National Signing Day: High school football stars mostly staying home
Football players make their commitments official today, and most will sign with in-state schools
Photo courtesy Troy Verde
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Editor's note: This is the last 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 2 here.
When Utah and BYU bolted the Mountain West Conference for greener football pastures two summers ago, everyone agreed it was a major coup for recruiting. The Utes would benefit from playing in an infinitely better conference, while the Cougars would benefit from their increased exposure on ESPN.
With both teams expecting to sign very good recruiting classes today during National Letter of Intent Day, it's obvious the two schools' conference moves have paid off. But interestingly enough, it appears to have had a bigger impact on out-of-state recruiting than in-state recruiting.
Utah kids have traditionally preferred to stay close to home. It was true several years ago when Utah and BYU were in the MWC, and it's still true in 2012.
According to Scout.com's top-10 list of Utah high school seniors expected to sign today, four are committed to Utah, two to BYU and two are still undecided. According to a similar top-10 list at Rivals.com, only two of those players are heading out of state.
A year ago, none of the state's top-10 recruits according to Scout.com signed out of state, while just one of Rivals' top-10 left Utah.
"I think there's a lot of pride in our high school kids in the state of Utah," said Bingham coach Dave Peck. "I know if a kid asks me, I'd definitely rather have a kid go to one of our in-state schools. I'm a Utah guy and I'd like to see our in-state colleges be successful."
Every year it seems that roughly 80 percent of the state's top recruits choose to stay close to home. That's been great news for all the local schools, as the talent level seems to rise every year.
Not everyone sticks around, though. In just the past four years, Cottonwood's John Martinez signed with USC, Timpview's Xavier Su'a-Filo signed with UCLA, Brighton's Ricky Heimuli signed with Oregon and Cottonwood's Isi Sofele left for Cal.
Several more noteworthy players are heading out of state again this year, including a pair to the Big Ten. Bingham linebacker Jared Afalava is expected to sign with Nebraska today, and Highland fullback Sione Houma will sign with Michigan.
Afalava, who committed on Jan. 3, is an athletic outside linebacker who led the Miners in tackles and also had three interceptions last season.
"I had somebody call me last night and said (Nebraska) is bringing in four linebackers, and they think he's the best of the bunch," said Peck.
Houma verbally committed to Michigan back in July, citing education as one of the big reasons he picked the Wolverines. The senior missed several games this year because of an ankle injury, but when healthy he's proven himself to be one of the best high school fullbacks in the country.
"He's a big, strong kid and has the ability to run north and south. With that size, he has some really good speed, too," said Highland coach Brody Benson.
Pleasant Grove offensive lineman Brandon Fanaika, the top recruit in the state according to Rivals.com, is the mystery prize of signing day. Back in December, he verbally committed to Stanford, but on the eve of signing day he said he's now wavering between Utah, BYU and Stanford.
If coach Kyle Whittingham can land the four-star recruit, not to mention highly regarded Westlake linebacker Moana Ofahengaue, who said he's leaning toward the Utes, it would cap an excellent year of in-state recruiting.
Utah has already received verbal commitments from seven in-state players: Lone Peak QB Chase Hansen, Syracuse defensive end Hunter Dimick, East defensive tackle Vaha Vainuku, Davis offensive lineman Zach Lindsay, Hunter defensive end Moses Folauhola, Brighton offensive lineman Nua Poteki and Alta safety Austin Lee.
Davis defensive end Troy Hinds, who had offers from 15 schools, is a feather in BYU's recruiting cap this year. He had offers from every Pac-12 school but USC and Oregon State, along with offers from Oklahoma, Nebraska, Notre Dame and Michigan.
Ultimately, though, like many Utah kids, he preferred to stay close to home when he verbally committed to BYU last August.
"I'm very excited about the academic, social and football opportunities I will have at BYU," said Hinds at the time.
Other in-state recruits who will sign with BYU today are: Alta safety Rhett Sandlin, Alta tight end Steven Richards and Lone Peak safety Micah Hannemann,
It's been a relatively quiet in-state recruiting year for Utah State, which only has three in-state verbal commitments heading into signing day: Fremont running back Nick Vigil, Logan quarterback D.J. Nelson and Copper Hills offensive lineman Logan Malohifo'ou.
Three in-state players are expected to follow Norm Chow to the University of Hawaii: Kearns offensive lineman Gus Lavaka, Cedar quarterback John Ursua and Hunter lineman Harold Moleni.