Looking Back At Utah Football’s Success With JuCo Transfers

Jun 2, 2022, 5:39 PM | Updated: 6:07 pm
Tavion Thomas - Utah Utes - USC Trojans...
Tavion Thomas #9 of the Utah Utes celebrates as he scores on a second half touchdown run during a college football game October 9, 2021 in Los Angeles, California. (Photo by Denis Poroy/Getty Images)
(Photo by Denis Poroy/Getty Images)

SALT LAKE CITY- Utah football has a long and rather illustrious history with junior college transfers. In more recent years the Utes have moved away from the JuCo ranks largely due to the emergence of the NCAA Transfer Portal. However, with the Transfer Portal market becoming more competitive with Name, Image, and Likeness, the Utes appear to be reverting back to their old stomping grounds to find overlooked jewels to bolster their rosters.

The Most Recent Success

The most recent JuCo success story for Utah is running back Tavion Thomas who joined the team last summer from Independence Community College in an effort to replace the production of the late Ty Jordan. Thomas didn’t disappoint in 2021 finishing the year with 1,108 yards, and 21 touchdowns while averaging 5.4 yards per carry.


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NFL Hall Of Fame JuCo

Perhaps the most famous and well-known JuCo recruit for the Utes is wide receiver Stevonne Smith, better known as Steve Smith Sr. Before coming to Utah, Smith Sr. started his college career at Santa Monica and then transferred to the Utes in 1999. While at Utah, Smith Sr. set a record for yards per catch at 20.6. It wasn’t long before the NFL came calling and the Carolina Panthers picked Smith Sr. up in the 3rd round of the 2001 Draft. Smith Sr. would go on to have a 15-year career in the NFL where he was constantly featured in highlight reels not only for his play on the field, but his trash talk off of it as well.


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The AS in ASAP

Former Utah safety Antwoine Sanders probably would have made a killing with the current state of NIL. Sanders, along with his partner in crime, Arnold Parker came up with their clever “branding” of ASAP combining their first and last name initials in the early 2000’s.  However, before Sanders was creating havoc with Parker at Utah he was at two different junior colleges. Sanders started his college career at Independence Community College (Tavion Thomas), but was found by the Utes at Arizona Western. Sanders was named first team All- All Mountain West in 2002 with 65 tackles, six pass breakups, and two interceptions. Sanders had a brief stint in the NFL with the Baltimore Ravens and Miami Dolphins, but is best known for his entrepreneurial efforts in Salt Lake City.

The Undefeateds

2004 and 2008 were big years for the Utes going undefeated and crashing the Bowl Championship Series. Helping to lead those charges against the college football world for the Utes were junior college guys.

Former running back and current coach Quinton Ganther started out with Citrus College before racking up 1,120 yards, 314 yards receiving and eight touchdowns in his final year as a Ute in 2006. Ganther bounced around the NFL with the Titans, Commanders, Seahawks and Titans before turning his attention to coaching.

Receiver David Reed started out at Pasadena City College before he helped Utah dismantle Alabama in the Sugar Bowl. As a senior in 2009, Reed set two school records- number of receptions in a season with 81 and receiving yards with 1,188. He would be the only Mountain West receiver that year to have 1,000 receiving yards.

Matt Asiata spent two seasons at Snow College in Ephraim, Utah before becoming a Ute. Asiata’s college career constantly vacillated between snake-bitten and blessed, but in the end he did enough to be signed by the Vikings as an undrafted free agent in 2011. Eventually Asiata carved out a nice niche for himself in Minnesota even with Adrian Peterson as the main running back. Asiata ended his career at Utah with 26 total touchdowns (24 rushing and two receiving) which is third all-time.


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Safety Robert Johnson had never been on a plane until Kalani Sitake convinced him to come check out Utah. Sitake was taken with the L.A. Southwest JuCo product on a scouting trip for someone else and as they say, the rest is history. Johnson became an interception machine for Utah from 2007-2009 racking up 13 takeaways. The ballhawk would later be drafted in the 5th round of the 2010 Draft to the Tennessee Titans.

