Utes will grab a bigger chunk of their recruiting class this year as early signing day commences

Kyle Whittingham says the trend is making the traditional February date ‘anticlimactic.’

(Trent Nelson | The Salt Lake Tribune) Utah Utes head coach Kyle Whittingham leads his team to the locker room before the game as the University of Utah hosts Washington at Rice-Eccles Stadium in Salt Lake City, Saturday Sept. 15, 2018.

The Utah football program's first experience with December's early signing period produced a celebrated quarterback, but no coach's news conference last year.

Ute coach Kyle Whittingham will address the media Wednesday, although he probably won't have a quarterback to discuss.

Whittingham's plans are meaningful, in this sense: Utah is joining the national trend of making December the more significant window, as the “traditional [February] signing date is going to be very anticlimactic,” Whittingham said Monday.

In the Utes' 2018 recruiting class of 21 high school and junior college players, only seven athletes signed last December. The initial list featured quarterback Jack Tuttle, who left the program in mid-October and this week transferred to Indiana. None of the December 2017 signees played significantly this season, although players such as defensive back Malone Mataele, receiver Terrell Perriman and offensive linemen Braeden Daniels have promising futures.

In any case, Whittingham expects as many as a dozen players to sign this week, in a class that eventually will number only 16 to 18, due to Utah’s low volume of seniors. The list is unlikely to include a quarterback, after top target Jayden Daniels committed to Arizona State last week. “It wouldn’t be a disaster” if the Utes failed to land a QB, Whittingham said, but they’ve “got a line on some guys who are right now still available.”

Utah’s top commitment is from four-star receiver Darren Jones, Daniels' teammate at Cajon High School in San San Bernardino, Calif. Academic questions may delay Jones' signing, according to Alex Markham, publisher of UteNation.com on the Rivals network.

Otherwise, Markham said, “The early group of commits is your typical Utah class; it’s nothing that’ll knock your socks off, but solid from top to bottom. Other than the quarterback position, they’ve done a great job solidifying their depth.”

The presence of Tuttle made the Utes less determined to land a 2019 quarterback — other than pursuing for Daniels, with some of their backup options having committed elsewhere, Markham said.

Variables in Utah’s potential class include some choices to be made Wednesday morning, by the likes of East High School defensive lineman Siaki Ika and Eastern Arizona Junior College safety Quandre Mosely.

Other players may remain on the market until February, including Bingham defensive lineman Simote Pepa and linebacker Lolani Langi. Utah has a commitment from Bingham linebacker Junior Tafuna, who may wait until February to sign.


Marist Talavou • Offensive lineman, St. John Bosco High School, Bellflower, Calif. He’s a cousin of former Ute and NFL defensive lineman Kelly Talavou.  

Lacarea Pleasant-Johnson • Defensive back, Mountain Pointe High School, Phoenix. A cornerback, Pleasant-Johnson chose Utah over finalists Florida and Colorado, citing “my opportunity to get on the field early.”

Micah Bernard • Running back, Gahr High School, Cerritos, Calif. Oregon was among the schools that pursued Bernard, known for his breakaway ability.  

Donte Banton • Receiver, Deerfield Beach (Fla,) High School. Committed this past weekend, extends Utah’s Florida pipeline.

Aaron Lowe • Defensive back, West Mesquite (Texas) High School. Stayed loyal to Utah, despite a late push from Washington.

Taylor to return for Holiday Bowl

Troy Taylor, the Utah offensive coordinator who became Sacramento State’s head coach Monday, will call the plays in the Dec. 31 Holiday Bowl vs. Northwestern, he told ESPN 700.

Taylor intends to return to Salt Lake City on Thursday morning as the Utes complete the on-campus portion of their bowl preparation this week. The team will reconvene in San Diego on Dec. 26.

Whittingham named offensive line coach Jim Harding the interim coordinator, with the hope that Taylor would be available to call the plays in the bowl game, amid getting started in his Sacramento State job.

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