It’s finally over. After months of scouting players, thousands of hours on airplanes, dozens of official visits, and too many to count text messages and Twitter DMs, the class of 2017 is in the books. It was arguably the strongest recruiting class from top to bottom in the Kyle Whittingham era, and today UteZone breaks down some of the key trends from the signing class of 2017.
A Stronger Secondary
The secondary was both Utah’s biggest need as well as their greatest triumph in the class of 2017. After losing four cornerbacks and their All Pac-12 free safety to graduation or the NFL, it was critical that the Utes reload in the defensive backfield. And reload they did. They landed four star JUCO cornerback Tareke Lewis, who should immediately compete for one of the outside starting corner slots. They landed Army All-American Jaylon Johnson, who is easily the most highly touted skill position player the Utes have ever landed. Johnson has a terrific chance to earn a starting job as well if he’s able to adjust to the speed of the game. On top of that, Utah landed four star Javelin Guidry, who will compete immediately for the starting job at nickel.
But the Utes weren’t done there. Utah landed a pair of four star safeties in Corrion Ballard and Marquise Blair. Ballard is the prototypical free safety that excels at playing center field. Blair is a big hitter that plays with aggression. He’ll start out at strong safety, but could potentially play linebacker in certain packages.
The bottom line is that Utah needed help in the secondary, and then went out and filled that need by landing five four star players.
With the addition of Troy Taylor as the Utes’ new offensive coordinator Utah needed playmakers to power what is expected to be a high powered passing attack. Utah made major strides in bringing in high profile receivers Tyquez Hampton and Bryan Thompson, both tall receivers that should give Utah depth on the outside. Speedy slot receiver Jaylen Dixon was one of the better receivers in Texas this past season, and should help contribute to the passing attack. Arizona running back T.J. Green should add additional firepower to the offense, adding his speed to both the run game and the passing game.
Help in the Trenches
Football games are won and lost on the line of scrimmage, and Utah added needed depth in the trenches on both sides of the ball. Offensive line was a big need, and the Utes addressed it landing JUCO transfer Jordan Agasiva, who is expected to contribute immediately. The Utes also added high school linemen Michael Richardson - the top offensive lineman in the state of Utah, Orlando Umana - a high impact recruit with multiple Pac-12 offers, and Mo Unutoa - the top offensive lineman from Hawaii.
On defense, Utah added tackles John Penisini, a 3-to-play-3 JUCO transfer, and Nick Ford, who chose the Utes over multiple Pac-12 offers. Utah also added ends Aliki Vimahi - the top defensive lineman in Hawaii - and Miki Suguturaga, who plans on serving an LDS mission before enrolling at Utah.
A Team Effort
As in most seasons, it was a team effort by the coaching staff to pull in the signing class. This was especially true when it came to offensive recruits. New offensive coordinator Troy Taylor and running backs coach Kiel McDonald both joined tight ends coach Fred Whittingham to help sway late additions T.J. Green and Bryan Thompson.
Other players’ recruitment involved coaches from opposing sides of the ball. Jordan Agasiva’s recruitment was spearheaded by defensive line coach Lewis Powell - who is responsible for recruiting Hawaii and had developed a relationship with Agasiva during his high school days - and offensive line coach Jim Harding, who has developed his own reputation as a strong closer on the recruiting trail.
Although the success of the class was due to a team effort, several coaches made strong individual contributions. Cornerbacks coach Sharrieff Shah took point on efforts for high profile signees such as Jaylon Johnson, Tareke Lewis, Javelin Guidry, and Nick Ford. Similarly, Morgan Scalley was the lead recruiter for Corrion Ballard and Marquise Blair. Lewis Powell also hit his stride as a recruiter, playing a critical role in landing Agasiva, Miki Suguturaga, Aliki Vimahi and Mo Unutoa.
Where They Came From
As usual, Utah focused its recruiting efforts on a few core pipeline states. Utah has historically been successful pulling recruits out of California - particularly Southern California - and this year was no different. Hawaii was a fertile recruiting ground for Utah, especially on signing day, as the Utes landed three of the top six players in the state.
Surprisingly, the Utes didn’t fare as well as expected in state, as they only landed three signees from the state of Utah. The biggest reason behind the smaller number of local commits was the large percentage of top in-state recruits that signed with out-of-state programs. Jay Tufele, Tayler Katoa, Ty Jones, Levani Damuni, and Jordan Lolohea were all priority targets for Utah during this cycle, and all chose to play for Pac-12 programs in Washington or California. The Utah coaches will undoubtedly go back to the drawing board to prevent this from becoming a permanent trend.
Here’s a complete breakdown of the location of the originating school for each signee:
- California: 6
- Texas: 4
- Hawaii: 3
- Utah: 3
- Arizona: 2
- Kansas: 1
One abnormality for this recruiting cycle was the lack of recruits coming from Florida schools. After making the state a priority in recent classes, Florida recruits were conspicuously absent this year. Although the Utes were active in South Florida, they weren’t able to attract interest in any of the higher-profile recruits that they wanted.