This is an archived article that was published on sltrib.com in 2017, and information in the article may be outdated. It is provided only for personal research purposes and may not be reprinted.
Even at Utah football's recent heights, there's often a view of a taller peak in sight.
In the past few years, it's been true of Utah's quest for a Pac-12 championship, and it's been true of Utah's recruiting.
In signing 19 players to its 2017 class on Wednesday, the Utes achieved some impressive goals. In a quest to rebuild their secondary, they signed five players with a four-star grade from at least one major recruiting service. The team with a history of passing issues swung a late commitment from a four-star receiver. They attained a recruiting class ranked in the top 35 by Scout and Rivals, and both services rated them among the top 25 in average star ranking only one Utah signee had a two-star grade.
Yet, there will markers of what goals lie unreached for the Utes, particularly when the local five-star tackle they most coveted spurned them for USC.
"You never get everybody," a stoic Kyle Whittingham said after signing his 13th and perhaps best recruiting class at Utah. "We feel like the players we targeted, we got most of them."
The Utes signed some of the best talent ever recruited to their defensive backfield, led by consensus four-star defensive back Jaylon Johnson from Fresno, Calif., ranked by both Scout and Rivals in the top 10 at his position. They also added a trio of four-star junior college defensive backs in safeties Corrion Ballard and Marquise Blair and corner Tareke Lewis. California corner prospect Javelin Guidry, the fastest recruit in the class, may challenge for immediate playing time at nickel.
No group was more representative of the kind of players that eluded Utah a few years ago, according to ESPN Pac-12 recruiting analyst Erik McKinney. With three straight seasons of nine wins or more, deeper roots in the Pac-12 and a great need for immediate impact helped Utah close the deal against elite competition.
"This is a generation of recruits who don't even remember when Utah wasn't in the Pac-12," he said. "It's getting to the point where Utah stops being sort of the newcomer, and because they have had success playing against the USCs and UCLAs, they're in the mix now for more recruits who see them as a viable option."
Utah class also featured three offensive linemen, led by early enrollee and junior college product Jordan Agasiva as an early impact candidate, and four defensive linemen to round out their talent pools on both lines of scrimmage thes other big point of emphasis.
The player that would have been an obvious headliner of the class went elsewhere: Five-star Bingham defensive lineman Jay Tufele picked USC over the hometown Utes, continuing a recent trend of the state's elite prospects choosing out-of-state opportunities. Utah also missed on Layton linebacker Tayler Katoa, who signed with the Trojans last month. USC, Stanford and Washington have been successfully raiding the borders for years.
Utah's in-state footprint was smaller than usual: American Fork offensive lineman Michael Richardson and Cottonwood athlete Taniela Pututau were the only prep prospects to sign Wednesday, while Snow College defensive lineman and West Jordan product John Penisini came out of the JuCo ranks.
When counting "push-forwards" Bapa Falemaka and Julian Blackmon, as well as returned missionary and kicker Chayden Johnston, Whittingham punched that figure up to six Utahns.
There was good news for an offense in remodeling mode: California receiver Bryan Thompson made a late call for Utah, signing Wednesday morning. The Utes added three receivers to go with Texas quarterback Jason Shelley and running back T.J. Green, each rating at least three stars.
Even in the month since hiring offensive coordinator Troy Taylor, Whittingham said there was an appreciative rippling of intrigue from recruits. He noted that Eastern Washington's offense, with three 1,000-yard receivers last season, was a selling point.
"We got a lot more interest from receivers and offensive personnel based on what he's done and what he's achieved at other places," he said. "We feel going forward it's going to be a bigger deal. If he's able to get the same results [as at Eastern Washington], it'll be a snowball effect."
Utah's talent pipeline ran from California (6 natives), but also took big swings through Texas (4) and Hawaii (3). Whittingham said in particular it was good to get back into the Aloha State in recruiting efforts led by defensive line coach Lewis Powell. It helped make up for a dip in Florida recruiting only one signee that tailed off for at least a year after running backs coach Dennis Erickson retired.
In all, Utah's class finished the day ranked 30th by Rivals and fifth in the Pac-12, and 33rd by Scout and seventh in the Pac-12. Both were higher than where Utah finished last year. It validated a wait-and-see approach adopted this year where Utah offered elite players early, but took more time to evaluate those closer to the mid tier. Whittingham said the team would continue to do it in the future.
"I do see a good class," McKinney said. "They didn't look to lock up a bunch of guys early. They took some bigger swings at guys and didn't get them all. It seems like Utah the last couple years has more unknowns, but I thought they've been chasing bigger guys."
Some, they caught up to and signed on Wednesday. Some, they're still chasing.
For an in-depth look at each recruit, see our Signing Day blog. 2017 Utah class
Name Pos. Hgt/Wgt School
Jordan Agasiva OT 6-4/345 Pima (Ariz.) JC
Already enrolled, lineman will compete for a starting spot in fall
Corrion Ballard FS 6-3/202 Blinn (Texas) JC
Hard hitter was brought in to help replace Marcus Williams
Marquise Blair SS 6-2/185 Dodge City (Kansas) JC
Hybrid player had 99 tackles, four interceptions last year
Jaylen Dixon WR 5-9/154 Lone Star (Texas)
Slot dynamo was teammates with incoming QB Jason Shelley
Nick Ford OL 6-5/282 San Pedro (Calif.)
Lineman passed up chance to follow father's footsteps at Cal
T.J. Green RB 5-11/185 Chandler (Ariz.)
Oregon State flip has explosive speed and solid hands
Javelin Guidry CB 5-9/188 Vista Murrieta (Calif.)
Had one of the fastest 100-meter times in the country in spring
Tyquez Hampton WR 6-2/204 El Dorado (Texas)
Raw but athletic receiver was committed to Washington State
Jaylon Johnson CB 6-0/181 Central East (Calif.)
Utah's highest-rated recruit was an Army All-American
Tareke Lewis CB 5-11/168 Riverside (Calif.) JC
Receiver-turned-defender could play a role in the return game
Devin Lloyd ATH 6-3/219 Otay Ranch (Calif.)
Utes project the lanky former safety as a linebacker
John Penisini DT 6-2/307 Snow College
Prospect from West Jordan is next big thing from Snow pipeline
Taniela Pututau DB 6-3/202 Cottonwood
Third Pututau brother commits to the Utes
Michael Richardson OT 6-4/235 American Fork
Brings a great frame to the trenches
Jason Shelley QB 6-0/181 Lone Star (Texas)
Dual-threat showed competitive fire on big stages in Texas
Bryan Thompson WR 6-2/181 Rancho Verde (Calif.)
Hugely productive receiver was a late swing over Pac-12 offers
Orlando Umana OG 6-4/329 Grant (Calif.)
A masher in the run game at Devontae Booker's alma mater
Mo Unutoa OL 6-5/280 Kapaa (Hi.)
BYU legacy could join the Utes for a year before serving a mission
Aliki Vimahi DL 6-4/247 Kahuku (Hi.)
Has versatility both inside and at end as a pass rusher