Utah now recruiting at an all-new level as it reels in its top football class in many years

Kyle Whittingham has been with the University of Utah, either as an assistant or the head coach, since 1994. Never, in all that time, have the Utes recruited at the level they are right now.

As the dust settled on the first day of the regular signing period on Wednesday, aka National Signing Day, Utah has the 29th-ranked recruiting class and the No. 5 class in the Pac-12, per 247sports.

Checking in nationally at No. 29 represents the highest-rated recruiting class Utah has put together since it entered the Pac-12 in 2011.

“I don’t think there’s any question about that,” Whittingham said Tuesday when asked about how far his program’s recruiting has come in the last few years. “Our net has been cast fairly wide, we’ve got guys from a lot of different parts of the country. More than anything else, we’re able to stand toe-to-toe and win some of these battles against high-profile schools.

“I mean, you look at our recruits and their offer lists of who they were offered by, and we beat some really good schools. Schools that we could not even be in the conversation with six, seven, eight years ago.”

The majority of Utah’s recruiting was finished during the early signing period in December. On Wednesday, Whittingham received National Letters of Intent from five three-star recruits, Texas cornerback Faybian Marks, Arizona linebacker Jeremy Mercier, Oregon quarterback Cooper Justice, California defensive tackle Keanu Tanuvasa, and Idaho defensive tackle Tanoa Tagiai.

Several recruits are already on campus and taking classes, with spring practice set to begin on March 2. South Carolina graduate transfer quarterback Jake Bentley, as are three-star safety Ben Renfro and returning LDS missionaries Hunter Lotulelei, Taniela Pututau, Tennessee Pututau, and highly-touted four-star cornerback Clark Phillips III.

Whittingham is hopeful of getting three-star Caine Savage in time for spring ball, but says Utah is awaiting NCAA clearance.

Biggest need (and yes, it was met)

He’s not an incoming freshman within this recruiting class, but Bentley was as important a recruiting win as any for Whittingham in this cycle. In looking to replace All-Pac-12 quarterback Tyler Huntley, Bentley and his 19-14 record as a starter for an SEC school will vie for the starting job vs. redshirt sophomore Cameron Rising once spring practice begins on March 2. Bentley started the 2019 season opener for the Gamecocks vs. North Carolina, but was lost for the season due to a Lisfranc injury to his right foot late in the game.

Class prize

When Ohio State co-defensive coordinator Jeff Hafley was hired as the head coach at Boston College on Dec. 13, it wound up as a massive win for Utah. Four-star cornerback Clark Phillips III, long an Ohio State commit, visited Salt Lake City the day after Hafley left. Phillips III wound up decommitting from the Buckeyes and signing with Utah on Dec. 19, giving the program its highest-rated recruit ever. Phillips III will be in the mix to start for Morgan Scalley’s defense immediately, while cornerbacks coach Sharieff Shah gets the hat tip as the lead recruiter for Phillips III.

The one that got away

Linebacker is a position of need for the Utes, so they could have used the services of Jaylan Ford. A promising three-star recruit out of Lone Star High School in Texas, Ford committed to Utah on Oct. 8, but de-committed on Dec. 19, which is when he committed to and signed with the Longhorns. Ford’s flip to Texas closed a series of 2020 recruiting battles between the Utes and Longhorns. Earlier in the cycle Utah flipped a pair of Texas commits, four-star defensive end Van Fillinger, a Draper native, and three-star running back Ty Jordan.

Unpolished gem

Utah put a lot of time into recruiting Ty Jordan, even after the Mesquite, Texas native committed to Texas. That perseverance paid off, and the Utes secured the services of a multidimensional offensive threat. Rated three stars and ranked just 437th nationally among all recruits according to 247sports, Jordan is a running back by nature, but has played out of the slot and could be a threat to return kickoffs and/or punts at some point. Jordan has a 4.53 40-yard dash on his resume, and ran the 100-meter dash for West Mesquite High School in 10.52 last spring as a junior, so speed is not going to be an issue.

2020 Utah football recruiting class

• Jake Bentley, 6-4, 220, QB; from Lexington, S.C. (South Carolina)

• Xavier Carlton, 6-6, 259, DL; from Herriman (Juan Diego Catholic HS)

• Graham Faloona, 6-3, 201, LB; from Southlake, Texas (Carroll HS).

• Van Fillinger, 6-4, 248, DL; from Draper (Corner Canyon HS).

• Sione Fotu, 6-0, 220, LB; from West Jordan (Bingham HS).

• Alex Harrison, 6-4, 333, OL; from Bountiful (Viewmont HS).

• Ty Jordan, 5-7, 192, RB; from Mesquite, Texas (West Mesquite HS).

• Cooper Justice, 6-6, 231, QB; from Tigard, Ore. (Lakeridge HS)

• Jaren Kump, 6-5, 266, OL; from Riverton (Herrriman HS).

• Kamo'i Latu, 6-1, 185, DB; from Honolulu, Hawaii (St. Louis HS).

• Kenzel Lawler, 6-0, 189, CB; from Corona, Calif. (Eleanor Roosevelt HS)

• Hunter Lotulelei, 6-3, 322, OL; from West Valley City (Highland HS).

• Faybian Marks, 5-11, 175, CB; from Richmond Texas (George Ranch HS)

• Jeremy Mercier, 6-3, 217, LB; from Chandler, Ariz, (Gila River Junior College)

• Solatoa Moae’i, 6-4, 334, OL; from Laie, Hawaii (Punahou School)

• Connor O’Toole, 6-4, 207, WR; from Albuquerque, N.M. (La Cueva HS).

• Money Parks, 5-10, 164, WR; from Aledo, Texas (Aledo HS).

• Clark Phillips III, 5-10, 187, CB; from Lakewood, Calif. (La Habra HS).

• Taniela Pututau, 6-3, 228, DL; from Salt Lake City (Cottonwood HS).

• Tennessee Pututau, 6-2, 260, DL; from Salt Lake City (East HS).

• Ben Renfro, 6-1, 187, DB; from Magnolia, Texas (Magnolia HS).

• Nate Ritchie, 6-2, 200, DB; from Cedar Hills (Lone Peak HS).

• Caine Savage, 5-11, 170, DB; from Buena Park, Calif. (Western HS).

• Keanu Tanuvasa, 6-3, 238, DL; from Mission Viejo, Calif. (Mission Viejo, Calif.)

• Tanoa Togiai, 6-6, 285, DL; from Rigby, Idaho (Rigby HS)

• Aliki Vimahi, 6-4, 247, DL; from Kahuku, Hawaii (Kahuku HS).

• Tyler Wegis, 6-7, 200, DL; from Ladera Ranch, Calif. (San Juan Hills HS).