SALT LAKE CITY — Word of Utah defensive coordinator Morgan Scalley’s contract amendment proved to be a positive on several fronts. The Dec. 9 announcement by head coach Kyle Whittingham maintains overall stability and is beneficial in terms of timing when it comes to recruiting.
“He’s a guy that’s obviously a hot commodity and had options, many options,” Whittingham said. “And so that put everything to rest and let recruits know that he’s going to be here for the long term, which is huge for our program. That was great.”
Scalley made it clear: This is the place as far as he’s concerned. Utah is home and much more. He expressed gratitude for Whittingham’s continued faith and trust in him, along with the support of athletics director Mark Harlan.
“I don’t want to go anywhere. I love my family. I love this place. I love this university and their faith in me, their trust in me,” Scalley said. “As well, I love the players. I see something special in this program, where we can head and there’s really no reason for me to leave right now.”
Scalley declined to answer a question about eventually becoming the next head coach when Whittingham retires.
“It helps that the guys going down there are the same guys that have been going down there for 12 years. That drum and feather stays there because you see a lot of turnover” — Utah defensive coordinator Morgan Scalley
“Im not going to discuss that,” Scalley said. “I’m not going to discuss that.”
A self-described “whirlwind” has evolved around Scalley since helping Utah reach the Pac-12 championship game for the second consecutive season. Besides agreeing to terms on a contract amendment and recruiting, Scalley was a finalist for the Broyles Award as the nation’s top assistant coach. He attended a function for the accolade in Little Rock, Arkansas.
“That whole deal was such as classy outfit. I was just honored to be there,” Scalley said. “But when it comes down to it, that’s an award for your entire staff. It’s not an award for Morgan Scalley. It’s not recognition for me. We’ve got good players.”
And that, he added, is why recruiting is so important. Playing in the Alamo Bowl against Texas is especially important. Scalley and the other Utah coaches have numerous contacts in the state and it’ll be a good opportunity for recruits to see the team in action.
According to UteZone.com, Utah has hard commitments from seven recruits from Texas. The expected signees include linebacker Graham Faloona (Southlake), linebacker Jaylan Ford (Frisco), running back John Gentry (Houston), running back Ty Jordan (West Mesquite) wide receive Money Parks (Aledo), quarterback Peyton Powell (Odessa/Baylor) and safety Ben Renfro (Magnolia).
“It helps that the guys going down there are the same guys that have been going down there for 12 years. That drum and feather stays there because you see a lot of turnover,” Scalley said. “A lot of different coaches go through there and it’s nice to step into a school and have them say ‘Hey Scalley, get in here — let’s go’ and to have them know you and that relationship.”
Player success at Utah also works into the equation. They’re treated right, he explained, and love it in Salt Lake City.
Scalley’s first recruiting area as a coach was Houston — replacing Derrick Odum, who recruited players like Brandon Burton and Derrick Shelby to Utah.
“So we had been down there,” Scalley said. “It was just a matter of me kind of plugging in there.”
Establishing relationships down there took a lot of time and required frequent visits.
Scalley considers it an under-recruited area considering how many players are in Texas. He noted that 110 high schools play football in Utah. Within a two-hour radius of Houston there are approximately 280.
“So there’s a ton of players and you’ve just got to do your homework before you go out,” Scalley said. “We’ve been able to get some good ones out of there.”
Geographically, the Utes have focused their Texas recruiting on the large population bases surrounding Dallas and Houston. The current roster — as they prepare to face Texas in San Antonio’s Alamo Bowl on Dec. 31 — includes several players with ties to the state. The list features senior tight end Hunter Thedford (Comanche/SMU); junior defensive backs Vonte Davis (Rosenberg/Blinn College) and Nygel King (Tomball), sophomore defensive back Bronson Boyd (Arlington/Texas Tech); wide receiver Jaylen Dixon (Frisco); tight end Brant Kuithe (Katy); quarterbacks Cameron Rising (Texas) and Jason Shelley (Frisco); as well as several freshmen — offensive lineman Braeden Daniels (Carrollton); defensive end Blake Kuithe (Katy); plus defensive backs Aaron Lowe (Mesquite) and Drew Rawls (Beaumont)
Whittingham said Utah’s recruiting efforts in Texas have intensified. He noted that former coach Ron McBride brought a few players into the program years ago, mentioning guys like Brandon Warfield and Thomas Herrion.
A few years into Whittingham’s tenure as head coach, he opted to make Texas more than a satellite area for recruiting. Scalley was assigned to the Houston area and Whittingham said he “did a great job.” Utah now has three coaches recruiting in the state.
Whittingham considers it one of the program’s primary areas.
“We have three main footprints: Southern California, in-state here in Utah and in Texas. The majority of our team is comprised of players from those three areas,” Whittingham said. “It’s going to be great exposure for our team and our program to come to San Antonio and be able to play in that state and have recruits take note of that. And, of course, playing Texas adds to that as well.”
Texans already on the roster, he explained, will benefit as well.
“That’ll be a good experience for those guys to be able to get back home and play in front of some of their family,” Whittingham said.
Dixon acknowledged that it’s huge for those from Texas. Facing the Longhorns is a big deal. He grew up watching them and players like Vince Young.
“Just growing up with that and then that culture it’s been huge,” Dixon said. “So I think it’s going to be great to go back home and to play those guys.”
Having not been recruited by Texas adds to the motivation.
“I feel I was capable of playing there,” Dixon said. “But them not seeing that way it brings a little bit of a chip on my shoulder and that’s just a part of it.”
Brant Kuithe also thought about playing for Texas someday, However, he knew the Longhorns went after four- or five-star guys and that a lot of three-star players like himself usually had to go out of state.
“That’s just what position I’m in, and I’m happy to be here,” said Kuithe, who admits he’ll come out with a little extra juice since he wasn’t recruited much by Texas.
The Alamo Bowl, thus, does carry some extra meaning. Kuithe grew up about two hours out of San Antonio so a lot of his family will be on hand to “showcase what Texas guys can do in Texas.”
Scalley and the Utes, as the evidence shows, already know that.
“You’ve seen over the years we’ve got a lot more guys from Texas,“ Kuithe continued. “So I think if we just handle our business — week in and week out — then I feel like we’ll just get more guys on the recruiting trail.”
Texans on Utah’s roster
TE Hunter Thedford (Comanche/SMU)
DB Vonte Davis (Rosenberg/Blinn College)
DB Nygel King (Tomball)
DB Bronson Boyd (Arlington/Texas Tech)
WR Jaylen Dixon (Frisco)
TE Brant Kuithe (Katy)
QB Cameron Rising (Texas)
QB Jason Shelley (Frisco)
OL Braeden Daniels (Carrollton)
DE Blake Kuithe (Katy)
DB Aaron Lowe (Mesquite)
DB Drew Rawls (Beaumont)
Committed recruits (UteZone.com)
LB Graham Faloona (Southlake)
LB Jaylan Ford (Frisco)
RB John Gentry (Houston)
RB Ty Jordan (West Mesquite)
WR Money Parks (Aledo)
QB Peyton Powell (Odessa/Baylor)
S Ben Renfro (Magnolia)
Utes on the air
2019 Alamo Bowl
No. 11 Utah (10-2) vs. Texas (7-5)
Alamodome, San Antonio
Dec. 31, 5:30 p.m. (MT)
Radio: ESPN 700AM