With the vast majority of college football’s top prospects signing in mid-December, Wednesday’s National Signing Day for Utah, like a lot of teams, was relatively quiet. 

The Utes, the back-to-back Pac-12 champions, signed the program’s highest-ranked recruiting class ever in December, with 20 additions. 

“As long as we keep our head down and just keep working and moving forward and getting bigger, faster and stronger and continuing to maintain the culture here, I think we’ve got a chance to do some good things.” — Utah coach Kyle Whittingham

Rivals ranks Utah’s class as the 20th best in the country, while 247Sports has it at No. 21; it marks the first recruiting class in school history to be rated in the top 25. 

The only real intrigue Wednesday was the decision of Walker Lyons. The Utes were in the running for the standout high school tight end, who wound up signing with Pac-12 rival USC. Utah was one of the front-runners for Lyons’ services, along with two-time national champion Georgia. Lyons decommitted from Stanford in November after coach David Shaw resigned. 

Coach Kyle Whittingham appeared on the Pac-12 Network, along with other coaches from around the league on Wednesday to answer questions about recruiting and the state of the program. 

During his interview, Whittingham confirmed that running back Micah Bernard will be returning this season after spending a month in the transer portal.

“That’s just one more weapon for Andy Ludwig and the offensive coaching staff to utilize,” Whittingham told the Pac-12 Network. “That was great news for us when Micah decided to return.”

Whittingham also revealed a little more information about the status of quarterback Cam Rising, who suffered a leg injury during the Rose Bowl. 

“He’s doing great. He did have a postseason surgery and there will be a pretty extensive rehab,” he said. “But according to all reports, he’s fully expected to be ready to go for the season-opener. Having him back is invaluable to our football team. He’s our team leader … To have him back in that same role is going to be great for us.”

In terms of this recruiting class, Whittingham was asked how he and his staff have been able to recruit so many four-star prospects. 

“As our national brand becomes more prevalent, and we’re more well-known, we’re getting into houses that we never could have gotten in even five years ago,” he said. “It’s all about recruiting, so it’s a very positive thing for our program. This is the highest-rated class that we’ve ever had. We feel like we’ve really hit the jackpot on a bunch of players in this class.”

A number of signees from December, and transfers, are already on campus, participating in winter conditioning. 

Among those that have impressed Whittingham are offensive lineman Spencer Fano — the second-highest commit in program history — and his brother, Logan Fano, a BYU transfer and edge rusher. 

“He’s the whole package. He’s 6-foot-5-plus. He’s just about 300 pounds. He’ll be over 300 pounds by the time he’s done maturing. Great feet. Athletic,” Whittingham said. “He has a great attitude and a great work ethic. The big plus there is, he came with his brother, Logan Fano ... He’s really opened some eyes in these winter workouts with his explosion and his change-of-direction. He’s going to be a guy that really figures in on that defense prominently this year.”

Whittingham is excited about the talent and depth of the offensive line. 

“Credit Jim Harding. That room is the most talented it’s ever been here — I think ever. Not just in my time here. I can’t remember a time watching the University of Utah growing up since way back when that the room has been this stacked,” he said. “It’s darn near three-deep. We’ve got really good players.

“Now we’ve got to try to hang onto them obviously with the transfer portal. Nothing is ever a given. But the offensive line is in great shape right now. That’s really the starting point to playing really good offense — it starts up front.”

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Micah Bernard is reportedly withdrawing from transfer portal, returning to Utah football program

Two dynamic playmakers on offense that are part of the incoming class, wide receiver Mikey Matthews and running back Dijon Stanley, are intriguing. 

“(Matthews has) been moving great and working hard. He has an excellent work ethic. He reminds me a lot of Brit Covey,” Whittingham said. “He’s pretty much very similar in stature, quickness and ball skills. He’s a guy that we’re very excited about.”

As for Stanley, Whittingham said, “He’s explosive. He’s a playmaker. We’ll have to see where he fits. But he’s a guy that has such great quickness and speed and overall, all-around athleticism. We’re excited to get him here and see what he can do.”

Overall, the Utes have lost just two defensive starters and they return a bunch of starters on offense.

Whittingham said he’s “very excited” about what his team can accomplish next fall. 

“Obviously, you’ve got to work hard between now and then. You’ve got to lay the groundwork and lay the foundation. So far, they’ve been doing that,” he added. “As long as we keep our head down and just keep working and moving forward and getting bigger, faster and stronger and continuing to maintain the culture here, I think we’ve got a chance to do some good things. That’s all predicated upon how hard we’re willing to work in the next seven months.”

Utah opens spring practices March 21. The spring game is scheduled for April 22. The Utes kick off the 2023 season at home against Florida on either Aug. 31 or Sept. 2.

Utah’s 2023 signing class

Name — Star rating — Pos — Ht — Wt — Hometown/Previous School

Roger Alderman — 3 stars — OL — 6-4 — 254 — Sonora, Calif./Sonora HS

CJ Blocker — 4 stars — DB — 5-11 — 161 — Houston, Texas/New Caney HS

Kainoa Carvalho — 3 stars — WR — 5-7 — 165 — Kahuku, Hawaii/Kahuku HS

Owen Chambliss — 3 stars — LB — 6-3 — 206 — Corona, Calif./Centennial HS

Hunter Clegg — 4 stars — DL 6-4 — 235 — American Fork, Utah/American Fork HS

Spencer Fano — 4 stars — OL — 6-5 — 264 — Spanish Fork, Utah/Timpview HS

Brock Fonoimoana — 3 stars — LB — 6-1 — 191 — Laie, Hawaii/Kahuku HS

Johnathan Hall — 3 stars — DB — 6-1 — 221 — Houston, Texas/Katy HS

Mateaki Helu — 3 stars — LB — 6-1 — 205 — Tooele, Utah/Stansbury HS

Mack Howard — 3 stars — QB — 6-2 — 181 — Columbus, Miss./Oxford HS

CJ Jacobsen — 3 stars — TE — 6-4 — 223 — Meridian, Idaho/Rocky Mountain HS

Jonah Lea’ea — 3 stars — DL — 6-4 — 215 — San Mateo, Calif./Bishop Gorman HS

Caleb Lomu — 4 stars — OL — 6-5 — 267 — Gilbert, Ariz./Highland HS

Mikey Matthews — 3 stars — WR — 5-9 — 179 — Irvine, Calif./Mission Viejo HS

Michael Mitchell — 3 stars — RB 5-11 206 Orange Park, Fla./Middleburg HS

Stanley Raass — 3 stars — DL — 6-0 — 286 — Laie, Hawaii/Kahuku HS

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John Randle Jr. — 4 stars — RB — 6-0 — 181 — Wichita, Kan./Heights HS

Smith Snowden — 3 stars — DB — 5-10 — 173 — Lehi, Utah/Skyridge HS

Dijon Stanley — 4 stars — RB 6-0 — 170 — Granada Hills, Calif./Granada Hills Charter HS

Daidren Zipperer — 3 stars — WR — 6-0 — 165 — Lakeland, Fla./Lakeland Senior HS

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