Kyle Whittingham thinks the Utes just landed ‘two of the best linebackers in the West, maybe in the country’

Utah’s latest recruiting class was ranked No. 3 in the Pac-12 as of Wednesday

(Trent Nelson | The Salt Lake Tribune) Brighton High School linebacker Lander Barton at football practice in Cottonwood Heights on Tuesday, Aug. 31, 2021.

Three hours after the Division I football early signing period began on Wednesday morning, the University of Utah received National Letters of Intent from its two highest-rated recruits in this cycle.

Lander Barton, a four-star linebacker from Brighton High School, and four-star quarterback Clovis (Calif.) High School quarterback Nate Johnson both signed on the dotted line, highlighting what is expected to be a strong recruiting class.

Buoyed by those two, Utah’s 20-member recruiting class had an average 247sports rating of .8695 as of late Wednesday afternoon, which is the second-highest average rating in program history. The class is currently ranked 36th nationally and third in the Pac-12.

Utah head coach Kyle Whittingham, meanwhile, indicated business was not done.

Of the 20 recruits Utah announced on Wednesday, two of them — defensive end Keanu Tanuvasa and safety Sione Vaki — are returned missionaries, while two tight ends — Landon Morris and Logan Kendall — are out of the NCAA Transfer Portal from Syracuse and Idaho, respectively.

“We feel like we took care of most or all of our needs,” Whittingham said. “We held back several scholarships for the (transfer) portal, late qualifiers, or whatever comes about in the next nine, 10 months because recruiting is never really over anymore thanks to the portal.

“I think we struck the right balance with getting the guys signed now, yet having X-amount of scholarships left over for needs that arise that unforeseen.”

Whittingham has said multiple times in the recent past that he did not expect to load up on National Letters of Intent on Wednesday, instead looking ahead to what the NCAA Transfer Portal may yield. The early signing period for Division I football runs through Friday.

In the wake of winning the Pac-12 championship, Utah was able to either flip some recruits that were committed elsewhere, or get to the finish line with other recruits that were on the fence about committing Utah.

As far as that goes, Whittingham’s big get on Wednesday was Justin Medlock, a three-star linebacker from Manvel (Texas) High School. Medlock, who offered a verbal commitment to Miami in July before de-committing on Dec. 6, is the third-highest ranked recruit in Utah’s class, below only Barton and Johnson.

Whittingham on Wednesday called Barton and Medlock, “two of the best linebackers in the West, maybe in the country.”

“I think, obviously, a great deal of this has to do with the success we had late in the season,” Whittingham said. “Winning the Pac-12 championship, first and foremost, was probably the biggest factor in getting these guys that were on the fence to come our way.”


Kaeo Akana, 6-3, 205, LB; from Honolulu (Roosevelt High School)

Lander Barton, 6-4, 215, LB; from Salt Lake City (Brighton High School)

Elijah Davis, 6-1, 165, S; from Auburndale, Fla. (Auburndale High School)

Jaylen Glover, 5-7, 205, RB; from Lakeland, Fla. (Lake Gibson High School)

Nate Johnson, 6-2, 185, QB; from Fresno, Calif. (Clovis High School)

Tao Johnson, 6-2, 180, ATH; from Idaho Falls, Idaho (Thunder Ridge High School)

Logan Kendall, 6-3, 270, TE; Idaho transfer

Chase Kennedy, 6-3, 225, DE; from Dallas (Episcopal School of Dallas)

Tyler Knaak, 6-7, 300, OT; from Salt Lake City (Brighton High School)

Jocelyn Malaska, 6-1, 170, CB; from Bethany, Okla. (Bethany High School)

Justin Medlock, 6-1, 210, LB; from Mandel, Texas (Mandel High School)

Landon Morris, 6-5, 225, TE; Syracuse transfer

Keith Olson, 6-6, 305, OL; from Naperville, Wash. (Naperville High School)

Ryan Peppins, 5-8, 168, WR; from Alabaster, Ala. (Thompson High School)

Chris Reed, 6-1, 190, WR; from Apopka, Fla. (Wekiva High School)

Brandon Rose, 6-2, 195, QB; from Murrieta, Calif. (Murrieta Valley High School)

Carson Tabaracci, 6-2, 225, ATH; from Park City (Park City High School)

Keanu Tanuvasa, 6-3, 268, DE; Mission Viejo, Calif. (Mission Viejo High School)

Dallas Vakalahi, 6-2, 305, DL; from Salt Lake City (West High School)

Sione Vaki, 6-0, 190, S; from Brentwood, Calif. (Liberty High School)