of these guys,” said Nicole Auerbach, senior college football writer at The Athletic. “As soon as they get beat out by someone younger than them, or there’s someone they’re just not sure that they can beat out, they leave. It’s interesting, because I’m not sure that’s going to necessarily slow down any time soon.”
The quarterback position gets the most hype, most attention, most scrutiny, because there’s only one on the field per down. Rarely do you come across successful two-quarterback systems. As both Huffman and Auerbach explained, Jalen Hurts at Alabama is absolutely the exception these days, not the rule. You won’t find another national championship caliber QB who is willing to sit behind a younger, playmaking counterpart.
The narrative around transferring is changing, too. Ask Max Browne. A couple years ago, the former USC quarterback was told that Sam Darnold was going to be the guy a few games into the season. In a recent project for The Athletic, Auerbach delved into the fad of grad transfer QBs and how they make their decision to go basically wherever they want. Browne was one of those guys. He ended up at Pitt. No longer is the narrative that a player transferring doesn’t have the chops. Now you can become an immediate commodity on the national scene.
“When you wait your turn, you’re rolling the dice, just in terms of that window shrinks with every year that goes by,” Browne said this week. “I think a lot of these guys who play early, even if they don’t play well, or things don’t go right, they at least get that experience, they at least get that perspective. Even if it doesn’t work out at School A, the experience they got versus when you’re sitting and waiting, you’re not getting that experience. There’s something to be said about going out there and … trial by fire.”
For Tuttle, that’ll be somewhere else, never having played a single down for the Utes, having only helped signal in plays from the sidelines.
“I was very surprised, because he had so many opportunities somewhere else,” Huffman said. “I wouldn’t say it surprised me that a quarterback transferred, but it was surprising that it was Jack Tuttle who did, and how quickly he did.”
Recruit — and re-recruit
Kyle Whittingham offered no clarification this week on the sudden exit of what was perceived to be the best QB recruit ever to land in Salt Lake City. He acknowledged the new rule allowing athletes to play in four games and still being able to redshirt a year perhaps becoming a factor later on down the line, but didn’t think it was a factor in Tuttle’s move.
But has he found it more difficult to keep guys already in-house here and happy?
“Yeah, you recruit them one time to get them in your program, but you’ve got to keep recruiting them while they’re with you and try to hang onto them,” Whittingham said. “And some positions are more prone to transfer than others. That’s just the nature of the beast.”
Meaning: Quarterbacks are always the prize, but there’s almost never a guarantee. Tuttle was tabbed as a future superstar at Utah, a guy some analysts believed to have first-round draft potential. Instead, last week Whittingham was prepping for a visit from USC while dealing with the departure of a QB the Trojans were once hot after.
Two days before news broke that Tuttle was leaving, a new NCAA transfer portal was opened, where there’s a list of student-athletes who have plans of transferring can be accessed. Truth is, it’s easier now more than ever to switch programs.
“Usually in October, you’re not talking about transfers, you’re not dealing with this,” Auerbach said, “but with the new redshirt rule, and the transfer portal opening on October 15, you have more people thinking about making these decisions earlier than they used to, and now you’re dealing with it in the middle of a game week against a big rival.”
BYU coach Kalani Sitake said attrition is part of football, whether it be playing time, personal factors, academics, whatever. The hardest part of dealing with movement in today’s game is when a player is somewhere they don’t want to be.
“I think the important job a coach has is just to be honest with young men and where they see them fitting and the role that they have,” he said. “If they don’t see eye-to-eye, I think it is OK for people to move on. I am fine with that.”
Tuttle’s main recruiter at Utah, Aaron Roderick, is now part of the offensive staff at BYU. He was fairly straightforward in his assessment of the state of transfers in the sport.
“It is a challenge, for sure,” Roderick said. "But I think that eventually the cream always rises to the top. The best players will eventually emerge. Guys who can stick it out and stay with it usually end up showing that they have the mental toughness and courage that it takes to actually lead a team to wins at this level. It takes a lot. Guys that can’t handle that, it is fine. They can move on.”
The rise of playing young quarterbacks is due to kids being more ready to play major snaps immediately. Most high-profile prep QBs have worked with private QB coaches, are seen in various 7-on-7 tournaments and get attention due to brand-sponsors camps like the Elite 11 quarterback camp. And as Browne explains, kids are exposed to breaking down coverages and learning passing concepts at 12 or 13 instead of 16 or 17.
“That allows them to speed up,” he said.
‘Only one guy plays’
Back in spring, Tuttle said arriving in Salt Lake was “just like basically coming to another home for me.” He was all smiles. He did post-practice yoga. He was getting schooled in Troy Taylor’s offensive schemes when he could’ve been living out his last few months as a high school senior. “Mature beyond his years,” Whittingham said of Tuttle in March.
Heck, Tuttle even went to the airport to welcome receiver Britain Covey home from his mission for The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.
“This is a kid that double, triple, quadrupled down on Utah,” said Huffman, “so you thought this guy is never leaving.”
Yet, he’s gone. And questions will linger. Would making Tuttle No. 2 have mattered? Would at least a debut in mop-up time inside a packed Rice-Eccles Stadium have helped sway him to stick it out? Would a taste have changed his mind?
“With the redshirt rule and playing four games, if you’re not playing those guys, they’re going to get wandering eye syndrome and start looking around,” Huffman added. “And there’s a lot of schools who are maybe just missing a quarterback and have a quick path to play. In the recruiting process promises are made, but it’s not until you get there that you see if those promises really come true.”
Tyler Huntley knows first-hand what life on the bench is like. During his freshman year at Utah, he was that guy watching, studying, headset on, helping call in plays. The junior quarterback said this week that there were tough times back then, thinking he could maybe do more. “You work through that, he said.
“I was kind of hurt that he left,” Huntley said of Tuttle, “but I understood why he left, because sometimes, that happens. He’s a good player and he’s going to be good where he goes.”
This isn’t the first time Utah has seen a QB transfer. Far from it. Nor will it be the last. It’s just that the timing of it was a shock, and Tuttle seemed enamored with life in Ute red. But that’s the cycle these days. Coaches, always in search of security, may opt to go with the younger QB who might have more upside, who might be at the program longer, who might be able to add elements the incumbent could not.
“At the end of the day, only one guy plays,” Browne said. “I felt that first-hand.”
Tuttle’s social media accounts are now free from Utah-related posts. His most-recent Instagram post came on September 30. The former Ute QB is looking out on a Salt Lake Valley sunset. The caption reads: “Life can only be understood backwards; but it must be lived forwards.” In the comments are a slew of fans from all over the country pleading with Tuttle to come QB their favorite program. And even some Utes fans, still begging him to stay.
JACK TUTTLE TIMELINE
December 2016 • Commits to Utah after junior season at Mission Hills High School in San Marcos, Calif.
December 2017 • Signs with Utah during the NCAA’s December window.
January • Enrolls at Utah after graduating early from high school.
April 14 • Concludes spring practice in a duel with Jason Shelley for the No. 2 job; coaches label it a “dead heat.”
Aug. 27 • Listed as the No. 3 quarterback on the first depth chart issued after preseason camp.
Oct. 16 • Goes through practice on the final day of weekly media availability. Wednesday • Transfer plans first reported by the Ute Zone website, confirmed by The Tribune.
Tribune reporter Jay Drew contributed to this story.