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Utah Utes football: Utah fills holes with top athletes

SALT LAKE CITY — When it comes to recruiting, Utah coach Kyle Whittingham generally looks for the best athletes and the best football players he can find.

"We have a track record of finding spots for those guys to play," said Whittingham, who is expecting to sign 20-22 new players on Wednesday.

Other initial signings this year include defensive lineman James Aiono, an All-American at Snow College, as well as tight end Westlee Tonga (Spring HS, Texas) and defensive back Mike Honeycutt (Lone Peak HS), who are returning from LDS Church missions.

Three walk-ons who were awarded scholarships last season — offensive lineman Tevita Stevens, long snapper Patrick Greene and punter Sean Sellwood — also count toward Utah's 25 initials this year.

The impending class may also include highly touted Brighton High defensive lineman Ricky Heimuli, who plans to make his final decision Wednesday morning. He's also considering offers from Pac-10 schools Oregon, UCLA and Washington.

NCAA rules prohibit coaches from discussing specifics about recruits. The Utes, though, are still in the hunt for a couple of other top players as well.

"There's three or four guys that are going right down to the wire and we'll just have to be patient and see what happens," Whittingham said.

Utah, he noted, is going head-to-head with a lot of BCS conference schools out on the recruiting trail.

"Everything starts in-state. We want to make sure we don't miss anybody in-state and do a good job of evaluating all the in-state talent," Whittingham said. "Texas and California, obviously, are big areas for us and hopefully we'll come away with some very good players from all three areas."

Texas currently tops Utah's list of verbal commitments with seven. The list includes offensive lineman Zach Bolton (Klein Forest HS), running back Princeton Collins (Westwood HS), defensive back Wykie Freeman (Pasadena Memorial HS), linebacker Jacoby Hale (Central HS), defensive back Damian Payne (Klein Forest HS), wide receiver Terrell Reese (Benham HS) and safety Michael Walker (Brenham HS).

California is second with six commits. The class features wide receiver Dres Anderson (J.W. North HS), quarterback Brian Blechen (Moorpark HS), wide receiver Kenneth Scott (Colony HS), quarterback Tyler Shreve, defensive back Joseph Smith (Norco HS) and defensive end Sione Tupouata (Fremont HS).

The Utah contingent includes defensive end Joe Kruger (Pleasant Grove HS), linebacker Ofa Latu (Timpview HS), defensive end Star Lotulelei (Snow College), defensive end Sefa Tanoai (Pleasant Grove HS) and wide receiver Maka Unufe (Provo HS).

Defensive back Avery Williams, from Coolidge High in Washington, D.C., rounds out the Utes' early commitments.

"We feel we have pretty good depth at most all positions," Whittingham said. "We did take a hit at linebacker and a hit at wide receiver. Those are probably our biggest areas of graduation."

The Utes, though, are more concerned with finding the best athletes and football players they can get.

Even so, there are always variables.

"You hope you have a solid roster from top-to-bottom every year. But sometimes unforeseen things happen, injuries or circumstances you weren't counting on," Whittingham said. "So I don't know if you can say there's never going to be a year where you're shorthanded at a position and trying to scramble and recruit players at that spot."

Utah's current commitments include five defensive backs, four defensive linemen, four wide receivers, two quarterbacks, two linebackers, one offensive lineman and a running back.