‘On a good trajectory’: Utah coach Kyle Whittingham likes what he sees in 2021 recruiting class
Perhaps the biggest news Wednesday regarding the Utes was that four-star QB Peter Costelli will be enrolling in school in January and will be available to participate in spring practices
Highlighted by a handful of four-star recruits, including quarterback Peter Costelli, Utah football hauled in another strong recruiting class — one of the best in program history.
Other highly touted high school players that signed with the Utes, 18 in all, on the early national signing day Wednesday include linebackers Ethan Calvert Mason Tufaga and running back Ricky Parks, bolstering a class that ranks No. 29 nationally, according to 247Sports.com. Utah’s Class of 2021 is tied for the top class in program history, along with last year’s.
The Utes were ranked No. 4 in the Pac-12, behind No. 6 Oregon, No. 11 USC and No. 24 Cal, according to 247Sports.com.
“I think our recruiting has risen each year. I think we’re on a good trajectory with recruiting and getting in with more of the guys that are more highly recruited and more known, but it still boils down to our assistant coaches doing a great job of developing those players once they’re in the program.” — Kyle Whittingham
“I think our recruiting has risen each year. I think we’re on a good trajectory with recruiting and getting in with more of the guys that are more highly recruited and more known, but it still boils down to our assistant coaches doing a great job of developing those players once they’re in the program,” coach Kyle Whittingham told the Pac-12 Network Wednesday.
Perhaps the biggest news Wednesday regarding the Utes was that Costelli will be enrolling in school in January and will be available to participate in spring practices.
With the eligibility clock being paused for players this season, Utah could have a crowded quarterback room in 2021 with Costelli, grad transfer Jake Bentley, Cam Rising and Cooper Justice. Rising suffered a season-ending shoulder surgery against USC. He underwent surgery and it’s doubtful he will be healthy for spring drills.
Speaking of spring drills, Whittingham and his staff have long been adept at developing talent, which is what they plan to do with this stellar class.
“That’s one of our mantras, recruit, develop and manage. You’ve got to recruit the raw material first. They’ve got to have the things we’re looking for on both sides of the ball and we have certain parameters that we look for,” Whittingham said. “Then you get them in the program and you get to start the development right away.
“You’ve got to manage them and make sure that everyone’s doing the right things and getting their degrees and all the things that go along with mentoring a collegiate athlete.”
Whittingham discussed with the Pac-12 Network his impressions of some of his signees.
Calvert is the third highest-rated signee in program history, according to 247Sports.com.
“I love everything about him. He’s a prototypical linebacker. He’s got great size, 6-foot-3 and 230 pounds and runs like a deer. Instinctive, tough, extremely smart, and so he’s the whole package and we’re elated to have him in the program,” Whittingham said. “He’s got two older brothers that are good players as well at different schools in the Pac-12 (Josh at Washington and Bo at UCLA), and he’s following suit with his older brothers.”
Running back Ricky Parks hails from Florida, like others that have had success at Utah, including all-time leading rusher Zack Moss.
“He’s a running back that fits the mold of what we look for here. He’s got good size. He’s Zack Moss-ish, I guess you could say,” Whittingham said. “Zack Moss is kind of the standard now of what we look for.
“Of course we’re having a terrific season out of Ty Jordan, our true freshman this year from this past class. Ricky is a really good player. He’s productive, he’s tough and we’re excited to get him in the program.”
Earlier this week, Whittingham said he wasn’t looking for a running back in this class to challenge his true freshman sensation.
“We’re looking for a guy to help us become a better football team and improve the roster,” he said. “That’s why you recruit; is this guy going to make us better? Does he add to what we’re doing?”
Whittingham has high expectations for offensive lineman Zereoue Williams.
“We think he’s got a big upside. Basketball background. Great frame at 6-foot-8. He’ll add weight to that frame when he gets here,” he said. “We’ll get him in the weight room ... he’s a really intriguing prospect and the exact challenge that Jim Harding loves to take on and he’s very successful at transforming these guys into really good players. He’s already a great athlete. I don’t want to make it sound like he’s not already a really good player, but he’s got a ton of upside.”
Snow College transfer defensive tackle Tevita Fotu could be in the same mold of his brother, Leki, a former Ute that now plays for the Arizona Cardinals.
“He’s a big, strong kid. They list him at 6-4, 290, but he’s 6-5½ and about (325),” Whittingham said. “He’s a lot like Leki in his style of play. Little different personality than Leki, but he’s a guy that is a junior college transfer and we’re excited to get him in the program. He’s a guy that we tried to get out of high school. Had to go the junior college route. Now we’re getting him back, and we’re thrilled about that.”
Velltray Jefferson is a versatile athlete that could play multiple positions, Whittingham said.
“He’s got a big upside as well. It’s what we look for. It’s those big, rangy, big-frame kids that can fill out. He fits that bill. He’s got a possibility of being a linebacker, he could be a rush end. He’s actually a really good tight end prospect if that’s the direction we want to go, but we’ll figure out for Velltray what he’s best at when he gets here, but we’re thinking defense and either linebacker or rush end.”
Contributing: Ryan McDonald
Utah’s 2021 recruiting class
Prospects that signed a National Letter of Intent with Utah on Wednesday
Cole Bishop — 6-3, 200, LB — Fayetteville, Ga. (Starr’s Mill HS)
Ethan Calvert — 6-3, 230, LB — West Lake Village, Calif. (Oaks Christian HS)
Makai Cope — 6-2, 190, WR — Culver City, Calif. (Culver City HS)
Peter Costelli — 6-3, 205, QB — Mission Viejo, Calif. (Mission Viejo HS)
Jonah Elliss — 6-2, 210, LB — Moscow, Idaho (Moscow Senior HS)
Kolinu’u Faaiu — 6-4, 315, OL — Bothell, Wash. (North Creek HS)
Tevita Fotu — 6-4, 299, DT — Ephraim (Snow College)
Trey Reynolds 6-2, 235, LB — Queen Creek, Ariz. (Queen Creek HS)
Velltray Jefferson — 6-4, 230, ATH — Fresno, Calif. (Edison HS)
Elisha Lloyd — 5-10, 175, CB — San Marcos, Calif. (Mission Hills HS)
Ricky Parks — 5-10, 192, RB — Tampa, Florida (Gaither HS)
Viliami Pouha — 6-2, 230, DE — South Jordan (Bingham HS)
Darrien Stewart — 6-2, 190, S — Las Vegas, Nev. (Desert Pines HS)
Mason Tufaga — 6-1, 210, LB — Honolulu, Hawaii (Saint Louis School)
Isaac Vaha — 6-7, 230, TE — Pleasant Grove (Pleasant Grove HS)
Zereoue Williams — 6-8, 248, OT — Phoenix, Arizona (Mountain Pointe HS)
Players returning to the program following church missions
Jonny Fanaika — 6-3, 245, DL — Pleasant Grove (Pleasant Grove High), originally signed with Utah in 2018
Simote Pepa — 6-3, 320, DL — South Jordan (Bingham High), originally signed with Utah in 2019