Moving quickly in offering top in-state prospects, coupled with a successful campaign in the Pac-12 conference, has certainly paid off for Utah on the local recruiting front. One has to look no further than Utah County, where the Utes recently secured commitments from Timpview's Britain Covey and American Fork's James Empey to find prime examples.
Both athletes, despite having ties to BYU both geographically and familial, felt more at home at Utah after being pursued heavily by both the Utes and the Cougars, among other programs.
For Covey, a 5-foot-9, 170-pound athlete who was named Mr. Football by the Deseret News, a commitment to Utah means a break with family tradition.
"I grew up a huge BYU fan. That was my team and the team my family would cheer for," Covey said. "I still love BYU, my commitment to Utah doesn't change that, I just feel at home at Utah and feel it's the program where I fit in best, and my family is completely behind me and my decision."
Covey grew to love and appreciate the Aggie program through the recruiting process.
"Utah State has coaches that I really grew to love and it was a great option for me as well," he said. "The offense they run would have been great for me, and I really appreciate them giving me the opportunity."
As mentioned, Utah moved quickly in offering Covey, which ultimately put the program ahead of the recruiting competition. Both Utah State and then BYU eventually offered him a scholarship, but by that time certain ties had already been established with the Utes.
"Utah was the first school that believed in my abilities and believed I could compete at the college level," Covey said. "That's a big thing and certainly made me feel they had a role for me in mind and I'm excited to prove myself there."
Covey made his mark playing quarterback for the Thunderbirds, but will make do playing at both receiver and returner for the Utes — a role he's excited for.
"I love competing against the best and what better opportunity than to compete against the Pac-12 Conference?" Covey said. "I want the opportunity to challenge myself against the best and will have that opportunity playing for Utah."
Utah's recruitment of Covey hit a potential hitch when former defensive coordinator Kalani Sitake and defensive line coach Ilaisa Tuiaki left to take jobs at Oregon State. Both coaches were integral in recruiting the Timpview star, but an official trip to Utah made shortly after eased any of his concerns.
"I really wasn't sure after losing two of my main recruiters, but my trip to Utah really reaffirmed why I was drawn to Utah in the first place," Covey said. "I love the Salt Lake area and love the players and coaches there. Every player was so positive about the program, and that really helped me make my decision."
Covey plans to play a year before leaving to serve a mission for The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.
As for Empey, a 6-foot-4, 270-pound offensive lineman, his recruitment story is similar. Utah identified his talent early, extended him his first offer and played the role of leader throughout.
"I was able to get to know Utah pretty early and really liked what they had to offer," Empey said. "I really grew to trust and like Coach [Jim] Harding [Utah offensive line coach] and I really felt at home up there."
Empey, whose father Mike Empey played and then coached at BYU, liked what BYU had to offer, among other programs, but felt more comfortable at Utah.
"BYU recruited me very hard, and I like a lot of what BYU has to offer considering I'm LDS and that I'm going to serve a mission," Empey said. "Other schools like Oregon State and Washington also had a lot to offer, but at Utah I feel they had more of everything I was looking for in a program."
Like Covey, Empey is excited to prove himself against top Pac-12 competition.
"I get the opportunity to get a great education at Utah while playing in the Pac-12 and still being pretty close to home," he said. "I felt that was the best opportunity for me and it's why I chose to commit to Utah."
Empey plans to serve an LDS Church mission before enrolling at Utah. When he returns he looks to compete for a spot along Utah's offensive front, where American Fork coach Aaron Behm feels he'll see a lot of success.
"James understands football and understands how to work to be the best player he can be," Behm said. "He's developed great technique and has become a dominant lineman, and I feel that will only continue when he's at Utah."
Zach Katoa to Oregon State
Zach Katoa, a 6-foot-1, 200-pound running back from American Fork, recently committed to Oregon State after making an official trip to the program. Katoa was pursued heavily by Utah State, but chose the Beavers after being late in the process, and shortly after former Utah coach Kalani Sitake was hired as the program's defensive coordinator.
"I'm so happy for Zach because he deserves the type of opportunity he'll have playing for the Beavers," Behm said. "He's a great kid, a great teammate and a very hard worker, and I'm always happy to see hard work get paid off."
Although Katoa played primarily at running back for the Cavemen, Behm believes he could play a variety of different positions for Oregon State.
"He's a very versatile athlete and could play a number of different positions and even play safety," Behm said. "I know with his attitude that he'll be willing to play wherever they want him to and that he'll work as hard as he can at any position."
According to Behm, another American Fork standout, linebacker Nick Bernardo, recently accepted an offer to sign with Southern Utah.