Running back Jaylon Glover picked Utah because he wanted to make his own path

The freshman running back’s role has grown in recent weeks, giving the Utes a look into the future of the position.

(Young Kwak | AP) Utah running back Jaylon Glover (1) gets past Washington State defensive lineman Christian Mejia (93) during the first half of an NCAA college football game, Thursday, Oct. 27, 2022, in Pullman, Wash.

Wendy Glover stepped out onto the balcony of her room at the Grand America Hotel to a view of Salt Lake City’s skyline glistening in front of the Wasatch Mountains.

On this late June morning last year, she took in the view and then looked to her right to find that her only child, Jaylon, had already made his way out to his balcony in the room next to hers.

Jaylon, a four-star running back recruit from Lake Gibson High School in Lakeland, Fla., was in town with his mother and father, Stanley, for his official visit to the University of Utah. On that balcony, Wendy and Jaylon met eyes, fully aware of the decision in front of them.

Wendy smirked.

Jaylon asked her about the look.

The mother told her son she thought this was the right place for him. It was just a feeling she had, unaware at that exact moment that her son was feeling the same thing.

Jaylon had grown up wanting to play at the University of Florida, where his godparents had gone, not all that far from his home where a picture of Ben Hill Griffin Stadium was up on the wall in his childhood bedroom.

But now he knew he wanted to forge his own path.

“I feel like I’m in God’s country,” he told his mother.

Fifteen months later — amid the highs and lows of his first collegiate season — the true freshman’s potential has the Utes smirking still.

The kitchen table

The Glover family home sits not far off Exit 32 along U.S. Route 98. The three-bedroom, 1,100-square-foot space is where Stanley grew up, before raising his son there. Upon walking in the door is the living room, and just beyond that, the kitchen.

The kitchen table, specifically, is of importance to the Glover family. Stanley believes the kitchen table is the cornerstone of a home, the place where a family sits, learns about things, and makes important decisions together.

(Trent Nelson | The Salt Lake Tribune) Utah Utes running back Jaylon Glover (1) runs the ball as the University of Utah hosts Arizona, NCAA football in Salt Lake City on Saturday, Nov. 5, 2022.

“Parents are the first teachers, home is the first school, reading is the first lesson, so one thing we taught him is, it starts at home,” Stanley said at his home in September, on the eve of the Utes’ season-opener at Florida. “We communicate, we have dinner together, his dad was home every night.”

Getting around the kitchen table — physically and metaphorically — is at the heart of how Glover ended up in Utah in the first place.

Utes head coach Kyle Whittingham and his staff had gone into the talent-loaded state of Florida in the recent past, namely for the famed “Hallandale Trio” of Zack Moss, Tyler Huntley, and Demari Simpkins in the middle of the last decade, but it’s not the norm for the Utes.

But after former Utah running backs coach Kiel McDonald made the initial inroads to build a relationship with the Glover family, Whittingham found himself on a phone call that would change their futures.

A recruitment that turned westward

The prolific nature of Glover’s career at Lake Gibson is well-documented: more than 6,000 rushing yards across four seasons, 80 touchdowns, 32 100-yard games. As a senior, his 2,073 yards and 26 touchdowns earned him Mr. Football honors in the state of Florida as the Braves advanced to the semifinals of Florida 7A, the state’s second-largest classification.

A career of that magnitude, coming from a recruit out of talent-loaded Polk County, meant, Glover would not have to leave the state for college if that’s what he wanted.

(Utah Athletics) Freshman running back Jaylon Glover practices on the first day of Utah Utes football fall camp, Aug. 3, 2022.

Miami offered early — as did Central Florida, South Florida and Florida International. Florida State was in there to the end among Glover’s final five. The Florida Gators were interested, too, as new head coach Billy Napier and his staff offered in June 2021 after watching Glover work out, but by the time that finally happened, it was very late in the process, too late for the Gators to get as deep as Utah had already been.

McDonald, now the running backs coach at USC, identified early in the process that Glover was at least receptive to leaving the state of Florida — receptive but still unsure.

“To me, thinking of The U, that was Miami,” Jaylon said. “To see Utah, we never knew much about it here. We of course knew the story of Zack Moss, but we didn’t know anything [else]. Everything on TV was SEC and ACC, but I was always open-minded.”

Then came the call with Whittingham.

Utah’s longtime coach generally will not get fully involved with a recruit until a scholarship offer has been extended and the prospective recruit has shown a genuine interest in Utah. Now he was on a FaceTime call with the Glovers.

“Hey, coach,” Stanley said.

“No, I’m Kyle, you’re Stanley. I’m Kyle, you’re Wendy,” the coach replied.

Whittingham then complimented Wendy’s hair.

“I like him already,” Wendy recalled thinking. “Talking to him, it was exciting.”

Within minutes of the FaceTime call ending, McDonald called Stanley and asked what happened. Taken aback, Stanley asked McDonald what he meant. McDonald was calling to inquire as to what happened on the call with Whittingham because, as McDonald explained, Whittingham called him right after it ended, which is not like him.

Stanley explained to McDonald that the family had a good time on the call and to them, there had been nothing out of the ordinary, nothing that should yield any red flags.

In fact, Whittingham had called McDonald with a mandate.

