Located just about dead center between Los Angeles and San Diego, the city of San Clemente, California, is marketed as “the resort beach town in Orange County.” White sand and more than 340 days of sunshine per year are hallmarks of a place with a population that hovers around 65,000.
San Clemente is also becoming a hotbed of recruiting for the University of Utah football program. Native son Travis Wilson will conclude his career with the Utes within the next few months (January, perhaps?), but two current San Clemente High School Tritons are already committed to play for Kyle Whittingham, and if last weekend was any indication, more could be on the way.
As third-ranked Utah prepared to face Arizona State, commits Cole Fotheringham and Tucker Scott were joined by juniors Jack Sears and Isaac Rex in Salt Lake City, as the Tritons were on a bye week. The former two were on an official visit, while the latter pair’s presence was labeled an unofficial visit to the Beehive State.
Is it too early to call the relationship between San Clemente High and the U. a pipeline? Probably not, considering San Clemente head coach Jaime Ortiz referred to it as such.
“Travis kind of got the thing rolling a little bit,” he said. “(Co-offensive coordinator) Coach (Aaron) Roderick has done a really good job recruiting our athletes and having relationships with the families. He’s been the main focal point to get this pipeline going.”
Beyond that work from Roderick, it’s been a fortuitous set of factors that has allowed a relationship to develop between the two programs. First, the Tritons have had a bevy of Pac-12-caliber athletes in their program in recent years. Second, both Scott and Fotheringham, as well as Rex, have big family connections to the Beehive State.
Scott’s father Lance played for the Utes in the early ’90s, so the young offensive lineman was already familiar with the program, while Fotheringham is a member of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints and was really only considering Utah and BYU.
Still, Scott said the fact he grew up a big Ute fan isn’t the primary reason he decided to commit to the program.
“Just the whole brotherhood aspect of it is what I enjoyed, so that’s why I made my decision,” he said. “I went with my feeling. I didn’t take any outside pressure. I was like, ‘Utah’s my home and that’s where I want to go.’”
Both Scott and Fotheringham credit Ortiz for playing a big role in helping them get on the Utes’ radar.
“I think Coach Ortiz does a good job presenting us to them, and they like tough-nosed football players,” said Fotheringham, a tight end, of the Utah coaching staff. “They play the same type of football that we try to do at our high school, so it’s a good connection there, and I’m just happy to try to be a part of it.”
And unlike many prospects these days, Scott and Fotheringham are taking their commitment to the Utes seriously and won’t be backing out.
“I’m 100 percent committed to Utah, and there’s no changing my mind at all,” Scott said.
Ortiz has a lot to do with that, too.
“I’m a firm believer that your word is your bond,” he said. “We’ve had one or two players decommit in the past eight to 10 years, but I’m a firm believer that it’s important the parents and the athletes do their job and their research in making sure when making a decision that they feel comfortable and it’s the decision you want to make.”
As for the juniors, Ortiz said it’s too early to get a read on them, but it stands to reason that Utah has a good chance with both, should interest remain.
Rex, who will likely play tight end on the collegiate level, is also LDS, although his father Byron was in the Cougars’ program from 1986-1992, and Isaac Rex is looking at Bronco Mendenhall’s team as well.
The strength of the pipeline will surely get tested with Sears. The quarterback’s only scholarship offer at the moment is from the Utes, but schools such as UCLA, Washington, Notre Dame and Boston College have shown interest.
“They still have time,” Fotheringham said. “They’re only juniors, and they’re halfway through the season. Hopefully they can pick up a couple (offers) and then they’ll have options and get to go through the process.”
Though both Scott and Fotheringham said they don’t have very personal relationships with the reserved Wilson, Utah’s quarterback does think it's neat that he had a part in helping blaze a trail that could benefit both programs for years to come.
“It was great to have those kids out there,” he said of last weekend’s visit, where he took a photo with the San Clemente quartet. “I’m really happy they were able to come out and see a great game it’s great seeing kids get recruited out of San Clemente and seeing a lot more kids getting looked at. Guys in the past really helped pave the way for that. I hope it just continues.”
Here’s the weekly rundown of notable performances from last week by players committed to Utah, BYU and Utah State:
Kurtis Taufa, LB, Snow College (Utah): Taufa is back in the Utes’ fold. The linebacker committed to Utah in February, but then switched his commitment to Kansas in July. He switched back last week, and then had a whopping 16 tackles, including six solo, in a 27-37 loss to Eastern Arizona. Two of his tackles were for loss.
Troy Williams, QB, Santa Monica Community College (California): The Utes scored big Tuesday, securing a commitment from a former Washington quarterback who was once the top dual threat quarterback in the country coming out of high school, according to Rivals. Williams, who is the cousin of former Utah great and NFL Pro Bowler Steve Smith, led Santa Monica to a 48-20 win over West L.A. last weekend.
