M.J. Cunningham (Brandon Huffman)

Oregon linebacker M.J. Cunningham names Utes as early leader

Portland linebacker has a handful of offers and the Utes at the top of the list..

Portland (Ore.) linebacker M.J. Cunningham began getting some early attention as a sophomore at Franklin High School. But his team needed a quarterback in 2016, so M.J. stepped across the line-of-scrimmage for his junior season to help the team. Cunningham feels this may have set his recruitment back a bit, but doesn't regret the decision. This year, the 6-foot-3 inch, 230-pound athlete is switching back to defense during his senior year and will suit up for the Senators of Madison High.

To get ready for his senior campaign, Cunningham has been working the camp circuit and regaining some of that recruiting ground. He was recently named a standout at the Northwest Best Showcase, a local camp in Portland. Utah linebackers coach Justin Ena noticed Cunningham early, and extended M.J.'s first offer at the beginning of May. "Coach Ena has been real with me from the start. They were the first school to offer me and give me an opportunity," he said.

That made an impression on Cunningham, who has now named Utah as an early front runner. According to Cunningham, "relationships, roster and who makes me a priority" are his primary factors that will contribute to his decision.

Since the Utes pulled the trigger, offers have now come in from Washington State, Oregon State, Utah State, and Hawaii. Cunningham is also starting a dialogue with a few other Pac-12 schools. "I've been talking to UCLA a lot, still no offer, and I just started touching base with Oregon," he said.

At this time, there are no visits on the calendar, but Cunningham has already let Coach Ena know he intends to visit Salt Lake City. It would be his first visit to the state, outside of the airport terminal.

Cunningham is an intriguing prospect that already has good size and a frame that is ready for some additional weight. He's shown versatility and athleticism with the ability to play the quarterback position. Cunningham also believes his experience at quarterback will help him on the defensive side of the ball.

"Yeah, just because I know how a QB thinks now and certain things he's looking for, and I can do certain things to throw them off and disguise what I'm doing," he explained.  

Cunningham prides himself on his coverage skills and is probably worthy of the multi-sport descriptor as a basketball player as well. All of these traits offer some flexibility at the next level. He could stay at linebacker or add weight and slip down to defensive end.

He's eager to perform well during his senior season, and certainly would entertain more scholarship offers. As for a decision, that won't likely come until Cunningham has the opportunity to take his official visits and thoroughly evaluate all of his options. Utah has an early lead, but a decision most likely won't come until much closer to signing day. 

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