With Wednesday's national letter-of-intent signing rapidly approaching, nine of Utah's prep football players have made verbal commitments to instate NCAA Division I programs - with all but one of them opting to align themselves with the University of Utah.
Second-year Ute coach Ron McBride has delved deep into the local talent pool in his first full year of off-season recruiting, with the Utes picking up the biggest number instate recruits in recent years. In previous years, Utah has hit California hard for prep players, as well as drawing heavily on the junior college ranks.Brigham Young University has a verbal commitment from one player and is in the running for another pair of local players, with the Cougars again looking for only a limited of instate players. BYU's big-name draw subsequent and recruiting successes in other states - such as Texas, California and Hawaii - means the Cougars can be selective when recruiting inside the state.
BYU's verbal commitment is from Mountain View linebacker Royal Chamberlain, with the Cougars still in contention for two of the state's biggest catches yet to be landed - Highland lineman Kerry Hicks and Provo receiver Terence Saluone.
Hicks has narrowed his choices down to BYU, Colorado, Arizona, California and Kansas State. Saluone, whose brother Bill signed with BYU last year, has been in close contact with Cougar recruiters - especially since Provo High is just across the street from BYU.
Saluone was in Hawaii this past weekend with Bulldog teammate Kingi Langi on a recruiting trip with the Rainbows. Langi is a Provo lineman who has previously lived in Hawaii, and the Provo twosome is among the single-digit total of prep recruits earning the come-on-over-and-see-us invitation from the University of Hawaii.
Utah has picked up eight in-state players through verbal commitments, with most being linemen with glowing all-state honors. Leading the heralded linemen are Aaron Hansen of 4A state champion Skyline; two-time 3A all-stater Todd Jackson of Springville; and Walter Fiefia, a several-year mainstay of mammoth-sized Mountain Crest.
Other all-state linemen include Mountain View's Danny Davis, Springville's Darren Walker, and Granger's Hema Katoa. Clearfield's Jeff Kirkman, an all- state 4A running back who was a return-specialist standout and punishing hitter as a monster back, has been recruited by the Utes as a defensive player, while 3A all-state tight end Chris Godfrey of Bountiful has been projected to play linebacker.
Meanwhile, few prep players are reportedly being recruited by Utah State, let alone verbally committing. The Aggies return a strong, young nucleus of talent and only recently signed some dozen junior college transfers to go along with their prep recruiting, which draws strongly on California. USU coaches were targeting a handful instate prep players, but learned that the select few were leaning - or committing - elsewhere.
Other players have received some Division I interest - such as Bonneville running back Kord Strebel from Air Force and Bountiful's Kory Andreasen from as far away as Texas Tech - but are still weighing options or waiting for the strongest possible offer.
The four 1990 Deseret News MVPs - Skyline quarterback-defensive back Joe Dupaix, Bountiful running back Chris Jones, Beaver quarterback-defensive back Brandon Draper, and North Summit running back Matt Bates - headline a host of other graduating prep players that will likely find their way to smaller four-year programs at Weber State University and other Big Sky Conference programs like Boise State or at Southern Utah University.
WSU and SUU will be finalizing their lists of signees a little later Wednesday and into Thursday and Friday as coaches there find out which players have slipped through the cracks of the Division I recruiting.
About that same time, area junior colleges like Dixie, Snow and Ricks will see who is still available for - and interested in - a two-year program that might lead to a culmination of one's college career with a transfer to the likes of a Utah, Utah State or BYU.
In fact, some prepsters are shying away four-year commitments to the smaller NCAA programs at WSU and SUU in favor of aligning with the strong, nationally respected JC teams at Dixie, Snow and Ricks. Players are able to step in and play sooner - gaining valuable experience and exposure in the hopes of increasing their market values. "It has really changed in the past few years," said Bountiful coach Larry Wall, mindful of the NCAA's academic requirements and quotas on scholarships.
"With the regulations and limits and all, you can go to a Dixie or a Ricks and there are major-talent kids playing there."
Frank Henderson, Provo's retiring coach, agreed. "The teams in that league put kids in Division I programs."
That means that standout prep players like Alta tight end Ryan Dixon, Bountiful receiver-returner Aaron Roderick and Dixie running back Tyler Wilkinson will be finding the college programs of their choices - perhaps not with Division I programs sometime early Wednesday but with smaller programs like Weber State or Southern Utah, or even JC programs like Snow, Ricks and Dixie. The same is true of strong players from Utah's smaller classifications, such as Millard quarterback Rick Robins, Hurricane quarterback Cal Nielson, Delta lineman Garrett Moon, and North Summit linebacker Chad Simister.
"It's sorta like the dating game - who goes out with whom, and then the others deciding whom they'll go out with," said Bonneville coach Thom Budge of the trickle-down or domino effect of recruiting prep players to college and JC teams. "Colleges all zero in on one or two kids, and only one college gets each player, so then they have to after the other kids."
Who's recruiting whom?
Utah prep football players with verbal commitments to, or strong consideration from NCAA Division 1 programs.
Player School Pos. Size College
Royal Chamberlain Mtn. View LB 6-4, 210 BYU
Danny Davis Mtn. View OL 6-4, 240 Utah
Walter Fiefia Mtn. Crest OL-DL 6-2, 250 Utah
Chris Godfrey Bountiful LB 6-1, 190 Utah
Aaron Hansen Skyline OL-DL 6-4, 265 Utah
Todd Jackson Springville OL 6-4, 270 Utah
Hema Katoa Granger DL 6-4, 270 Utah
Jeff Kirkman Clearfield DB-LB 6-2, 185 Utah
Darren Walker Springville DL 6-4, 240 Utah
Kerry Hicks Highland OL-DL 6-6, 230 ???
Possible colleges: BYU, Colo., Arizona, Cal, Kansas State
Terence Saluone Provo WR-DB 6-3, 200 ???
Possible colleges: BYU, Hawaii, Utah, Utah State