Utah adds depth to defense, signs 18 to 2020 recruiting class

Utah adds depth to defense, signs 18 to 2020 recruiting class

(Jeffrey D. Allred, KSL)

Estimated read time: 5-6 minutes

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SALT LAKE CITY — Utah hit the NCAA’s early signing day period hard and signed 18 recruits Wednesday, with more recruits coming in the next few days.

The recruits, who make up a majority of the program’s available scholarships for the incoming class, filled several key positions of need for a program that will lose several starters to graduation and the NFL draft.

"To this point, we feel really good, obviously, about our class," Utah head coach Kyle Whittingham said Wednesday afternoon. "There's still some things that we expect to happen the next couple days, and that'll just add to what we've got going already."

Utah’s incoming recruiting class was headlined by four-star defensive end Van Fillinger, a recent University of Texas commit who decommitted prior to the early signing day period. The Corner Canyon High product and No. 2 overall recruit in the state of Utah stayed home and was one of four of the top six local recruits that signed with Utah Wednesday.

Other home-grown talent to sign with Utah include Nate Ritchie (S - Lone Peak HS), Alex Harrison (OL - Viewmont HS) and Sione Fotu (LB - Bingham HS). Xavier Carlton, a four-star defensive end out of Juan Diego High School and No. 3 overall recruit in Utah, will announce his decision Thursday at 8 a.m. MST.

Carlton holds offers from programs like California, Ohio State, Oregon, UCLA, USC and Washington, among others, but is expected to sign with the Utes.

Utah also officially welcomed into its recruiting class graduate transfer quarterback Jake Bentley from South Carolina. The former four-star, pro-style quarterback played four years at South Carolina before transferring to Utah. In his time with the Gamecocks, Bentley threw for a total of 7,527 yards and 55 touchdowns for a 62.5% four-year completion percentage.

Bentley joins a loaded quarterback room that returns senior Drew Lisk, junior Jason Shelley, and redshirt sophomore Cameron Rising. Rising, a former four-star quarterback that originally spent a season at Texas before transferring to Utah earlier this year, is the expected starter going into next season.

Whittingham said Wednesday that Lisk graduates in the spring and may choose to move on from the program and quit playing football, and that Shelley may likely move over to the defensive side of the ball and join the secondary. He added that the program may be looking for another quarterback to sign early next year.

Utah was expected to sign Baylor transfer Peyton Powell, another quarterback to add to the team's depth, but late Wednesday afternoon, Powell unexpectedly signed with Rutgers.

Utah welcomed five athletes that deferred their signing to the 2020 recruiting class due to each of them previously serving a full-time mission for The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. Three of the recruits come from a long line of family that played at Utah, including three-star athletes Tennessee Pututau (LB), Taniela Pututau (WR) and Hunter Lotuleleli (OL).

The other two former missionary recruits are former Herriman High School offensive lineman Jaren Kump and defensive end Aliki Vimahi out of Hawaii.

In total, Utah signed four players from Texas, which is the most of any state outside of Utah in the recruiting class; followed by California and Hawaii, each with two recruits.

On Thursday, Utah will await the decision of four-star cornerback Clark Phillips III. The No. 47 overall recruit nationally is a long-time Ohio State commit but last weekend took an official visit to Utah. The program made a big impression on Phillips, according to 247sports, and his decision will likely come down to either Ohio State or Utah.

Should Phillips sign with Utah, he’d be the highest-ever recruit (.9772) to sign with the Utes and would fill an immediate need left vacant after junior cornerback Jaylon Johnson declared for the NFL draft last week. He’s expected to announce his decision Thursday at 12 p.m. MST.

Utah closes out its class with 10 of its 18 recruits filling out the defensive side of the ball, and Whittingham said that was the "theme" of this year's approach to recruiting.

"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 said. "But we feel like we're getting some really good players added to our roster."

Whittingham said the program is expected to utilize most, if not all, of its available scholarships during the early signing period if everything falls their way; however, there may be up to three or four more leftover after the weekend.

"There is no JC players in the mix this year, it's all high school or grad transfers or undergrad transfers," he said. "We will get to 25 after this week. We may have — I think three would be the absolute high number that we'll have left, and one or zero would be the low number. But the next 48 hours we'll see how things play out."

The Utes currently sit at No. 50 nationally and ninth in the Pac-12 in the rankings with an average rating of .8581, according to 247sports. But that number is expected to rise if the aforementioned recruits sign with Utah, most notably Phillips.

To read more and see highlights for each recruit, go to our Ute Recruit Central.

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Josh is the Sports Director for KSL.com and beat writer of University of Utah athletics — primarily football, men’s basketball and gymnastics. He is also an Associated Press Top 25 voter for college football.


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