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Editor's note: This is the second in a three-part series examining the recruiting efforts of the state's three Division I football programs leading up to Wednesday's 2012 National Letter of Intent Day. Read part 1 here. Read part 3 here.
SALT LAKE CITY — When it comes to recruiting, Utah coach Kyle Whittingham acknowledges that things are a little bit different now that the Utes have switched conferences. The original BCS busters are now on the inside.
"With the transition into the Pac-12 we no longer have to explain our situation and the circumstances," said Utah coach Kyle Whittingham. "In that respect it has changed and everybody knows we're a member of the Pac-12 Conference. So that's where we're at."
As such, he added: "Virtually every kid we're on, we're recruiting against most of the Pac-12."
And it's highly competitive.
Utah assistant coach Morgan Scalley, who also serves as the program's recruiting coordinator, said Pac-12 membership has altered the landscape. Losing a player to the Utes when they were in the Mountain West Conference was one thing, the prospect of facing them for four years in league play is quite another.
"There's so much more competition as far as trying to keep guys away from schools and trying to poach," Scalley said. "We've seen just so much of that, an increase of that this year, and it's only going to get worse."
For the most part, the Utes are now in the mix for more highly recruited players than in years past.
Even so, some things haven't changed all that much over the years.
"I think recruiting is the same. The mechanics of it, or the process, doesn't change. You don't recruit any differently than you did before," Whittingham said. "It's very competitive. Recruiting is no different than game day in a lot of respects. It's a battle. You're going to win some and you're going to lose some."
All you can do, he added, is recruit players the best way you can and do the best job you can to sell the program.
Whittingham is expecting Utah to receive around 25 binding commitments Wednesday on National Signing Day — including returned missionaries, who sign scholarship/financial aid papers.
The 2012 signing class, he added, is shaping up to be a pretty good one for the Utes.
"We've been able to address our needs, which is obviously the first order of business," Whittingham said. "And in addition to that, I think we're going to be able to bring some very good players to the program."
While a vast majority of the recruits have already made their intentions to sign with Utah known, Wednesday could be bring some welcomed additions as well.
"Just like in years past, there's about four or five players that are still deliberating and trying to decide where they're going to go," Whittingham said.
The potential signees include Pleasant Grove offensive lineman Brandon Fanaika and California high school defensive end Pio Vatuvei. Fanaika and Vatuvei gave non-binding verbal commitments to Stanford and USC, respectively, earlier in the recruiting process.
Other situations to watch involve cornerback Brandon Beaver (6-1, 176, Dominguez HS, Calif.) and linebacker Moana Ofahengaue (6-4, 205, Westlake HS). Beaver took trips to California, Nebraska, Oklahoma and Washington. Ofahengaue, meanwhile, has reportedly made visits to Arizona, Florida State and Michigan.
Although Cella said that the Utes are already on the fringe of a top 25 recruiting class nationally, he noted that doing well with late commitments could push them even higher.
"On paper, with rankings and the caliber of recruits they've got committed, it's certainly the highest rank that I've seen," Cella said of the Utes' national standing. "As far as it being a top 25 class, though, it really depends of what happens on signing day."
With players like talented quarterbacks like Chase Hansen (6-3, 195, Lone Peak HS) and Travis Wilson (6-5, 205, San Clemente, Calif.) committed to signing with the Utes on Wednesday, Cella believes the program has already proven something.
"Utah is without question more able to go head-to-head with bigger programs than they were in the past," he said.
Utah's major areas of emphasis in recruiting this year, Whittingham explained, include both the offensive and defensive lines, plus the quarterback and cornerback positions.
"We think we've put together a pretty good class," Whittingham said. "Time will tell, as I always say, you never truly know until a couple of years down the road. But I think our assistant coaches have done a great job for the last several years of recruiting the right guys for our program."
The Utes have already gotten off to a positive start in recruiting. Highly touted running back Kelvin York (5-11, 225, Fullerton CC, Calif.) and defensive end Koliniasi Leota (6-5, 275, Mt. San Antonio CC, Calif.) were mid-year signees.
"I feel good about those guys," Whittingham said. "That's obviously a big advantage for them to be here for spring football and get a head start both academically and athletically."
Travis Wilson, San Clemente HS, San Clemente, Calif. 6-6, 210 QB. Wilson was a finalist at the Elite 11 quarterback camp this summer. He's a great overall athlete who could play a number of positions in college.
Sione Tupouata, Snow College, Ephraim 6-5, 255 DL. Tupouata was rated as a four-star prospect by scout.com. He signed with the Utes out of HS, but had to go the JC route as a non-qualifier.