First-Team All-American JuCo

Shaky Smithson jumped onto the scene for the Utes in 2009, but before he was shaking and baking across RES, he was turning heads at East Los Angeles College. As a Ute Smithson established a new MWC record for punt return yards in a season with 572. Smithson also became Utah’s 15th first-team All-American as a punt returner after leading the nation in punt return average and punt return yards as a senior. Perhaps most notably of all Smithson did this while having full custody of his younger brother Fish Smithson who attended Highland High and later played college ball at Kansas. Both Smithson men eventually made it to the NFL with Shaky signing a free agent deal in 2011 with the Green Bay Packers.

NCAA Record Holder

Before Reggie Dunn became an NCAA record holder with five career 100-yard kick return touchdowns (four were in the same season, also an NCAA record) as a Ute, he started off playing for Compton Community College. Dunn was an electric piece of Utah’s special teams puzzle from 2010-2012 and it eventually punched his ticket to the NFL with his longest stretch being with the Cowboys. These days Dunn is still helping the Utes be great, only now it’s off the field as a talent evaluator.


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The Pac-12 Years

L.A. Harbor College gifted Utah with one of the best single-effort athletes to ever suit up for the Utes. Those early years in the Pac-12 were not great for the Utah offense that really struggled to establish an identity. The one bright spot was White IV, aka the Wolfman, who had no quit. Despite only being 5’8″, White IV set a lot of Utah football records including being the first running back to gain back-to-back 1,000 yard seasons, per game yardage gained at 106.7, and career 100-yard games at 14. White IV has gone on to have quite the career in the Canadian Football League that may not be quite over yet depending on what happens with the strike.

Running back Devontae Booker started out at American River College before wowing the crowds at Rice-Eccles Stadium. Booker became the second Utah running back to have back-to-back 1,000 yard seasons and set the school record for career rushing average at 120.6. Booker was picked up in the 4th round of the 2016 NFL Draft by the Denver Broncos. since then he has spent time with the Raiders and Giants.

Before coming to Utah, safety/cornerback Keith McGill was the 11th ranked player out of all positions in Rival’s JuCo Top 50 players at Cerritos College. Once McGill became a Ute he instantly impressed as a free safety before converting over to cornerback for his senior year. With no experience playing the position, McGill became one of the top corners in the Pac-12 leading the league in pass breakups with 12 and placing second in passes defended per game with 1.08. In 2014, McGill was taken in the fourth round of the NFL Draft by the Oakland Raiders.

Utah found receiver Tim Patrick at Grossmont College. Unfortunately, Patrick’s career at Utah was slowed by injuries and he didn’t produce a whole lot stat-wise. One of Patrick’s most memorable moments as a Ute was taking USC’s Adoree Jackson right out of his shoes to catch the game-winning touchdown with 16 seconds left in the clock in 2016. Despite the injuries Patrick never gave up. In 2017 he was taken as an undrafted free agent by the Baltimore Ravens before finding his way to the Broncos. These days Patrick is recognized as one of the league’s best receivers and recently got paid as such.


Offensive tackle Garett Bolles is another Snow College product that worked out well for the Utes. Despite spending only one season at Utah, Bolles made an impact. He was named first team All-Pac-12 in 2016 playing left tackle while being drafted in the first round of the 2017 NFL Draft to the Denver Broncos. Bolles’ NFL career did not start out the smoothest, but in 2020 he signed a four-year contract extension after improving his play significantly.

Dodge City Community College is where the Utes picked up their “heat-seeking missal” in safety Marquise Blair. During Blair’s tenure with the Utes in 2017 and 2018 he played both free and strong safety and never hesitated to knock someone’s socks off no matter where he was positioned on the field. Blair earned second-team All-Pac-12 honors in his senior year and was drafted in the 2nd round of the 2019 NFL Draft to the Seattle Seahawks.



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