Name-brand schools in the Big Ten, Big 12 and Southeastern Conference wanted Kansas junior college offensive tackle Bamidele Olaseni and Arizona State looked like the favorite for California prep running back Jordan Wilmore.
The competition for those four-star players made their choices of Utah even more satisfying to the Utes. Olaseni's signing early Wednesday morning and Wilmore's announcement in the late afternoon highlighted Utah's first day of the NCAA's February signing period.
They were among Utah’s six signees Wednesday, joining 12 players who signed in December. “We think that we have definitely made ourselves better,” coach Kyle Whittingham told the Pac-12 Network prior to Wilmore’s decision, “and we’re still not done.”
A couple of additions are expected Thursday, with Bingham High School’s weather-related closure Wednesday postponing a signing ceremony (Utah canceled Whittingham's news conference and a Crimson Club party). Utah hopes to sign Bingham defensive tackle Simote Pepa, joining his long-committed teammate, linebacker Junior Tafuna.
Orem receiver Puka Nacua, who’s committed to USC but recently visited Washington, remains a possibility for Utah after deferring his announcement.
Wilmore's announcement at Lawndale (Calif.) High School came a couple of hours after the Utes lost California prep linebacker Elijah Juarez to ASU, and six weeks after the Sun Devils landed quarterback Jayden Daniels, a Utah target.
Envisioning an NFL career, the 5-foot-8, 199-pound Wilmore said he was making a college choice “for the next three to four years.”
Recruiting analyst Alex Markham, publisher of Ute Nation on the Rivals network, had said this week that Olaseni and Wilmore could elevate Utah’s signees to “a really good class.”
The Utes’ class is ranked No. 9 among Pac-12 schools by 247 Sports, factoring in the number of signees. Based on the players’ average ranking, however, Utah is No. 6.
Nationally, the Pac-12′s Oregon (No. 7), Washington (No. 17) and USC (No. 18) produced Top 20 classes.
Olaseni, who grew up in England and played at Garden City (Kan.) Community College, committed to Utah on Tuesday night. The Utes are listing him at 6-7, 332 pounds, although Whittingham said “he's every bit of 6-8,” citing his “massive size.”
Whittingham credited offensive line coach Jim Harding for developing “a great relationship” with Olaseni and said the Utes were “persistent and stayed with him and gained his trust.”
A first-team NJCAA All-American, Olaseni learned to play football with the London Blitz U19 team and followed a teammate to Garden City. He's expected to join the program in June after graduating from the junior college as a four-star recruit and one of the top-ranked JC tackles in the country. Olaseni could replace Jackson Barton, an All-Pac-12 left tackle.
Utah's other announced signees included quarterback Cameron Rising, a transfer from Texas; Luke Felix-Fualalo, an offensive tackle from Australia via California; cornerback JaTravis McCloud, from Union High School in Tulsa, Okla.; and Drew Rawls, a safety from West Brook High School in Beaumont, Texas.
Rising is enrolled at Utah and is scheduled to redshirt, although Whittingham said an appeal may allow Rising to play this season and have four years of eligibility.
Utah knew about Rising as a prep quarterback in southern California. Monitoring the NCAA's transfer portal, “When his name popped in there, we kind of lit up,” Whittingham said.
Felix-Fualalo signed a financial aid agreement in January and is enrolled at Utah, the school said. Having played rugby in Australia, the 6-7, 302-pound lineman came to California in 2017 to pursue American football and played in 2018 at national power Mater Dei High School.
McCloud is a star sprinter in track and field, having won the 400 meters and finished second in the 100 and 200 in the 2017 USATF National Youth Outdoor Championships.
Rawls, formerly committed to FCS power Sam Houston State, fills a need at safety in Utah's 2019 recruiting class, with no players at that position having signed in December.
Former Nevada safety Nephi Sewell intends to transfer to Utah, his father, Gabriel, told nevadasportsnet.com. Sewell, from Desert Hills High School in St. George, would redshirt in 2019 and have two years of eligibility. He had committed to BYU in December.
UTAH’S 2019 SIGNEES
• Donte Banton, 6-0, 189; WR from Lauderhill, Fla. (Deerfield Beach High School).
• Keaton Bills, 6-4, 260; DL from Draper (Corner Canyon High School).
• Micah Bernard, 5-11, 188; RB from Long Beach, Calif. (Gahr High School).
• Manny Bowen, 6-2, 231; LB from Barnegat, N.J. (Penn State).
• Luke Felix-Fualalo, 6-7, 302; OL from Brisbane, Australia (Mater Dei High School).
• Falcon Kaumatule, 6-8, 232; OL from Las Vegas, Nev. (Bishop Gorman High School).
• Semisi Lauaki, 6-2, 235; OL from Hawthorne, Calif. (Leuzinger High School).
• Sataoa Laumea, 6-5, 300; OL from Rialto, Calif. (Eisenhower High School).
• Ben Lennon, 6-2, 185; P from Viewbank, Australia (Swinburne University).
• Aaron Lowe, 6-0, 179; DB from Mesquite, Texas (West Mesquite High School).
• Johnny Maea, 6-4, 305; OL from Salt Lake City (East High School).
• JaTravis McCloud, 5-11, 186; DB from Tulsa, Okla. (Union High School).
• Bamidele Olaeseni, 6-7, 332; OL from London, England (Garden City Community College).
• LaCarea Pleasant-Johnson, 6-1, 161; DB from Phoenix, Ariz. (Mountain Pointe High School).
• Drew Rawls, 6-0, 184; DB from Beaumont, Texas (West Brook High School).
• Cameron Rising, 6-1, 233; QB from Ventura, Calif. (Texas transfer).
• Marist Talavou, 6-2, 230; OL from Norwalk, Calif. (St. John Bosco High School).
• Jordan Wilmore, 5-8, 199; RB from Lawndale, Calif. (Lawndale High School).