Can BCS caliber football recruits come out of Utah's nest of high school players?
Current trends say it is so and college recruiters from big name programs including national champions USC, LSU and Florida are taking note.
"There are better football players in Utah these days and the numbers are growing," said BYU recruiting coordinator Paul Tidwell.
It wasn't too long ago Utah busted the BCS with a No. 4 ranking and made it to the Fiesta Bowl with a squad laced with leadership and players from Utah. Two of the captains of that Utah team were Highland High's Morgan Scalley and East High School's Sione Pouha.
BYU, a team undefeated in MWC play the past two seasons, is expected to achieve a preseason top 15 ranking in August and is built around recruiting classes stocked with home-grown players. In fact, 17 of 46 recruits in the past two classes have come from the Beehive State. In Utah's past two recruiting classes, 10 of 40 were from Utah.
According to Scout.com Northwest Hot 100, an independent ranking of the best players in the region, the state of Washington accounted for 7 of the top 20 in the 2008 recruiting class but just 3 of the top 20 for the class of 2009. Utah, however lists 13 of the Top 20 prep football players on that list for the class of 2009.
Former in-state college coaches like Norm Chow (North Carolina State, USC, UCLA), Utah State's Lance Anderson (Stanford) and Gary Crowton (Oregon, LSU) have told their bosses Utah grows some great players and they'd better keep tabs. When LSU offers a Utah kid, a phenomenon takes place his stock immediately rises, and other Pac-10, Big 12 and SEC teams start noticing.
In recent years Utah has produced Oregon's NFL bound Haloti Ngata (Highland); USC's Stanley Havili (Cottonwood); and before Utah booted Keni Kaufusi off the team this past month, Colorado's Dan Hawkins got a pledge out of him. Hawkins also signed Lynn Katoa (Cottonwood).
The most highly recruited prospects in Utah this year are linemen Steve Martinez (Cottonwood), Xavier Su'afilo (Timpview) and Latu Heimuli (Highland), plus Spanish Fork tight end Richard Wilson.
Su'afilo might have the most attention with offers from USC, Tennessee, Stanford, Notre Dame Miami, LSU and BYU. He just finished unofficial visits at USC and UCLA and is headed for LSU this week. Martinez has offers from LSU, Ohio State, UCLA, USC, Auburn, BYU and Cal. Wilson has offers on hand from Boise State, BYU, LSU, Miami, Tennessee, Utah and Washington while Heimuli has scholarship invites from Arizona, BYU and Colorado.
Class of 2009 Timpview safety Craig Bills and Adam Timo of Snow Canyon both committed to BYU a year ago after their sophomore seasons and would likely have more recruiting attention. Timo, a 7-2 high jumper, climbed to No. 6 on the Northwest Hot 100 list while Bills is currently ranked No. 14.
Tidwell says Utah players are better, but they are also receiving outstanding coaching, and that's made one of the differences. He didn't discount the fact that recruiters like Crowton, who know Utah, have impacted how other recruiters get tuned in to the Beehive State.
The Ute success and BYU's most recent winning trend have given Utah prepsters credibility, that this is the place, ripe for the harvest.
"The quality of Utah athletes has improved," said Tidwell. "The coaching has improved every year. With our recent success, with Utah athletes on our roster that have Division I scholarships, I think other schools are saying, 'there's something going on here.'
"When Gary Crowton comes in from LSU and offers, it does awaken or arouses attention from schools like Miami and Florida."
Tidwell said BYU's 2008 class might be an example. Two players, both from Bingham High, tight end Austin Holt and kicker Justin Sorensen, were invited to the U.S. Army All-Star game that was televised nationally from Texas and Utah got some recognition for it.
"It's a combination of a lot of things," said Tidwell.
The combines and all-star games like the Army game have Utah athletes who are making an impact.
BYU targets LDS athletes, a pool not limited to in-state recruiting. Tidwell believes this pool "is as good this year as any time in my eight years at BYU."
"Last year with Holt and Sorensen, it was a good Utah recruiting class, but this year is also very good and stocked with good players."
Tidwell believes the demand for high-caliber players who have a reputation for good behavior and character has also grown.
When Stanford, a school that has high academics and strong character traits as part of its recruiting strategy, sees we have offered a Utah kid, "they've been on our heels," said Tidwell.
E-mail: [email protected]