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Utah’s Whittingham elated with newcomers joining program, including QB Charlie Brewer

Utah signed 17 players last December, then added some impressive transfers from Power Five conferences since then

Baylor’s Charlie Brewer (5) looks to pass against Texas during game in Austin, Texas, Saturday, Oct. 24, 2020. Brewer is among a handful of Power Five players transferring to the U.
Chuck Burton, Associated Press

February’s national signing day has changed dramatically over the years, dating back to 2017, when the early signing period was implemented.

Utah, for example, signed 17 players last December, and has added some impressive transfers from Power Five conferences since. But on the first Wednesday of February 2021, the Utes didn’t have any new signees.

“We’ve been slowly transitioning through the last three or four years to this new signing day,” coach Kyle Whittingham told the Pac-12 Network Wednesday. “It was 100% of the signees this year on the early signing day. Very anticlimactic for us today.”

But that doesn’t mean Whittingham isn’t thrilled about the crop of talent that’s joined the program.

At quarterback, the Utes have welcomed a pair of QBs from the Big 12 — Baylor transfer Charlie Brewer and Texas transfer Ja’Quinden Jackson.

Brewer threw for 9,700 yards and rushed for 1,039 yards in three seasons with the Bears. He led Baylor to an 11-2 record and a Sugar Bowl appearance in 2019.

“We’re elated that we do have him. He went into the portal and we jumped on him right away. We told him what we had to offer here as far as an opportunity,” Whittingham said of Brewer. “Bottom line, Charlie felt good about what our plans were and the opportunity he had here. He felt like it was a good fit. We’re ecstatic that he’s here. He’ll be the guy in spring ball that will get the majority of the reps. We’ll see what happens.”

Jackson didn’t play last year for the Longhorns but coming out of Duncansville High in Texas, he was rated the nation’s No. 2 dual-threat QB by ESPN.

Also at quarterback, there’s Peter Costelli, a four-star QB that signed last December and is enrolled in school. Cooper Justice and Cam Rising are also part of the QB group. Rising earned the starting job last season before suffering a shoulder injury in the second quarter of the first game against USC.

“Really, the quarterback room is almost a complete rebuild,” Whittingham said. “Cam will be ready, hopefully, by July. That should make for some interesting competition in the fall.”

Among those also expected to make an immediate impact are running backs T.J. Pledger, a transfer from Oklahoma, and Chris Curry, a transfer from Louisiana State.

“So far they’ve been fantastic,” Whittingham said. “Their attitude and mentality in the weight room and in everything they’ve been asked to do to this point has been outstanding. Both have very high football IQs.”

Running back Ty Jordan, who earned Pac-12 Freshman of the Year honors last season, died tragically on Christmas night, leaving a massive void on the roster and in the program.

“There’s a lot of onus on those two guys to continue the running back tradition,” Whittingham said of Pledger and Curry. “Micah Bernard is also a back that is returning that had a very good year last year. So we’ve got some answers at that position but not a lot of experience as far as here in this program.”

In three seasons with the Sooners, Pledger rushed for 695 yards and six touchdowns. He recorded a career-high 22 carries for 131 yards and two touchdowns in last fall’s win over Texas.

A four-star recruit out of high school, Curry had 91 carries for 336 yards in three seasons at LSU.

“T.J. and Chris have a lot of experience at the last places they’ve been,” Whittingham said. “We feel like that room is in good shape right now. We think we’ll get a lot of production from that position like we do pretty much every year.”

Meanwhile, there has been some interesting developments at the wide receiver position this week.

Whittingham confirmed that Jaylen Dixon, who had been in the transfer portal, has decided to return to the Utes. Another wideout, Bryan Thompson, recently entered the transfer portal.

“The portal giveth and the portal taketh away,” Whittingham said. “That’s for certain. It cuts both ways.”

Dixon’s return is a boon for Utah’s offense.

“He was going through some off-the-field things. It was not related to being unhappy with playing time or production or any of that stuff. That’s why he had the invitation to come back,” Whittingham said. “He can really add to what we’re doing. He has great deep-threat ability that’s rare. He’s a blazer.”

After seeing a program-high seven players selected in last spring’s NFL draft, Utah won’t see any players go to the draft this year. That means plenty of talent and experience are returning, including offensive lineman Nick Ford, wide receiver Britain Covey, tight end Brant Kuithe and linebacker Devin Lloyd.

“We did not lose one senior or one underclassman (to the draft). Consequently, we’re not even having a pro day, which is something new, because we don’t have anybody to work out for the (NFL) scouts,” Whittingham said. “We’re elated in that regard that we’ve been able to hang onto the talent. Every individual situation, that particular player did the right thing. You always want what’s best for your players.

“If there would have been a better situation for some of them to move on, we would have counseled them in that regard. They all came to the conclusion, rightfully so, that they needed one more year. We’ve got a good nucleus of guys to work with.”

Now the Utes are preparing for, and looking forward to, spring practices, which they hope will begin in March, depending on issues surrounding the pandemic.

“There’s a lot of work to be done between now and spring ball,” Whittingham said. “We’ve got six more weeks of conditioning before we get into spring ball. Hopefully spring ball — that’s not an absolute at this point or a sure thing.”


Utah’s 2020-21 newcomers

Cole Bishop — DB, 6-3, 200 — Peachtree City, Georgia (Starr’s Mill High).

Charlie Brewer — QB, 6-1, 210 — Austin, Texas (Baylor).

Ethan Calvert — LB, 6-3, 230 — Westlake Village, California (Oaks Christian High).

Makai Cope — WR, 6-2, 190 — Culver City, California (Culver City High).

Peter Costelli — QB, 6-3, 223 — Redondo Beach, California (Mission Viejo High).

Chris Curry — RB, 5-11, 216 — Fort Myers, Florida (LSU).

Jonah Elliss — LB, 6-3, 220 — Moscow, Idaho (Moscow Senior High).

Kolinu’u Faaiu — OL, 6-4, 320 — Edmonds, Washington (North Creek High).

Jonny Fanaika — DL, 6-3, 245 — Pleasant Grove (Pleasant Grove High).

David Fotu — DL, 6-6, 325 — Oakland, California (Herriman High).

Ja’Quinden Jackson — QB, 6-2, 232 — Dallas, Texas (Texas).

Elisha Lloyd — DB, 5-10, 175 — San Marcos, California (Mission Hills High).

Ricky Parks — RB, 5-11, 214 — Tampa, Florida (Gaither High).

Simote Pepa — DB, 6-3, 320 — South Jordan (Bingham High).

T.J. Pledger — RB, 5-9, 193 — Pacoima, California (Oklahoma).

Viliami Po’uha — DL, 6-3, 225 — South Jordan (Bingham High).

Trey Reynolds — LB, 6-2, 235 — Queen Creek, Arizona (Queen Creek High).

Bleu Stewart — DB, 6-2, 190 — Las Vegas, Nevada (Desert Pines High).

Mason Tufaga — LB, 6-2, 220 — Honolulu, Hawaii (St. Louis High).

Isaac Vaha — TE, 6-6, 235 — Pleasant Grove (Pleasant Grove High).

Zereoue Williams — OL, 6-8, 255 — Phoenix, Arizona (Mountain Pointe High).