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Brad Rock: Good day for Utes, next job is keeping the state’s best

SHARE Brad Rock: Good day for Utes, next job is keeping the state’s best
Jay Tufele commits to going to the University of Southern California during Signing Day at Bingham High School in South Jordan on Wednesday, Feb. 1, 2017.

Jay Tufele commits to going to the University of Southern California during Signing Day at Bingham High School in South Jordan on Wednesday, Feb. 1, 2017.

Kristin Murphy,

Tuesday’s announcement that five-star Bingham High recruit Jay Tufele is going to USC rated a 1 on the Shock-o-Meter. Once the Trojans arrive, usually the meeting is adjourned.

Eleven national championships say it all, as do six Heisman winners. Oh, and the weather is lovely, the talent superior and the location close enough.

Mark down another premium recruit that got away from the Utes. Not that they fielded a weak class. Far from it. The Utes signed seven four-star considerations. That's a fine year for almost anyone. Kyle Whittingham loves his results as does "everyone else in America.”

He likes the speed and athleticism in the secondary, referring to it as “really high caliber athletes.” He feels “great about the guys we signed” on the defensive line. But while the Utes are collecting more talent than ever, there’s also the nagging reminder that they didn’t land the highest profile player of all. Last year they pulled off a coup by inking five-star offensive lineman Garrett Bolles from Snow College. Now he’s headed for the NFL draft. However, rarely if ever have the Utes signed a five-star player directly from high school.

Superstar players prefer superstar destinations.

Traveler, the white mascot horse of USC fame, is just now leaving the stable.

Utah will keep doing what it does, making the most of the available talent. It is one of the Pac-12’s better programs at sending players to the NFL. Asked how many of this year’s signees Utah could have attracted six or eight years ago, Whittingham said, “Ten percent. Maybe a quarter, at the top. Look at the list of schools we beat on some of those guys. It would have been unheard of before our Pac-12 days.”

It’s not like it was a terrible jolt that Tufele chose neither Utah nor BYU. He listed both among his finalists, along with USC, Ohio State and Michigan. The announcement was made at a school assembly Wednesday. As he waited at a table to sign, he nervously rocked in his chair, accidentally dropping a paper on the floor. He thanked family, school officials, friends, coaches, etc., then delivered the news.

It’s a fairly regular story of local stars choosing surf over turf. In 2015, hotly recruited Utahns Porter Gustin and Osa Masina — both top-60 prospects — signed with the Trojans. In 2006, Stanley Havili, from Cottonwood High, made the same choice. Others such as Haloti Ngata (Oregon, 2002) and Ty Jones (Washington, 2017) have also gone elsewhere.

Timpview four-star Chaz Ah You chose BYU this year. Keeping Ah You local was the good news for the state of Utah, not as good for its university.

But it wasn’t long ago that only a couple of players in Utah were even worth a recruiting trip for big-name coaches. Now the talent has ballooned. Whittingham said in the more than 20 years he’s been at Utah, the number of Division I instate players has increased from five or six a year to over 30.

A rising tide lifts all boats.

It also can wipe out the shoreline when coaches such as Urban Meyer and Jim Harbaugh show up.

The signatures began trickling in at the crack of smog on Wednesday. Feb. 1 isn’t necessarily the best “air day” to show off Salt Lake City. But it’s not like L.A. is above it all.

Javelin Guidry, a four-star DB from California, signed early, making Whittingham’s day bright. Late in the afternoon the Utes added four-star defensive back Jaylon Johnson. In between was a steady stream of power conference talent.

National Letter of Intent day resembles a pageant as much as anything. There’s a whole lot of ceremony and suspense. All that’s missing is a congeniality award. Afterward, fans loudly declare it their best recruiting class ever.

Grandiose as that sounds, there’s a grain of truth. Few of Wednesday’s signees would have given Utah a shot in the 1980s, or even a half-dozen years ago. This year’s top target didn’t happen on Letter of Intent day, but Whittingham was upbeat in the end. He noted how many of his former players are in the NFL — 25 at last count by ESPN.com.

On both ends of the college experience at Utah, things have been working just fine.

The only thing better would be keeping the best of them home.