Farnsworth: State Of Utah Becoming Recruiting Hotbed In Pac-12 Football
HOLLYWOOD, Calif. – There was one topic of conversation that without fail brought smiles to the faces of head coaches at Pac-12 Football Media Day. They beamed when talking about the recruits they’ve signed out of the state of Utah.
“Relentless, relentless competitor.”
“I can’t wait to watch his college career. It’s going to be great.”
“They’re some of the best people you’ll ever meet in your life.”
“We’ll continue to come back to Utah.”
That’s just a small sample of the responses that came as each team funneled through to speak with the KSL Sports team.
For years Pac-12 schools have successfully convinced some of the best high school football players in Utah to join those programs out of state. But the fingerprints of those schools are showing up more and more each year all over Utah.
The 2020 signing class in Utah was led by Orem High star athlete Noah Sewell. He signed on with Oregon and already showed signs of becoming a Pac-12 star in limited play during the COVID shortened season.
“(Noah) is a relentless, relentless competitor,” Oregon head coach Mario Cristobal said. “Noah is a guy that wants to perfect his craft. He’s physical, he’s explosive, he’s tough, he’s a hard worker. He wants to be great. He wants to see his teammates do well so he’s just the ultimate teammate. He’s just scratching the surface now so we’re expecting a huge year for Noah Sewell.”
Sewell was the top of six Utah high school football players to sign on with Pac-12 programs from the graduating class of 2020. And Coach Cristobal sees the state of Utah as a must-visit destination during the recruiting season. The following season after signing Sewell he signed the next top recruit from Utah in Orem offensive lineman Kingsley Suamataia.
“We’ve gotten a slew of players from the state of Utah now and every single one of them have found success in our program and are on their way to great success in our program,” Cristobal said. “You guys saw what Penei Sewell has accomplished in such a short space of time. (Noah and Kingsley) will be playing football for a long, long time. But for now most importantly they’re going to be great Oregon Ducks.”
The number two recruit in the state of Utah behind Suamataia also chose to leave the state for a Pac-12 program.
The National Gatorade Player of the Year Jaxson Dart chose USC over 12 other scholarship offers including other Pac-12 schools like Arizona State and UCLA.
“His future is so bright here,” USC head coach Clay Helton said about Dart who enrolled early at USC and already participated in spring football. “He goes out every day and pushes (starting quarterback) Kedon (Slovis). He’s out there every day competing going, ‘I’m right here. Look at me. I think I’m really good.’ And his ability to compete and thrive is what is going to make him a great quarterback. I can’t wait to watch his college career. It’s going to be great.”
Helton is entering his 12th season on the USC coaching staff. Finding talent in Utah is something that has become a greater priority for him each season. Whenever he runs into a USC alum from Utah he is reminded just how good the talent is in the Beehive State.
“I got to see Porter Guston about a week ago and hug him and see how his career is going. Jay Tufele who came to us and is now going to have a dynamic NFL career,” Helton said. “There is tremendous talent within the state. They’re prepared mentally and physically for the college game and obviously several Utah players are having tremendous success at the next level.”
Seven of the 11 Pac-12 programs outside of Utah have at least one player from Utah on the roster. The strongest presence can be found in Palo Alto, California where Stanford has more players from Utah than any other state within the Pac-12 Conference (outside of California). A group of players affectionately known by their teammates as “The U Boys.”
“They’re the best group of people on the team,” Stanford wide receiver Michael Wilson said. “They’re some of the best people you’ll ever meet in your life. They embody what it is to be a Stanford football player, a Stanford student-athlete. Just doing all the right things. Holding themselves with humility and are confident. Some of the nicest people you’ll ever meet. Can have a conversation with anyone. Doesn’t matter who you are or what you believe in they’re just great people.”
“We have a great contingency of guys from Utah. Houston Heimuli, Gabe Reid, Simi Fehoko, lots of great guys coming through this program who have really contributed and kind of just lifted us up,” Stanford defensive end Thomas Booker added. “So we can thank the state of Utah for that one. Luckily they chose us over Utah.”
Head coach David Shaw raved about the high academic standards held within Utah high schools which makes it an appealing recruiting destination. But he also acknowledged the great football that is being played each weekend in the fall as well.
“Their football is extremely competitive,” Shaw said. “They play in difficult elements. You see tough guys that fight through it. We know we’re going to get guys that are well educated, bright guys, tough guys. We’ll continue to come back to Utah.”
And so will the rest of the Pac-12. Ten kids from Utah signed with Pac-12 schools after the 2020 football season and already six from the class of 2022 have either committed to a Pac-12 school outside of Utah or have at least one of those schools in their top five.
It’s no longer a secret. The Wasatch Range of the Rocky Mountains is where some of the best high school football talent in the western United States can be found. And Utah is under the microscope of every coach in the Pac-12.