RJ Hubert, WR, Moapa Valley High School (Nevada): Got it done in multiple ways again, scoring a touchdown each on the ground and through the sky as the Pirates beat Boulder City, 63-14.
Lorenzo Neal, DT, St. Thomas High School (Texas): Neal took a visit to Utah over the weekend and tweeted some about his experience:
Alec Dana, WR, Chaffey College (California): Dana had knee surgery last week. He anticipates that he’ll come to Salt Lake City in the spring.
Tyler Huntley, QB, Hallandale High School (Florida): In a sloppy game, it was Huntley’s lone touchdown pass that was the difference in Hallandale’s 7-0 win over Miramar. Here’s a recap of the game: http://www.miamiherald.com/sports/high-school/prep-miami-dade/article39578325.html
Demari Simpkins, WR, Hallandale High School (Florida): In a slugfest, Simpkins had just 6 yards on three receptions.
Jay Griffin, WR/DB, Huntsville High School (Texas): Punched in a 3-yard touchdown in the Hornets’ 42-21 loss to College Station. In extracurricular activities, Griffin was honored as Huntsville’s homecoming king last week.
David Fangupo, DT, Cerritos College (California): Fangupo had a great game, finishing with five tackles (two solo and three assisted) plus 1.5 sacks as the Falcons beat Allan Hancock, 31-28.
Thomas McDonald, RB, Grossmont College (California): Had 22 yards on seven carries in a 32-12 loss to Saddleback.
Kahi Neves, QB/LB, Timpview High School: Went 6-of-14 for 147 yards and two touchdowns in the Thunderbirds’ 28-0 win over Mountain View.
Handsome Tanielu, DT, Snow College (Utah): Had two tackles (one solo, one assisted) in a 27-37 loss to Eastern Arizona College.
Troy Warner, S, Mission Hills High School (California): Returned an interception 65 yards for a touchdown in a 47-7 win over Rancho Buena Vista. He also sent this tweet during the week:
Max Tooley, S/RB, Bountiful High School: Tooley was once again effective on both sides of the ball. On offense, he finished with 133 yards on 17 carries, including a 64-yard touchdown scamper. Defensively, he had 13 tackles as the Braves got by Olympus, 21-17.
Keenan Pili, LB, Timpview High School: Finished with eight tackles in a 28-0 win over Mountain View.
Drew Jensen, S/QB, Brighton High School: Snagged an interception and returned it 40 yards for a touchdown in the Bengals’ 59-8 win over Copper Hills.
Hank Tuipulotu, WR, Nation Ford High School (South Carolina): Tuipulotu shined in a 42-28 losing effort, finishing with 10 receptions for 194 yards and two touchdowns. Check out a recap of the game here, where Tuipulotu was highlighted in the “Star Contributions” section despite losing:
Jonah Trinnaman, WR, Snow College (Utah): Returned one kickoff 17 yards in a 27-37 loss to Eastern Arizona College.
Darius McFarland, DE, Box Elder High School: Had three carries for 11 yards on offense and four tackles on defense in a 41-14 win over Bonneville.
Solofa Funa, LB, Spanish Fork High School: Made an impact in multiple areas in a 20-28 loss to Wasatch. Had six carries for 35 yards, five receptions for 62 yards and seven tackles on defense.
Skyler Southam, K, Wasatch High School: Made all four of his extra point tries in the Wasps’ 28-20 win over Spanish Fork. On Monday, he was named to the 2016 Army All-American team. In an incredible gesture, he shared the moment with a schoolmate who has cerebral palsy and serves as a team manager. Read about it here. That night, he received a call to serve an LDS mission in Chile.
Wayne Taulapapa, RB, Punahou High School (Hawaii): Punahou fell 30-14 to St. Louis, and Taulapapa had a very mixed performance. He scored both of the Buffaloes’ touchdowns, but also lost three fumbles.
Bryce Mortenson, TE, Sky View High School: Two days before committing, Mortenson had seven catches for 109 yards with three touchdowns in a 44-10 victory over Fremont.
Jordan Love, QB, Liberty High School (California): Had another great game, throwing for 282 yards and four touchdowns in a 42-7 win over Stockdale.
Craig Rucker, RB, Edgewater High School (Florida): Rushed for a touchdown in a 30-8 win over Lake Minneola.
Danielson Auelua, DT, Mesa Community College (Arizona): Had three tackles (two solo, one assisted) in a 21-27 loss to Arizona Western College.
Hartman Rector, WR, Logan High School: Finished with eight receptions for 102 yards, including a 9-yard touchdown catch, in a 42-12 win over Desert Hills.
Carter Williams contributed to this story.
Ryan McDonald is a sports reporter at DeseretNews.com. Follow him on Twitter @ryanwmcdonald.