The top of the in-state recruiting rankings have not been kind to Utah over the years. Since 2006 -- the first year ESPN began recruiting rankings -- the Utes have only twice signed the No. 1 recruit in Utah and eventually lost that player to transfer both times.
An undefeated 2008 season couldn’t help the Utes land the two ESPN 150 prospects in Utah’s 2009 class, as No. 3 tackle Xavier Su’a-Filo signed with UCLA and No. 1 guard John Martinez went to USC. And joining the Pac-12 didn’t help the Utes sign either of the top two prospects in the 2012 class. The struggle to land top in-state targets was hammered home in a big way with this past class, as an incredibly talented roster of Beehive State prospects largely spurned the Utes. The top two prospects, Osa Masina and Porter Gustin, are contributing heavily as true freshmen for USC, while the three other four-star recruits signed with Ohio State, UCLA and Wisconsin.
Of the top 10 in-state recruits in 2015, Utah signed just one -- linebacker Cody Barton, the state’s No. 10 prospect.
The Utes, however, could be on the cusp of bucking that in-state trend. Thanks to an undefeated start to the season, Utah is also making significant strides across the country.
Since the dominating win against Oregon less than two weeks ago, the Utes have added commitments from wide receiver R.J. Hubert, defensive end Semisi Lauaki and athlete Alema Pilimai, and scheduled an upcoming official visit from ESPN 300 athlete Melquise Stovall.
Despite already having 22 commitments in the 2016 class, Pilimai and Davir Hamilton, another California prospect to commit to Utah, said big things could still be in store for this class as well as into the future.
“I think that other recruits and I see Utah as an up-and-coming program that we all look forward to being a part of,” Pilimai said. “I definitely think Utah can compete with other Pac-12 teams on the recruiting trail. Their coaches are awesome, encouraging men who leave a good impression the first time you meet them.”
Hamilton has been a big recruiter for Utah since his commitment in late June, leading the charge for both Stovall and Daevon Vigilant.
“I’m trying to recruit certain guys to commit,” Hamilton said. “I think the Oregon win was big and that if we win the Pac-12, more dudes will try and commit.”
While the group of 2016 prospects in the state of Utah doesn’t quite match the 2015 group in terms of top-tier talent, the Utes could send a loud message by picking up prospects at the top of the state rankings. The state’s lone ESPN 300 prospect, defensive end Maxs Tupai, appears to have his sights set on heading out of state, and wide receiver Simi Fehoko, the state’s No. 2 prospect, has already committed to Stanford. And while it’s become virtually unheard of for a program to steal a prospect from the Cardinal in recent classes, the Utes have grabbed Fehoko’s attention.
“There’s been some huge success for Utah and for a hometown kid, the pull of staying home and playing in a program that has huge upside is obviously always there,” Fehoko said. “Although I am still committed, it’s hard to rule out Utah just yet.”
But where the Utes truly might have turned the corner is with the state’s extremely talented 2017 class. With four ESPN Junior 300 prospects, Utah’s success this season could be huge for its success on the trail.
Defensive tackle Jay Tufele is the state’s top prospect, No. 100 recruit overall and likely the best hope the Utes have of getting back on the board with the No. 1 in-state recruit. Tufele, who holds offers from at least eight Pac-12 programs, including UCLA and USC, was extremely impressed by Utah’s defensive line against Oregon.
“Utah’s defensive line is probably the best in the country and they just outworked Oregon physically and mentally,” Tufele said. “A win like that is great for Utah. It makes recruits think about, ‘Is leaving the state really the best thing to do?’ when they have a powerhouse like Utah.”
Like many of those 2015 prospects, the No. 2 Utah recruit in the 2017 class, Chaz Ah You, said he was set on leaving the state. But big wins and time in the national rankings -- for both BYU and Utah -- have given him second thoughts.
“I was really pushing to get out of Utah, but seeing this season that both BYU and Utah have been able to compete with these out of state teams, I’m opening up to the idea of possibly staying in state,” Ah You said.
While wins and rankings have recruits talking, seeing hometown prospects succeed in Salt Lake City could be a true difference-maker. True freshman receiver Britain Covey has been one of the most impressive 2015 prospects in the Pac-12 this year. His two-touchdown performance for the Utes against Oregon opened the door for in-state players.
“… Something that has me second-guessing leaving [the state] is watching Britain Covey playing as a true freshman and he’s from the state of Utah,” Ah You said. “I thought it was pretty cool to see someone that is living just down the road from me compete and score two touchdowns against Oregon.”
While Utah will always have to recruit in California and Arizona, it’ll be swinging the home-state that matters. With the spotlight on the Utah Saturday, the Utes can show a few more prospects what their futures could be.
“It’s a great team and a great setting,” Fehoko said. “Few places like that.”