“‘Whatever it takes, I want that family,’” said Stanley, recalling what McDonald had told him of his boss’ instructions. “It was a genuine conversation and Kyle felt that. What I love about what Utah did, all these other colleges, 98% of them, offered Jaylon. Utah offered his family. That’s the power of it. That was a standout for us.”

Added Wendy: “They just cared. If they didn’t care, they definitely fooled us.”

Added Jaylon: “He did a great job recruiting me, he went about it the right way. He built relationships. Just building connections with my family when he didn’t have to do that. That’s what got me here.”

Having that level of connection with Glover’s family meant there had to be a hard conversation when, in the days after Utah’s Rose Bowl appearance, after Glover had already signed his National Letter of Intent, McDonald announced he was leaving for USC.

McDonald placed a call, not to Stanley or Wendy, but to Jaylon’s nana.

“Coach McDonald called me and said he was leaving Utah, and he apologized because he told me he would be there for my child,” Latha Murphy Speed said. “Something had come for his family and he was wanting to accept it.

“Go with my blessings, it’s OK. It’s going to be fine.”

(Rick Egan | The Salt Lake Tribune) Utah Utes running back Jaylon Glover (1) celebrates his touchdown, in football action between the Utah Utes and the Southern Utah Thunderbirds, at Rice-Eccles Stadium, on Saturday, Sept. 10, 2022.

Whittingham saw to it that it would indeed be fine. Less than a week after McDonald announced his move, Utah announced the hiring of new Utes running backs coach Quinton Ganther, a former standout under Whittingham who had spent time in the NFL.

Take a guess as to what one of Ganther’s first orders of business was.

“Bringing Quinton on board and getting them connected, I was fairly certain they would hit it off right off the bat,” Whittingham said. “Jaylon never wavered through the process, even when Kiel left.”

Added Jaylon: “I’ve just wanted to write my own story. When I was younger, I could have gone to a powerhouse at Lakeland, but I went to Lake Gibson. I want to write my own story and things fall into place for a reason. I’m faith-based, God-driven and he’s going to lead me in the right direction.”

The peaks and valleys of a freshman

Forty-eight hours ahead of Glover’s collegiate debut coincidentally taking place at The Swamp on Sept. 3, mom, dad, and nana sat at the kitchen table, where all those early lessons were taught all those years ago.

As they spoke glowingly of their boy, they were all packed, readying to head north later that night for what could be viewed as the next chapter of a life’s work.

That never materialized.

Glover was a DNP against the Gators, Whittingham saying later that there was a plan to maybe find Glover some touches, but it didn’t pan out.

Thirty-seven carries for 153 yards and the first three touchdowns of Glover’s career came in Utah’s next three games combined. Two more DNPs in Utah’s two biggest games of the season to date, at UCLA and vs. USC followed, but now, as the games are only getting more important, things are coming back around to Glover.

Tavion Thomas has been dealing with personal issues since mid-September and has not assumed the bell cow role he had last season, at least not yet. Micah Bernard is playing, but has been banged up, Chris Curry is out for the season, and most recently, Ja’Quinden Jackson suffered an upper-body injury vs. Arizona, the severity of which is unknown.

Enter Glover, who had 20 carries for 76 yards and a touchdown at Washington State, where the Utes had to scratch and claw one out without Cam Rising. After eight carries for 69 yards vs. the Wildcats, Glover has solidified himself as an option down the stretch, which doesn’t come off as a surprise once Whittingham explains his initial impression of Glover when he first showed up on campus.

“Jaylon was very much a go-getter,” Whittingham said. “He had a plan. He had a plan, he had goals, he knew what he wanted to accomplish, he had it all mapped out. He reminds me of some of the guys we’ve had here, Clark Phillips, Jaylon Johnson, guys who had a plan in place and knew where they were heading and how they were going to get there.”

(University of Utah) Jaylon Glover takes water between drills during a recent spring practice.

That is high praise from Whittingham. Johnson’s plan, as cornerbacks Sharrieff Shah has told the story many times, was to be at Utah three years, get his degree, and be gone to the NFL, all of which came to fruition. Phillips III and his parents have echoed a similar track as the third-year, draft-eligible sophomore cornerback will soon decide what to do with his career. He is currently a projected first-round pick in 2023.

Glover’s path to what he wants to attain is now in front of him. An expanded role for the remainder of this season, potentially an even bigger role next season, being a focal point of what is traditionally a run-first Utes offense for at least the next two years. After his junior season, if things have gone well, maybe talk of the NFL can come into the picture. Maybe Glover can be another Lakeland kid, another Polk County star to get to the next level, following guys like Chris Rainey, Ahmad Black, and the Pouncey twins, Maurkice and Mike.

The difference between Glover and those guys is that those guys all went to Lakeland High School and then went to the University of Florida. That wasn’t good enough for Glover. He wanted to chart his own path.

If the next step in that path is the NFL, Jaylon, Stanley, and Wendy will surely hash it all out back at the kitchen table.

“I just feel like I have a lot to offer,” Glover said. “I don’t want to put a ceiling on what I want to accomplish. Coach Whittingham and this program, the opportunities are limitless. I want to keep producing, keep getting better. I get excited, especially with the guys in the room that are coming back, the guys we’re bringing in, we’re going to be good for a while and I’m just excited to be here.”

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