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SALT LAKE CITY — In stark contrast to the times when the starting quarterback was a walk-on or plucked from a defunct lower-division program, Utah is stockpiling a series of four-star players at the game’s most important position.
Going into next season, whenever that may begin, coach Kyle Whittingham and offensive coordinator Andy Ludwig will choose between Jake Bentley or Cam Rising as the starting quarterback. Both received the coveted star ranking coming out of high school.
Bentley, a former three-year starter at South Carolina, is a graduate transfer with a list of credentials that includes passing for 7,385 yards and 54 touchdowns. Recruited by major programs across the country, Rising originally committed to Oklahoma before deciding on Texas and then transferring to Utah after one season.
The embarrassment of riches doesn’t stop there. In the last week the Utes got a commitment from Peter Costelli, another four-star quarterback out of Southern California. The current junior at Mission Viejo High announced on Twitter that he is “100 percent committed” to join Utah’s program in January.
It’s a far cry from the 2011 season, when quarterback Jordan Wynn was on a limited “pitch count” before Jon Hays replaced him. Hays joined the program before the season after Nebraska-Omaha dropped football.
What’s it all mean for the Utes? Check back in the coming seasons to find out.
Unfortunately for plenty of quarterbacks, the high school star system doesn’t guarantee anything in college. For those with long memories, recall Jake Heaps and Ben Olson, two quarterbacks touted as the best in high school during their respective senior year. Both came to BYU and then transferred out, unable to come anywhere close to matching their high school glory.
More recently, Jack Tuttle followed a similar path at Utah. He also came out of Southern California as a ballyhooed prospect only to wash out halfway through his first season in 2019.
Tuttle transferred to Indiana, which had its first winning season last year since 2007. Granted immediate eligibility, he attempted 11 passes in appearing only in mop-up duty.
“You really need to do your homework when trying to recruit a quarterback,” said legendary offensive coordinator Norm Chow, who coached three Heisman Trophy-winning quarterbacks at BYU and USC.
During an interview on The Zone Sports Network, Chow recalled the time Lane Kiffin got a commitment out of a quarterback in the seventh grade in 2010. David Sills never played for the Trojans, instead signing with West Virginia.
Except for a stint at El Camino College, a junior college about 20 miles away from USC, Sills was a decent wide receiver for three seasons. He spent most of last season on the practice squad for the New York Giants.
While Rising and Costelli have no college experience, at least Bentley has proven some capability. But most starting quarterbacks don’t transfer as seniors.
“You have to really get to know them. When you recruit them and get them on campus you need to spend time looking at tape and find out how much they know. It’s almost like an NFL deal, you have to find out a lot about them and the type of person that they are,” Chow said.
“Of all the quarterbacks we’ve had the good fortune to coach and work with, the one ingredient that we had is that they were all good people. They’re good guys; they’re good leaders; they get along with their teammates and all that kind of stuff. I think that’s critical.”
Without knowing him personally, Chow is impressed with Costelli’s pedigree. Mission Viejo, a powerhouse in the Orange County area, as won 24 league championships in the last three decades. Mission Viejo coach Chad Johnson, who tutored former UCLA and current NFL quarterback Josh Rosen, said Costelli meets all of Chow’s criteria.
“He’s phenomenal leader; very, very high-character kid,” Johnson said. “Gosh, never, ever going to get in trouble with anything. He’s just not that type of kid. He’s a very humble, down-to-earth kid.”