Utes sign former South Carolina QB and highly touted Utah high school players
Shelley may move to defense as quarterback position clears up. Newcomers Bentley and Rising expected to lead the competition
SALT LAKE CITY — “Stay tuned.”
Those were the final words Utah coach Kyle Whittingham said at Wednesday’s National Signing Day press conference.
Although the Utes landed a highly touted quarterback and a majority of the top high school players in the state, it’s still a work in progress. They’ll likely add a handful of others before the weekend, after collecting letters from 17 on the opening day of the early signing period.
“To this point we feel really good, obviously, about our class. There’s still some things that we expect to happen the next couple of days. That will just add to what we’ve got going already,” Whittingham said. “The overriding theme in this class is defense. We were down in defensive numbers last year, scholarship numbers, so there’s going to be a pretty decent imbalance of defense to offensive guys this year to try to catch up.”
Whittingham added that the Utes are getting some really good players on their roster. That includes, he said, five of the six top-rated prospects in the state. All said, including some returned missionaries, there will be nine new scholarship players from Utah on the squad next season.
The in-state signees include defensive lineman Van Fillinger (Corner Canyon HS), linebacker Sione Fotu (Bingham HS), offensive lineman Alex Harrison (Viewmont HS) and safety Nate Ritchie (Lone Peak HS). Juan Diego defensive end Xavier Carlton could join the group Thursday morning when he announces his final decision. His father, Demetrius, was a linebacker for the Utes in the late 1980s.
Returned missionaries with local ties joining the program include offensive lineman Jaren Kump (Herriman HS), offensive guard Hunter Lotulelei (Highland HS), defensive lineman Taniela Pututau and defensive lineman Tennessee Pututau. A fifth player — defensive lineman Aliki Vimahi of Hawaii — is also enrolling for the first time following a mission.
The balance of Utah’s early signees, thus far, include quarterback Jake Bentley, a graduate transfer from South Carolina; linebacker Graham Faloona (Southlake Carroll HS, Texas); running back Ty Jordan (West Mesquite HS, Texas); safety Kamo’i Latu (St. Louis School, Hawaii); wide receiver Money Parks (Aledo HS, Texas); safety Ben Renfro (Magnolia HS, Texas); cornerback Caine Savage (Western HS, Calif.) and defensive lineman Tyler Wegis (San Juan Hills HS, Calif.).
“Overall we feel good about what’s transpired so far,” said Whittingham, who explained that the Utes would only have three spots — max — left when the February signing period comes. “We’ll see how things shake out.”
The first signed letter of intent received by the Utes on Wednesday was from Bentley. The graduate transfer from South Carolina, who started in 33 games for the Gamecocks, gives the team an experienced quarterback in the wake of senior Tyler Huntley’s impending departure.
“Jake is a big addition for us. In today’s world with the (transfer) portal and the way things are changing, the quarterback room can change dramatically from year to year,” Whittingham said. “That’s the position that undergoes the most change. We’re excited to have Jake in the room. He’s got a big arm, more of a pro-style guy.”
Bentley once threw for 500 yards against Clemson. Offensive coordinator Andy Ludwig competed against Bentley in the SEC while at Vanderbilt and liked him. Bentley wound up visiting Utah and committed to joining Ludwig and the Utes.
Utah’s other quarterbacks next season include Texas transfer Cam Rising, a sophomore, and possibly senior Drew Lisk, who may or may not move on after graduating in May. Whittingham said there’s a good chance that junior-to-be Jason Shelley could move from quarterback to the secondary next season.
“That’s still being talked about,” Whittingham said.
Success within the state was also a major point of discussion. Whittingham reeled off attributes about all of the local signees.
“We have always placed the highest priority on the in-state athlete, That’s our starting point. Every recruiting class starts with making sure that we properly evaluate everybody inside the boundaries of our state,” Whittingham said. “We do the best we can of keeping those guys home.”
Whittingham emphasized that it’s always a priority and a great effort on the program’s part to make it happen.
“Nobody puts a fence around their state and gets everyone. Nobody. I don’t care who you are — at any level,” he said. “And so we do the best we can.”
Not everything went as planned for the Utes. Former Baylor quarterback Peyton Powell signed with Rutgers, despite giving Utah a verbal commitment in November.