SALT LAKE CITY — Running backs are the primary focus of Utah's recruiting efforts for 2011. With the graduation of Eddie Wide and Matt Asiata, plus Sausan Shakerin's career-ending string of concussions, the Utes are in need of some immediate help at the position.
Although NCAA rules prohibit specific comments about players before signed letters-of-intent are received on Wednesday, Utah coach Kyle Whittingham said the situation has been solved.
The Utes are expecting signatures from Bingham High star Harvey Langi, Harbor College (Calif.) transfer John White and Texas prep standout Jarrell Oliver (Dulles HS).
Langi rushed for 1,399 yards and 17 touchdowns last season for the 5A state champion Miners.
White ran for 1,491 yards and 16 scores in his second junior college campaign, while Oliver racked up 893 yards and 11 touchdowns as a high school senior out of Sugarland, Texas.
The running backs address Utah's most pressing concern and headline a list of the 25 initial scholarships the Utes plan to use.
"I think that across the board it's shaping up to be a very solid class," Whittingham said. "Outside of running back, there was really no one glaring area of need. We just took the best players available across the board."
The early commitment list includes nine local players — Langi, offensive lineman Isaac Asiata (Spanish Fork HS), linebacker Tevita Bloomfield (Hunter HS), wide receiver Nate Fakahafua (Highland HS), defensive tackle Viliseni Fauonuku (Bingham HS), offensive lineman Daniel Kristensen (Cottonwood HS), offensive lineman Daniel Nielson (Hurricane HS), defensive end Jordan Robles (Salem Hills HS) and wide receiver Travis Still (Spanish Fork HS).
"The in-state talent continues to increase every year and we hope to come away with a lot of signees in-state," Whittingham said. "Our commitment first and foremost is to the state of Utah. That's our starting point for our recruiting."
Whittingham credits assistant coach Jay Hill for doing "a phenomenal job" recruiting the state.
"It looks like we are going to have a lot of success this year," Whittingham said.
The impending move to the Pac-12, he noted, won't decrease the importance of recruiting well in Utah.
"If anything it strengthens our commitment in-state," Whittingham said. "We want to make sure that we take care of business in our own backyard before we look elsewhere."
California and Texas continue to be areas of emphasis as well for the Utes.
Early commits from California include White, offensive lineman Sioasi Aiono (South Hills HS), defensive back Keith McGill (Cerritos College) and linebacker Jared Norris (Bakersfield Centennial HS).
The Texas crop includes Oliver, defensive back Joseph Bryant (Bryan HS) and defensive back Eric Rowe (Klein HS). Wide receiver Charles Henderson (McDonogh 35 HS) is from neighboring Louisiana.
Utah's 25 initials this year will also include a pair of grayshirts in quarterback Tyler Shreve (East Valley HS, Calif.) and offensive lineman Zach Bolton (Klein Forest HS, Texas). Alta wide receiver Tyron Morris-Edwards and American Fork tight end Jake Murphy are also on the scholarship list.
The remaining slots may be filled from a group of 7-9 guys who the Utes are still battling to get. Many won't make their final decisions until Wednesday. Utah is believed to have a 50
50 chance in many of the cases.
Recruiting coordinator Morgan Scalley said any such signings at this point in the process would be "icing on the cake."
The recent hiring of offensive coordinator Norm Chow from UCLA could be a factor.
Overall, Scalley noted that the Utes are pleased with how things are going. He explained that recruiting in the Pac-12 is a "different deal." Many recruits opt to visit multiple schools in the league before making a final decision.
As such, Scalley said it's more important to focus on who you get and not who you don't.
Whittingham has a similar view.
"I don't know anybody who gets everybody they wanted. But we feel like we've done well and we've helped ourselves and made our team better," he said. "That's what it's all about — improving and we think we've done that this year."
The good and the bad
Biggest catch: Harvey Langi, Bingham HS running back.
The Utes filled an immediate need by securing the state's premier back, winning a recruiting battle with USC. Langi will compete for playing time right away.
The one that got away: Derrick Brown, Vista Murrieta HS (Calif.) quarterback.
The highly regarded quarterback committed to Utah early on. He recently changed his mind, however, and now plans to sign with Washington.