Austin Lee, Alta HS, Sandy 6-0, 185 Safety. Lee committed to Utah over Utah State and will serve a mission before joining the program. He'll compete for a spot at safety while at Utah.
Chase Hansen, Lone Peak HS, Alpine 6-4, 200 QB. Was named as the consensus prep player of the year while leading Lone Peak to a state championship. He chose Utah over BYU and was named as a Parade All-American.
Delshawn McClellon, Gahr HS, Cerritos, Calif. 5-9, 165 WR. McClellon has legit sub-4.4 speed and has drawn comparisons to DeSean Jackson. He was offered by Arizona State, Idaho and Hawaii.
Hunter Dimick, Syracuse HS, Syracuse 6-4, 240 DE. Dimick chose to commit to Utah over BYU. Dimick set the state record for sacks during his junior season.
Nua Poteki, Brighton HS, Sandy 6-4, 280 OL. Poteki was the very first OL commit for the Utes in what looks to be a very strong offensive line class for 2012.
Moses Folauhola, Hunter HS, West Valley City 6-0, 240 DE. Folauhola dreamed of playing for Utah as a kid and will now get that chance. He had received interest for Pac-12 programs before committing to Utah this past summer.
Justin Thomas, West Orange-Stark HS, Orange, Tex. 5-9, 165 DB. Thomas was unable to play his senior year of HS due to being 19 years of age. He held offers from programs such as Oklahoma State, Baylor and Missouri at the time of his commit to Utah.
Lio Lafaele, Centennial HS, Corona, Calif. 6-4, 315 OL. Lafaele is a Utah native, growing up in West Jordan before moving out to California. This played big in his early commit as he still has most of his family living in Utah.
Jake Jackson, La Costa Canyon HS, Encinitas, Calif. 6-3, 220 TE. Utah utilized its tight end a lot this past year and Jackson seemed to notice — committing to Utah over the summer before other programs caught notice.
Zach Lindsay, Davis HS, Kaysville 6-8, 285 OL. Lindsay switched his commitment from BYU to Utah over the summer where he'll compete for a spot at offensive tackle.
JJ Dielman, Desert Vista HS, Phoenix, Ariz. 6-4, 240 OL. Dielman held offers from such schools as San Diego State, Fresno State and from UNLV at the time of his commitment to Ute coaches.
Kelvin York, Fullerton Junior College, Fullerton, Calif. 5-11, 225 RB. York had previously committed to USC, but switched his commit to Utah. He narrowly chose to commit to Utah over Washington and will be looked at to contribute immediately.
Koliniasi Leota, Mount San Antonio Junior College, Walnut, Calif. 6-5, 260 OL. Leota was offered by USC and by Oregon State. He has already entered the Ute program and will compete for a spot this coming spring.
Vaha Vainuku, East HS, Salt Lake City 6-3, 285 DL. Vainuku will cross the street from East to join the Ute program. He was offered late, but immediately took the opportunity to commit and will play defensive tackle.
Junior Salt,Mount San Antonio Junior College, Walnut, Calif. 6-3, 340 OL. Salt originally committed to Florida, but switched to Utah following an official visit. He's originally from Utah and will immediately compete for a spot on the team.
Reginald Porter, Amite HS, Amite, LA. 6-1, 190 DB. Porter chose Utah over Louisiana-Lafayette and Louisiana-Monroe. He'll likely play safety while at Utah.
Brian Allen, La Marque HS, La Marque, Tex. 6-4, 170 WR. Allen chose Utah over Nevada, North Texas and UTEP. His size it his biggest attribute and could allow him to compete immediately for a spot.
ReShawn Hooker, A.B. Miller HS, Fontana, Calif. 6-2, 200 LB. Hooker chose to commit to Utah over such schools as Arizona, Arizona State, Colorado and UCLA. He's considered as a Stevenson Sylvester clone by Ute coaches and will play outside linebacker.16 comments on this story
Jeremiah Valoaga, Channel Islands HS, Oxnard, Calif. 6-7, 215 TE. Voloaga held offers from Idaho and Hawaii at the time of his commitment.
Marc Pouvave, Southwestern Community College, Chula Vista, Calif. 6-5, 315 OL. Pouvave committed to Utah, choosing them over hometown favorite San Diego State.
Cedrick Poutasi, Desert Pines HS, Las Vegas, Nev. 6-5, 322 OL. Poutasi is a four-star prospect who held offers from almost every Pac-12 school along with some Big-12 schools. He headlines what looks to be a very impressive offensive line class for the Utes.