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Utah football: Breaking down Nate Ritchie and why he could contribute immediately in the Utes’ secondary

Lone Peak’s Nate Ritchie celebrates after intercepting a Highland pass football game at Highland High School in Salt Lake City on Friday, Sept. 7, 2018.
Lone Peak’s Nate Ritchie celebrates after intercepting a Highland pass in Salt Lake City during a high school football game on Friday, Sept. 7, 2018.
Steve Griffin, Deseret News

HIGHLAND — Nate Ritchie signed with Utah as one of the highest-rated prospects in the 2020 class, and for good reason.

The versatile Lone Peak athlete proved one of the better playmakers the state of Utah has seen over recent years, with the Utes noting his abilities early and often during the recruiting process. Ultimately Ritchie was rated a 4-star prospect and signed Utah over multiple Pac-12 offers, and will look to contribute immediately as a true freshman.

“It was amazing to have Utah offer and my relationship with the coaches there has just grown since,” Ritchie said upon signing with Utah. “I had other offers, but Utah was always the school that showed the most interest and the school I felt most comfortable with.”

Ritchie is a 6-foot-3, 200-pound athlete who played defensive back, kicker and wide receiver for the Knights, with safety the position he played at most. He’ll seek to play at safety while at Utah with his odds at contributing immediately buoyed by several starters in the Ute secondary moving on to the NFL, including Terrell Burgess and Julian Blackmon.

So what can fans expect from Ritchie for this coming season and thereafter?

We sat down with Utes insider Bryan Brown to go over his film and gain his perspective. Brown is a producer for 1280theZone and a contributor to utezone.com.

What are your overall impressions of Nate Ritchie?

“The natural comparison most people would make is with Chase Hansen. He obviously comes from the same high school, but he also played the same position, although there’s certainly some differences I see when watching Ritchie’s film.

“I think Nate is more athletic than Chase was — at least from what he’s shown in high school and Nate is a better coverage player, while Chase was perhaps better playing close to the line of scrimmage. That’s not to say Nate isn’t good at playing close to the line, but his strength is definitely his ability to shut down half the field at safety and playing coverage.

“Nate just shows a lot of football knowledge, and that’s expressed with him playing a variety of positions while at Lone Peak, although playing at safety is where he really excelled. He just understands everything going on around him so well.”

Do you feel Ritchie will stay at safety or be switched to linebacker?

“I think he stays at safety, just based on what he’s been told by (Utah defensive coordinator) Morgan Scalley, but also what I’ve seen on film and otherwise. He’s more lean than Chase was and he’s just long with great footwork, which is what you really want playing safety for you.

“His instinct to close really stands out when watching him along with his footwork. His footwork is really advanced for a high school player and that’s so important to have when moving on to the next level.”

What are his chances to contribute immediately?

“His versatility and smarts puts him in play immediately as a strong possibility to contribute immediately, along with his great ability just as an athlete. He already has a great relationship with Scalley and will come in really prepared to get on the field immediately.

“His ability to play at both strong safety and free helps a ton and everyone knows the spots at safety are open this year. I think he’s going to show up and really surprise some people with how he’s able to make plays and how he already knows the game so well.”

What former Utah player does Ritchie remind you of?

“He sort of reminds me of Justin Taplin Ross in that he just has a great frame for the position, like Justin did. I hate to compare anyone with Robert Johnson, just because Johnson’s talent was so rare, but I really believe Nate’s feel for the game is comparable to Robert’s, although Nate, or anyone, has a long way to go to match what Robert Johnson did at Utah.

“Brian Blechen is another comparison, with Blechen being a guy who came in and played immediately. There’s been a ton of great safeties at Utah in recent history and Nate is poised to add to that great safety tradition there.”