Merry Christmas college football fans.
It’s time to open those 25 (give or take a few) shiny packages that have been taunting you for the last 12 months, some longer than that.
Did you get everything you hoped for?
Were you expecting a huge box that never made it?
National Signing Day came and went without much drama as far as the University of Utah and Head Coach Kyle Whittingham are concerned.
According to most recruiting websites, only three players remained in question this morning as the Letters of Intent started to roll in.
One of those players faxed his paperwork to the 801 area code very early this morning. I’ll have more on Micah Thomas in just a minute. The other two, who were once Utah commits, chose not to come to Salt Lake City. I would suggest that’s their loss since the programs they picked are not exactly college football powers (Washington State & Tulane).
Let’s take a look at Kyle Whittingham’s new toys shall we and see how they’ll fit in with those that expect to get plenty of playing time this year.
QB – Gone are Jordan Wynn and Jon Hays. Welcome Brandon Cox, Connor Manning and Micah Thomas.
Travis Wilson looks to be the guy going into 2013 but he’ll certainly get some competition from this bunch. After Wilson, pick your poison, because the race is wide open for the QB2 job.
Brandon Cox may have the best chance to see playing time. Cox enrolled early at Utah which will give him a chance to learn the system and get some live reps in spring ball. That should give him a slight edge over the other incoming freshman. Cox is one of the top dual-threat QBs in the country with a sub 4.5/40 to go along with a legitimate arm.
When your last name is Manning and you play QB, that must mean you’re pretty good. That’s definitely the case with Connor who set the single-season record for passing yards in Orange County as a junior, breaking a mark held by former USC quarterback Matt Barkley. Manning is a gifted pocket-passer with a knack for making big plays.
Micah Thomas waited much longer than Cox and Manning to make it known he would be a Ute. As with Cox, Thomas adds track-star type speed to the QB position. He ran for nearly 100 yards a game in one of the toughest high school football conferences in the country. All you need to know about Thomas comes in the form of a tweet he posted after signing with Utah, “I’ll be the best QB ever to go to Utah & in the PAC-12. Don’t believe me, just watch.”
RB – Gone is John White. Welcome Dre’Vian Young, Devontae Booker, Marcus Williams, Troy McCormick.
Kelvin York looked very solid at times in 2012 and will be even more healthy in 2013. Lucky Radley, Jarrell Oliver and JC Transfer James Poole all look to be York’s running mate. But they’ll be challenged by this incoming group.
Devontae Booker joins the Utes from the junior college ranks. Coach Whit said he was of the same mold as other JC running backs that have come to Utah and that they expect him to come in and supplement York. That should tell you enough about his skill level given the other backs in the stable.
Dre’Vian Young is the younger brother of Texas’ Selvin Young who won a national championship alongside Vince Young before moving on to the NFL. If speed is the theme of the day, this guy certainly has as much of it as anyone else. Young rushed for 1140 yards for Nimitz High School last year in the Houston area.
Troy McCormick hails from Mayde Creek HS in Katy, Texas, where he rushed for nearly 1800 yards in 2012. Another track star, McCormick will also get a chance to return kicks when he gets on campus.
Marcus Williams may be best known for his top score at the Nike SPARQ Combine last April which is a speed/agility competition for high school athletes. Williams ran a 4.43/40 at that competition. He was also a standout CB in high school and may get a chance on the other side of the ball the way Utah moves athletes around.
WR – Gone are Luke Matthew, Devonte Christopher and Reggie Dunn. Welcome Andre Lewis, Xavier Shepherd and Dominique Hatfield.
You can almost certainly pencil Dres Anderson and Kenneth Scott into the starting lineup at wide receiver. It will also be interesting to see the emergence of highly-publicized freshmen Brian Allen and Delshawn McClellon. Some other familiar names include Sean Fitzgerald, Anthony Denham, Quinton Pedroza and Geoff Norwood. These six players will be fighting for playing time opposite Anderson and Scott.
Andre Lewis was one of the most productive receivers in all of junior college football last year. His brother, Stevie Johnson, plays in the NFL for the Buffalo Bills. The Rivals four-star recruit will certainly crack the two deep and maybe steal a starting job.
Xavier Shepherd put his talents on display at the Semper Fidelis All-American Bowl where analysts noted his great speed, quickness and hands. The deep threat will also vie to replace his cousin Reggie Dunn on special teams.
Dominique Hatfield could play on either side of the ball after recording eight interceptions at Crenshaw High School in Los Angeles. He was also the LA City Section Defensive Player of the Year and the 2012 Coliseum League Player of the Year. He did have 33 receptions for nearly 600 yards as a WR. My guess is you’ll see him on defense although the university lists him as a wide receiver.
TE – Gone are Kendrick Moeai, David Rolf and Dallin Rogers. Welcome Harrison Handley and Greg Reese.
Utah fans may not miss any of the departing TEs with Jake Murphy still in the mix. Westlee Tonga also returns with some experience.
Greg Reese is another junior college player who could find himself on the field sooner than later. Reese has already enrolled in school and will participate in spring ball. Greg joins Utah after sitting out a year.
Harrison Handley was one of the top in-state players on Utah’s board. He caught over 60 balls for nearly 800 yards last year at Alta High School. Harrison will immediately add quality depth at TE and may even sneak into the two-deep behind Murphy.
