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Utah football: Ute coach Kyle Whittingham excited for national signing day

Published: Tuesday, Feb. 4 2014 4:25 p.m. MST

Coach Kyle Whittingham welcomes seniors onto the field before they play Colorado on Senior Day at the Rice-Eccles Stadium in Salt Lake City on Saturday, Nov. 30, 2013. Utah won 24-17.

Kristin Murphy, Deseret News

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SALT LAKE CITY — Utah coach Kyle Whittingham enjoys national signing day.

“It’s a chance to make your football team better and it’s the equivalent to the NFL draft I guess you could say,” Whittingham said on the eve of his 10th such day at the helm of the Utes. “It’s college football’s equivalent to that and it’s exciting for the fans and the coaches and everybody involved.”

Signing players, he added, is the lifeblood of a program.

“It’s the most important day of the year and we do look forward to it,” Whittingham said.

Although unable to discuss specific players until signed letters of intent are actually received via fax on Wednesday, Whittingham noted that Utah’s recruiting emphasis this year centered around skill players — particularly wide receivers and defensive backs.

“That was the focal point and we think we helped ourselves out there,” said Whittingham, who added that it looks like the Utes are going to be able to sign some players with speed to help out in those areas.

Quarterback is another position to watch. Utah is expected to sign Louisiana high school star Donovan Isom, but may be in the market for another signal-caller as well. Whittingham said the Utes are “working on a few different things” and “we’ll see how it shakes out.”

The status of starting quarterback Travis Wilson has impacted Utah’s recruiting. Wilson’s future is uncertain because of an injury to an intracranial artery.

“That changes things in the respect that we’re proceeding as if Travis is not going to be available. So that certainly changes our mindset,” Whittingham said. “We’re hoping for the best with Travis. But like I said, as far as our planning, we’ve got to plan as if he’s not going to be with us.”

While Wilson’s situation has altered things in recruiting, Whittingham said the offseason arrival of new assistant coaches Dave Christensen (offensive coordinator) and Jim Harding (offensive line) has not.

“It didn’t change anything for this class we’re working on. We’re going to take a look at the areas — as we do every year after signing day — and see if there’s any modifications that need to be made there,” Whittingham said. “Dave and Jim have both had experience recruiting certain areas and I’m sure there will be a little bit of a change but nothing wholesale in our areas.”

Whittingham said that the Utes will have someone manning the fax machine on Wednesday and updating the coaches as the signed letters arrive. Recruiting, he acknowledged, is always a fluid situation and is never finalized until the signatures are received.

After three years in the Pac-12, Whittingham confirmed it’s a competitive environment — just as you would expect.

“You’ve still got to be great evaluators. That hasn’t changed and that is still the essence of recruiting,” he said. “Being able to evaluate and project, that is something that is really the name of the game right now.”

Although Whittingham explained that the real measuring stick is where the recruits are two to three years from now, he noted that some signees could play right away.

“There’s always that chance. The amount of players you redshirt is certainly less now than it used to be. Back 10 or 15 years ago you would redshirt, essentially, your entire freshman class. Now it might be half that,” Whittingham said. “So times have changed in that regard and we’ve had quite a few true freshman play for us through the years. So that’s not out of the question — that a lot of these guys may see the field this fall. We’ll just have to see how things turn out.”

Email: dirk@desnews.com

Twitter: @DirkFacer

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