Last winter, the Utah football team brought in a new offensive coordinator with the intention of improving its passing game to a championship-caliber level. This winter, it secured one of the top high school passers in the nation with the signing of Jack Tuttle from San Diego to a National Letter of Intent on Wednesday morning.

Tuttle took advantage of the NCAA’s first early signing period for football and made his commitment to the Utes official. He immediately becomes the cornerstone of a recruiting class that includes six early signings with the February signing period still to come. The early signing period continues through Friday for high school seniors, while junior college players can sign until Jan. 15.

The Utes early signings includes three-star offensive lineman Braeden Daniels from Texas, three-star junior college linebacker Bryant Pirtle from Kentucky, three-star defensive end Jeremiah Jordan from Georgia, and three-star wide receiver Terrell Perriman from Florida, three-star defensive back Malone Mataele from California.

“We feel this is a great start to our 2018 signing class,” Utes coach Kyle Whittingham said in a news release. “Things went as anticipated and we were able to address needs at several positions with this group. We signed a high profile quarterback in Jack Tuttle, two junior college players who should give us immediate help at defensive end (Jordan) and linebacker (Pirtle), as well as three freshmen which include a cornerback (Mataele), a receiver (Perriman) and an offensive lineman (Daniels).”

A 6-foot-4, 200-pound quarterback out of Mission Hills High School in San Diego, Calif., Tuttle becomes the highest-rated quarterback signing in the program’s history. National powerhouse programs such as USC, Alabama and LSU vied for the four-star prospect during the recruiting process.

Tuttle, who has been committed to the Utes since last December, participated in the Elite 11 finals this past summer, and he was one of 12 quarterbacks in the nation invited to Nike’s The Opening tournament this summer in Oregon.

During his senior season at Mission Hills, Tuttle led his team to a 12-1 record and the Avocado League championship. He completed 227 of 336 passes for 3,452 yards and 42 touchdowns with only four interceptions. He won San Diego Section player of the year and earned first-team All-CIF honors.

Tuttle ranks fifth in the country on 247Sports’ list of top “pro-style quarterback” prospects in this year’s class and the 158th-best prospect in the country regardless of position. Rivals.com rated him the fourth-best pro-style quarterback and 98th-best player in the country.

He’s the type of guy that, if it all clicks on the next level, he’ll look like a lot of those NFL quarterbacks look,” 247Sports Director of Football Scouting Barton Simmons said of Tuttle prior to this season. “He’s got the things that you want to be able to develop longterm.”

The Utes’ offense will lose a significant group of offensive skill position players to graduation after the bowl game. That group of seniors includes quarterback Troy Williams, receivers Darren Carrington II, Kyle Fulks and Jameson Field, tight ends Siale Fakailoatonga and Harrison Handley, and running backs Troy McCormick and Jordan Howard.

Defensively, Pirtle projects as a potential difference-maker immediately for a Utes defense that struggled at times to generate a consistent pass rush this season and which is set to lose two seniors who’ve started at linebacker.

A 6-foot-2 1/2, 230-pound junior college standout from Louisville, Ky., Pirtle comes to the Utes from Pima Community College in Tucson – the same school the Utes recruited starting guard Jordan Agasiva out of last year.

Pirtle came to junior college as a defensive end and converted to linebacker this season. He made 72 tackles (nine tackles for a loss) with 3.5 sacks and one pass breakup in eight games this season.

Pima coach Jim Monaco said Pirtle’s combination of size and speed – Monaco said Pirtle runs the 40-yard dash in 4.5 seconds – allowed Pirtle to play in multiple positions. Monaco considered Pirtle even better rushing the passer from the linebacker spot as a blitzer than as an lineman.

“When you get a guy that size that can run like that, he can cover a guy that comes out of the backfield, you can just do a million things with a guy that size,” Monaco said. “God didn’t make a whole bunch of folks with that size and speed.”

Graduation will hit the Utes’ defensive front hard going into next season. Three starting lineman – tackles Filipo Mokofisi and Lowell Lotulelei and end Kyle Fitts – will graduate along with linebackers Kavika Luafatasaga and Sunia Tauteoli. Luafatasaga (76 tackles) and Tauteoli (64 tackles) are the teams top two leading tacklers this season.

Mataele, a 5-foot-11, 177-pound playmaker looks like the wild card of the recruiting class. He utilized his quickness at wide receiver, running back, defensive back and as a returner in high school.

Mataele averaged 143.3 yards per game as a senior and gained more than 1,500 total yards with 13 touchdowns in 11 games. He signed as a defensive back, but could also contribute on special teams as a kick/punt returner.

Along with Wednesday’s signings, the Utes roster is expected to add 5-foot-11 defensive back Tareke Lewis, a junior college transfer from Riverside Community College in California, and Derrick Vickers, a 5-foot-11 wide receiver, junior college transfer from Bakersfield College in California.

Both Lewis and Vickers signed with the Utes last spring, but they were not academically cleared in time to enroll prior to the start of the football season. Vickers also had knee surgery. Both are expected to enroll in January.

UTES EARLY SIGNINGS

Braeden Daniels, OL

Height: 6-foot-4. Weight: 284 pounds. Hometown: Carrollton, Texas. Previous school: Hebron HS.

Jeremiah Jordan, DE

Height: 6-foot-4. Weight: 233. Hometown: Stone Mountain, Ga. Previous school: San Jacinto College.

Malone Mataele, S

Height: 5-foot-10. Weight: 177. Hometown: Placentia, Calif. Previous school: Santa Margarita Catholic HS.

Terrell Perriman, WR

Height: 5-foot-11. Weight: 182. Hometown: Miami, Fla. Previous school: Miami Central HS.

Bryant Pirtle, LB

Height: 6-foot-2. Weight: 230 pounds. Hometown: Louisville, Ky. Previous school: Pima CC.

Jack Tuttle, QB

Height: 6-foot-4. Weight: 200. Hometown: San Diego, Calif. Previous school: Mission HS.