Commitment of 4-star QB Peter Costelli signals potential Utah football recruiting momentum for 2021

(Rick Egan | The Salt Lake Tribune) Utah Utes head coach Kyle Whittingham watches the action between the Utah Utes and the Arizona Wildcats in Tucson, Saturday, Nov. 23, 2019.

University of Utah football coach Kyle Whittingham and his staff put together a top-30 recruiting class for the 2020 cycle, but it came together slowly with momentum not peaking until late in the process.

The Utes got the momentum going much sooner as the 2021 cycle starts to crank up.

On Saturday, the Utes received a verbal commitment from four-star quarterback Peter Costelli, a junior at Mission Viejo (Calif.) High School. Costelli is Utah’s first high school commit from the Class of 2021, and it’s a big one. By getting a high-priority commit on board early, the Utes may be able to run downhill in terms of the rest of their 2021 recruiting efforts.

“I think it’s huge because in recruiting, you have almost a blueprint,” ESPN college football national recruiting coordinator Craig Haubert told The Salt Lake Tribune. “Everyone is looking for a quarterback and if you find him early, you can build off him.

“With everything going on, to find a high-profile QB is big. Landing one of your top prospects is huge.”

That Utah could secure a top 2021 target in the middle of the COVID-19 pandemic is impressive. On March 13, with the NCAA already having canceled the NCAA Tournament, plus all remaining winter and spring championships, the college sports governing body instituted a dead period for all recruiting activity, which eliminated all face-to-face, in-person contact until at least April 15. On April 1, that dead period was extended to May 31.

With no face-to-face contact through at least the end of May, that means the next chance for coaching staffs to evaluate recruits will not be until September. Costelli, ranked as the 241st overall recruit in the Class of 2021 by 247sports, and 244th by ESPN, already had a long-standing relationship with offensive coordinator Andy Ludwig. With that relationship and a comfort level with Ludwig, and the recruiting unknown dragging into at least June, Costelli didn’t see the need to wait any longer.

Costelli, according to 247sports, had 19 scholarship offers, including eight Pac-12 schools, and was set to visit Nebraska, Michigan State, Oregon, Northwestern and Arkansas in March and April.

COVID-19 canceled those visits, in essence helping Utah get to the finish line.

“The recruitment was accelerated and this goes back to the groundwork Utah laid over a year ago,” Haubert said. “He’s been on campus at least twice, and that paid big dividends because he decided to forgo a lot of other opportunities to see other campuses.

“More likely than not, you’re taking one QB in a class. It’s obviously a high-profile position, so when you really find the one you want and he has shown leadership the way this kid already has, it is going to be huge for everyone in the building.”

According to the 247sports composite, Costelli is the 12th-highest rated recruit in program history and the No. 2 quarterback. The top-rated quarterback in program history was another Southern California kid, but things didn’t pan out.

A four-star recruit from Mission Hills High School in San Marcos, Calif., Jack Tuttle committed to Utah on Dec. 17, 2016, weeks after his junior season ended.

Upon arrival in 2018, Tuttle found Tyler Huntley locked in as the second-year starter, then lost a preseason competition with Jason Shelley to be the primary backup. Tuttle did not see any action in the Utes’ first six games that season, then opted to leave the program in mid-October.

Tuttle transferred to Indiana for the 2019 season, gained an NCAA waiver for immediate eligibility, then lost a three-way training camp battle with incumbent Peyton Ramsey and Michael Penix Jr.