Utah Utes football: Utes try to get faster, longer with 2013 recruiting class

Published: Wednesday, Feb. 6 2013 8:00 p.m. MST

Utah Utes head coach Kyle Whittingham  as the Univeristy of Utah and Arizona State University play PAC 12 football Saturday, Sept. 22, 2012, in Tempe, Arizona. (Tom Smart, Deseret News) Utah Utes head coach Kyle Whittingham as the Univeristy of Utah and Arizona State University play PAC 12 football Saturday, Sept. 22, 2012, in Tempe, Arizona. (Tom Smart, Deseret News)

SALT LAKE CITY — After playing in the Pac-12 for two years, the Utah football team has realized it needs to get faster and longer to compete with the elite teams in the league. So speed and length were two priorities for the University of Utah’s football recruiting class this year.

The Utes feel they addressed those needs with their signees for 2013.

“I know we helped ourselves in two categories — speed and size, size meaning height and length,’’ coach Kyle Whittingham said Wednesday afternoon. “We recruited a bunch of guys, 6-4 plus, 6-5 plus, with big wingspans — more guys with that body type than any class I can remember.’’

The Utes concentrated on three positions — defensive line, running back and quarterback — and Whittingham said the Utes “helped ourselves in those two areas (speed and size).’’

Two defensive linemen came from the same high school in Texas (Trinity in Euless): 6-foot-5, 288-pound Sam Tevi and 6-5, 278-pound Keio Vaenuku. The others are Myron Aiava (6-5, 274), Sese Ianu (6-2, 296) and Filipo Mokofisi (6-3, 229) of Woods Cross High School.

The Utes picked up four running backs, led by JC transfer Devontae Booker (5-11, 199), who rushed for 1,472 yards with 15 touchdowns for American River (Calif.) College last year.

“Kelvin (York) is scheduled to be the primary ball carrier, but we need Booker to come in and be a good supplement to Kelvin,’’ Whittingham said.

Whittingham pointed out the speed of the three freshmen running backs — Troy McCormick (Katy, Texas), Marcus Williams (Las Vegas) and Dre’Vian Young (Houston).

“McCormick is a 10.5 (seconds) 100-meter guy. Young was second in the state in the 200 meters. And Williams was fastest guy at a combine with 1,300 guys,’’ he said. "We feel like we have made inroads into the lack of speed and will continue to do that every year. It will be a priority.’’

The Utes also signed three quarterbacks, which Whittingham acknowledged was unusual, but he also noted that the Utes only have two quarterbacks in the program right now (Travis Wilson and Adam Schulz).

The Utes signed Brandon Cox, (6-2, 192) from Pasadena, Calif., Conner Manning (6-1,200) out of Lake Forest, Calif., and Micah Thomas, a 6-foot, 178-pounder from Houston. Cox has already enrolled in school.

“Usually you don’t take three, just one or two,’’ Whittingham said. “It’s more of a situation where the total number of quarterbacks is about the same anywhere you go — four or five. It makes more sense to come in and compete with other young, inexperienced guys than established guys.’’

In all, the Utes signed 11 players from California, seven from Texas, three from Utah and one each from Nevada and New Jersey.

Whittingham said the number from Utah is deceiving because Tevita Bloomfield, a 2011 signee from Hunter High who joined the Utes this semester, counts toward next year and the Utes also have several players going on LDS missions, who, starting this year, don’t count toward letters of intent signings.

The Ute coach said he wasn’t allowed to mention the future missionaries by name, but one of them is Lowell Lotulelei, the 6-2, 320-pound younger brother of Ute All-American Star Lotulelei, who starred for Bingham High.

Beside Mokofisi, the other Utah high school players signed are Alta tight end Harrison Handley, the son of former BYU standout Darren Handley, and Uaea Masina, a linebacker out of Brighton High.

“If you add the guys that we can’t talk about it’s going to be more like seven or eight,'' Whittingham said. “That’s about typical for us. A couple that got away outside of the state to BCS schools. But Utah is always going to be our priority and we always want to do a thorough job in Utah first before we go anywhere else.’’

Whittingham also addressed the coaching staff situation, noting that coach Ilaisa Tuiaki has been moved from fullbacks/tight ends coach to the defensive line and that an offensive coach would be hired soon.

“We will hire an offensive staff member as soon as tomorrow or maybe within a week,’’ he said.

Whittingham wouldn’t say whether or not that might be Dennis Erickson, who was in town Tuesday to interview with Whittingham.

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