OL – Gone are Tevita Stevens, Sam Brenner and Miles Mason. Welcome Salesi Uhatafe, Andrew Albers,
Stevens, Brenner and Mason all logged serious hours in the trenches for the Utes. Jeremiah Tofaeono, Vyncent Jones, CJ Poutasi, Percy Taumoelau, Siaosi Aiono, Daniel Nielson, Kala Friel and Latu Heimuli all return with some playing experience. Look to hear more this year from Hiva Lutui, Marc Pouvave, Carlos Lozano and Junior Salt.
Andrew Albers joins Utah from Orange Coast College in Costa Mesa, California. A great athlete, Albers lettered in football, basketball, track and volleyball in high school. Albers will immediately provide depth at the offensive tackle position with his giant frame of 6’7″, 309 lbs.
Salesi Uhatafe makes his way to Salt Lake City from the Trinity High School pipeline in Euless, TX. Salesi had 117 knockdowns and 42 pancake blocks as a senior while allowing zero sacks. Uhatafe is another player that will help a position group that struggled last year.
DL – Gone are Star Lotuleilei, Joe Kruger and Dave Kruger. Welcome Myron Aiava, Sese Ianu, Filipo Mokofisi, Sam Tevi and Keio Vaenuku.
Lotuleilei and Kruger will certainly be missed in the middle. Look for Seni Fauonuku, Niasi Leota, Tenny Palepoi and LT Tuipulotu to compete for the jobs. Joe Kruger abandons one of the DE spots leaving Nate Fakahafua as the only returning starter. Thretton Palamo is a true DE with limited experience. Trevor Reilly and Jacoby Hale also played the position some. Hunter Dimick is a promising young player.
DE – Filipo Mokofisi is another standout high school player from the beehive state. Mokofisi was first team all-state in the 4A ranks registering six sacks in his senior year at Woods Cross. He is a little undersized and will need to beef up a little before he sees the field.
Sam Tevi is another talented player from Trinity High School who, with his size and talents and the lack of depth at DE, may find the field sooner than later. Has a great frame at 6’5″, 288 lbs. Tevi was a first-team all-district player the last two seasons in Euless, TX.
DT – Myron Aiava hails from Westminster HS in California. A great athlete, Aiava also played some TE and took snaps at QB for his high school team. Aiava was the Golden West League 2012 Defensive Player of the Year.
Sese Ianu is another junior college player who will add depth to a thin defensive line. The all-conference defensive tackle will certainly compete for a spot in the two-deep.
Keio Vaenuku may be the gem of the 2013 class. He turned down offers from the likes of Michigan, Missouri, TCU and Oklahoma State to play for the Utes. He currently plans to play one year and then leave on an LDS mission. That may be a sign of just how valuable Kyle Whittingham and Co. think he could be to Utah’s defensive line this year.
LB – Gone are Dave Fagregren and Boo Anderson. Welcome Uaea Masina.
Linebacker was not a huge position of need for the Utes with several young players competing to see the field. Jarred Norris, Jason Whittingham, Reshawn Hooker, LT Filiaga and Trevor Reilly could all see significant time at LB this year. Hopefully Brian Blechen also moves up from his safety position where he lacks speed for PAC-12 competition. Plus we could see more of youngsters Travis Still and Moana Ofahengaue.
Uaea Masina was another top in-state prospect for Utah. Masina has already enrolled in classes and is getting a head start on both learning Sitake’s system and getting an education. A great athlete, Masina also played RB at Brighton High School where he rushed for 622 yards. Masina will add quality depth but it may be tough for him to get past the logjam of players vying for playing time this year.
DB – Gone are Lewis Walker, Moe Lee, Reggie Topps and Ryan Lacy. Welcome Tevin Carter, Hipolito Corporan, Davion Orphey.
Eric Rowe and Quade Chappuis are the only known commodities returning to Utah’s defensive backfield. Utah loses it’s top three CBs and a safety with playing experience. Look for several players to try and grab those jobs opposite Rowe and possibly Chappuis including: Wykie Freeman, Michael Walker, Keith McGill, Joseph Smith, Tyler White, Justin Thomas and Tyron Morris-Edwards.
Tevin Carter is another player with significant speed. In fact, Kalani Sitake said with Oregon on the schedule, they needed to recruit someone who could chase down the “Black Mamba”, De’Anthony Thomas. That’s why they went after Tevin Carter, because he beat Thomas several times on the track. Carter was a four-star recruit out of high school before transferring to the JUCO ranks. Tevin recorded three interceptions for L.A. Southwest College in 2012. Will play safety at Utah.
Davion Orphey ended up at Utah after committing to BYU. Orphey is another junior college player who will immediately compete for playing time at CB. Orphey is a mid-year transfer and will participate in spring practice. Keith McGill is Davion’s cousin.
Hipolito Corporan is another player from Houston, TX. Corporan was a Touchdown Club Defensive Player of the Year Finalist. He recorded two interceptions in 2012 for Westside High School.
Also worth noting: Any player that plans to leave on an LDS mission immediately after high school does not sign a letter of intent. While Kyle Whittingham could not talk about these players specifically, Utah fans should be very excited for the future with Star’s younger brother Lowell Lotuleilei who also plays DL. Leroy Tanoai is another big offensive lineman who will also take a mission immediately.