Estimated read time: 3-4 minutes
SALT LAKE CITY — Utah continues to rise in the recruiting rankings.
On the heels of Utah claiming its second straight Pac-12 championship, there was a snowball effect for the 2023 recruiting class as several high school athletes who were considering other schools flipped their commitment and turned their attention to the Utes. In the end, Utah signed its highest-ever recruiting class in program history.
"We traditionally have been strong finishers, and we've closed out the recruiting thing pretty strong in most years," Utah head coach Kyle Whittingham said."That's been our MO for a lot of years, and I can't tell you why."
It's been a common theme for Whittingham's program as he continues to lift the program to greater heights more than a decade after joining the Pac-12.
On Wednesday, when the NCAA opened up its early signing day period, Utah signed 19 players to its 2023 recruiting class, led by six four-star athletes, according to 247Sports Composite rankings, which aggregates the various recruiting services. Utah finished with an average recruit grade of 88.46, the highest in program history.
In total, 10 recruits that signed with Utah have a four-star ranking in at least one of the various recruiting services (247Sports, ESPN, On3, Rivals). The Utes rank No. 22 in the country and No. 3 in the Pac-12 as of this writing, according to 247Sports Composite.
"Nothing helps recruiting more than success and back-to-back Pac-12 championships and the back-to-back Rose Bowls," Whittingham said ahead of signing day. "I mean, all that stuff matters. Obviously, NIL is a big part of that. We're not a school that has a ton of NIL resources, but we've got a lot of momentum in recruiting right now; we're trending in the right direction, in the right trajectory, and we've just got to keep it going, because that's what it's all about is recruiting."
"Utah is the power in the Pac-12."@BrandonHuffman believes @Utah_Football's recruiting is catching up to elite player development and evaluation, striking fear amongst the conference.— Pac-12 Network (@Pac12Network) December 21, 2022
📺 Pac-12 Network
📻 @SXMCollege#Pac12FB | #NSD23pic.twitter.com/Y4NQQRFeu5
While Utah had various needs, none was more important than the program loading up on players in the trenches, specifically offensive line where two of the highest-rated signees — Spencer Fano and Caleb Lomu — will play.
"We've got a wealth of riches — an embarrassment of riches — at the offensive line position, and that's a good thing to have, because if you have a solid, first-rate offensive line, everything seems to be pretty easy on offense — or everything seems to work," Whittingham said.
In total, Utah signed three offensive lineman, a tight end, two defensive ends and a defensive lineman to add to an already loaded group of players on both sides of the ball.
Utah put a big emphasis on getting in-state recruits and signed three of the top five players from the state, including Fano, defensive end Hunter Clegg and cornerback Smith Snowden. The in-state athletes are "always our starting point," Whittingham said, while noting that several of those players came late in the recruiting cycle despite long conversations throughout their recruitment.
"We never want to miss a kid in state," Whittingham said. "We want to get great and thorough and accurate evaluations on everybody in the state of Utah."
Amid the signings, Utah branched out of its traditional recruiting footprint and got a quarterback in Mack Howard from Mississippi. Though not a usual part of the footprint, Whittingham said wide receiver coach Chad Bumphis, who is from Mississippi, helped Utah get in the door of Howard.
"He's an accurate thrower, he's extremely intelligent, a really good match, personality wise, for coach Ludwig," Whittingham said. "I mean — he's a cerebral guy and makes very few mistakes — and we think he's got a lot of development that's going to take place. He's a guy that will continue to get bigger and stronger."
Utah will have three of its signees — Clegg, Brock Fonoimoana, and Mateaki Helu — serve church missions before joining the program. Additionally, five of the recruits — Howard, Fano, Mikey Matthews, Owen Chambliss and Johnathan Hall — will join the program early and take part in spring practices.