‘We’re building the brand’: Expect Utes to continue adding to 2022 class via transfer portal
Utah signed 20 recruits during the December signing period and should add another one Wednesday.
It’s been one month since Utah fell to Ohio State in the Rose Bowl, and now a new phase begins with the start of the February signing period Wednesday.
The defending Pac-12 champs aren’t expected to have much activity Wednesday — they signed 20 during the early signing period in mid-December — but in this era of the transfer portal and the ability of athletes to transfer without penalty, expect them to add new players over the next several months.
“Obviously, a great deal of that has to do with the success we had late in the season, winning the Pac-12 championship, first and foremost was probably the biggest factor in getting these guys that were on the fence to come our way.” — Utah coach Kyle Whittingham
Last fall, coach Kyle Whittingham said that the transfer portal would be “the most active ever this offseason.”
He added, “We save ‘X’ amount of scholarships for portal kids because they aren’t in it until late in the game so you have to have some scholarships in your pocket to accommodate that.”
The Utes have already signed three players from the transfer portal — Florida linebacker Mohamoud Diabate, helping to offset the loss of NFL-bound Devin Lloyd; Syracuse receiver Landon Morris; and Idaho tight end Logan Kendall.
Utah certainly will be looking to add depth and talent in the portal, likely at positions like offensive line, wide receiver and the secondary. Last year, it added players during the spring and summer, including running back Tavion Thomas, who ran for 1,108 yards and 21 touchdowns in 2021.
As for freshmen prospects already in the fold, the Utes signed a trio of four-star recruits — linebacker Lander Barton, quarterback Nate Johnson, and running back Jaylon Glover; and 15 three-star recruits.
On Wednesday, Utah is expected to sign one recruit, wide receiver Sidney Mbanasor from Pflugerville, Texas.
Utah’s Class of 2022 didn’t take shape until late, as it gained significant momentum in early December after the Utes drubbed Oregon in the Pac-12 championship game and earned its first appearance in the Rose Bowl.
“Obviously, a great deal of that has to do with the success we had late in the season, winning the Pac-12 championship, first and foremost was probably the biggest factor in getting these guys that were on the fence to come our way,” Whittingham said in December. “We feel like we took care of most all of our needs.”
During the early signing period, Utah added athletes from 10 states — Utah (4), California (4), Florida (3), Washington (2), Texas (2), Hawaii (1), Idaho (1), Indiana (1), Alabama (1) and Oklahoma (1).
Whittingham said Utah’s program is gaining national attention and that’s bolstering recruiting success.
“We’re building the brand year by year, and we’re getting in just about every single door that we want to get in. Now, we’re not getting all the players, obviously. You’ve got to still battle and try to get them signed, but we’re getting in doors every year.” — Utah coach Kyle Whittingham
“We’re building the brand year by year, and we’re getting in just about every single door that we want to get in. Now, we’re not getting all the players, obviously. You’ve got to still battle and try to get them signed, but we’re getting in doors every year. It’s getting to the point where there’s almost no door that we can’t at least get in or get some interest from the player because our name is starting to be much more — it’s just more prominent out there.”
According to 247Sports, Utah’s class ranks No. 37 nationally and No. 3 in the Pac-12. Of the Utes’ 20 signees, nine enrolled in school in January and will participate in spring football, according to Whittingham.
Barton is the younger brother of former Utes stars Cody and Jackson Barton.
“If you’ve got an athlete with the last name of Barton, it usually means good things,” Whittingham recently told the Pac-12 Network.
With Cam Rising returning at quarterback, the Utes enhanced their depth at that position with Johnson.
“He’s an absolute dual-threat. He’s dangerous running the football. He’s got a quick release,” Whittingham said. “He has a lot going for him as far as his tools and we’re excited to get him into the program.”
Another QB signee, Brandon Rose, passed for 7,500 yards and 74 touchdowns in Murrieta Valley, California.
The return of Thomas was huge for the Utes and Glover gives them another talented running back. Whittingham compares Glover, in size and style, to former NFL star Maurice Jones-Drew.
“He’s a terrific player. He ran for over 6,000 yards in his high school career. … Great balance, low center of gravity, excellent vision, instincts, everything you look for in a running back,” Whittingham said. “He’s a tremendous player. If you watch Maurice Jones-Drew play, there’s a lot of similarities in their styles.”
While Glover earned Mr. Football honors in Florida, wide receiver Ryan Peppins, who recorded 2,755 receiving yards and 43 touchdowns as well as 326 return yards, was named Mr. Football in Alabama. Peppins helped lead Thompson High win three consecutive 7A state titles.
Whittingham is looking forward to coaching two Utah natives that signed with Utah, Tyler Knaak (Brighton High) and Carson Tabaracci (Park City).
“Tyler is a big, physical kid. He’s an absolute road-grader,” Whittingham said. “We’re excited about him. He’s right here in our backyard.”
Tabaracci was designated as “athlete” on the Utes’ recruiting list.
“He’s going to play somewhere, I promise you that,” Whittingham said, adding that Tabaracci will likely start out at the linebacker position. “We’re not sure if it’s going to be tight end, running back, linebacker. He’s a guy that could play several spots.”
Tao Johnson, out of Idaho Falls, Idaho, is another versatile athlete.
“He can play wide receiver or DB. He’s a multi-talented kid. We’re going to start him off at wide receiver,” Whittingham said. “But he has a great background as a defensive back.”
The Utah defense should be strengthened by the addition of defensive end Ka’eo Akana from Honolulu, Hawaii, and edge rusher Chase Kennedy.
Akana, who had 36.5 sacks in high school, originally committed to Boise State before flipping to the Utes.
Of Kennedy, Whittingham said, “He’s a speed rusher that will fit in our scheme really well. He’s a guy that has a lot of upside.”
Expect Whittingham and his staff to continue to scan the transfer portal to add to the program’s depth and talent before the season kicks off at Florida on Sept. 3.