SALT LAKE CITY — When it comes to national signing day, Utah coach Kyle Whittingham acknowledged that his comments sound like a broken record.
“We felt we had another solid class,” he said.
Whittingham, though, added that the coaching staff felt like they really took care of the immediate needs in the program and addressed positions that were the most depleted.
Offensive line topped the list, followed closely by wide receiver and defensive back.
“Those were definitely the three primary areas of concern for us and (we) needed to restock. But we were able to get good players at a number of other positions as well,” Whittingham said. “So we feel good about the guys we got and time will tell how they pan out — who excels and who makes that transition to Division I football, just like every year.”
The Utes signed 20 players Wednesday, including 15 high school recruits. The class of 2015 includes four offensive linemen: Johnny Capra (6-6, 288, Placer HS, California), Nick Carman (6-3, 274, Mountain Pointe HS, Arizona), Keven Dixon (6-4, 272, Buena Park HS, California) and Darrin Paulo (6-5, 315, Grant HS, California); four wide receivers: Deniko Carter (6-2, 173, Gavilan College, California), Alfred “Tarzan” Smith (5-9, 175, Destrehan HS, Louisiana), Tyrone Smith (6-4, 197, Edison HS, California) and George Wilson (6-3, 185, Tustin HS, California); and six defensive backs: Philip Afia (6-0, 175, Ayala HS, California), Cory Butler (5-9, 175, Los Angeles Harbor College, California), Ahmad Christian (5-10, 190, transfer from South Carolina), Tyson Cisrow (6-0, 180, Saint Thomas Aquinas HS, Florida), Kyle Fulks (5-8, 168, Blinn College, Texas) and Austin Lee (6-0, 187, Alta HS).
Lee is one of three returned LDS Church missionaries already enrolled in school. Linebacker Jake Jackson (6-3, 205, LaCosta Canyon HS, California), and defensive tackle Vaha Vainuku (6-3, 298, East HS) are the other two. A fourth, offensive lineman Leroy Sitake Tonoai (6-4, 280, Notre Dame HS, California) is expected to be added to the recruiting class when his missionary service is completed. He’s the half-brother of former Utah defensive coordinator Kalani Sitake.
As far as official signees, the Utes also added a pair of defensive ends — Chris Hart (6-1, 238, Saint Thomas Aquinas HS, Florida) and Caleb Repp (6-4, 202, Los Osos HS, California) — as well as running backs Marcel Brooks-Brown (6-0, 205, Rio Linda HS, California) and Joseph Williams (5-11, 200, ASA College, New York).
Whittingham said the Utes signed a lot of guys that they feel like could come in and help right away. Perhaps half the signing class could make an immediate impact.
“We think we really helped ourselves with the offensive line,” he said, noting that the Utes are back to where they need to be as far as sheer numbers.
The Utes used all 25 of their initial offerings for 2015, including scholarships that were awarded last season to defensive end/linebacker Jason Fanaika, wide receiver Jameson Field, defensive end Wallace Gonzalez and wide receiver Tim Patrick.
Utah fared particularly well in California. Whittingham said the turnaround 9-4 season that included victories over Fresno State, Stanford, UCLA and USC helped make that happen.
However, at the same time, a lot of talent left the Utes’ backyard this recruiting season.
“You’re never going to get every one of them and we certainly lost a few this year that were very talented and very high-profile,” said Whittingham, who noted that the program tries to put a fence around the state as best as it can.
“Our No. 1 objective every year is to try to keep as much talent in the state as we can in state and coming to our place,” he explained. “We were able to come away with some really good players in this year’s class and also have some guys that just returned off missions from in state in this year’s class.”
Because national letters of intent can only be signed for the upcoming year, recruits planning to serve LDS Church missions did not sign on Wednesday. Players announcing intentions to sign with Utah include: Alta safety Quinn Fabrizio (6-3, 210), American Fork offensive lineman James Empey (6-5, 275), Bingham kicker Chayden Johnston (6-0, 160), plus athlete Chad Hekking (6-4, 220, Vacaville HS, California) and linebacker T.J. Kautai (6-0, 200, Euless Trinity HS, Texas).
Brighton linebacker Cody Barton (6-2, 210), Timpview athlete Britain Covey (5-9, 160) and defensive end Kendall Huey (6-4, 245, Pima Community College, Arizona) plan on joining the Utes this fall.