By Kurt Johnson
Photos by Kevin McInnis & Kurt Johnson
I have to admit that college football’s national letter-of-intent signing day doesn’t hold the same level of excitement for me that it did back in the day. Back then, most of what happened on NLI day was actually news.
That said, there is something about the day it all becomes official, and that is the biggest theme of NLI day. It is also a good day for the lower-profile recruits whose commitments have not been so publicized to be recognized for their opportunity to chase their futures.
In looking over the list of Utah high school football players who officially signed on to play at the next level a month ago, a few things jumped out at me. Most of these fall outside the more obvious big news about local universities who called on a number of local players and also many talented players from outside the state to repopulate their rosters.
Now that I’ve had a month to process (and get through the state basketball state championship tournaments), here are some of my random thoughts on signing day 2016.
1) The William Penn pipeline – What school signed the most Utah high school football players to play at the next level? The answer is William Penn University, a NAIA school in Oskaloosa, Iowa.
That’s right, 19 players from the class of 2016 will be taking their talents to Oskaloosa to play for the William Penn Statesmen. That’s six more players than head coach Todd Hafner recruited out of Utah a year ago.
“We have been recruiting the state of Utah for quite some time but have ramped up our efforts in the last couple of years,” Hafner said in a recent email. “Last year we signed 13 players. Our interest in these players is two-fold, they are great football players and they want to excel in the classroom. Our assistant coaches have done a great job through the recruiting process of building relationships with these players and their families and because of that it makes traveling to Iowa to go to school that much easier.”
2) The Air Force Academy effect – While William Penn was enjoying its huge haul with Utah athletes, what Division 1 program outside the state picked up the most football players from the state in its 2016 class? The answer to that one is the Air Force Academy, which has had great success recently with Utah players.
This year, five players signed on to join the Falcons – Ethan Erickson and Parker Workman (Bingham), Simeon Page (Riverton), Colton Durrant (Sky View) and Xavier Price (Judge Memorial). That’s one talented offensive player (Price) and four defensive stars making their way to Colorado Springs.
3) Badgers go big time – If you’re a high school athlete that is unable to find a Division 1 landing spot right out of high school but you still have high hopes of playing at that level, Snow College looks like a good option for you. Four of the D-1 recruits who are most expected to have an immediate impact at BYU and Utah next season are JC transfers from Snow.
Offensive lineman Garett Bolles and linebacker Kurtis Taufa will join the Utes, while defensive tackle Handsome Tanielu and receiver Jonah Trinnaman signed with BYU. Pleasant Grove’s explosive wideout Malik Overstreet is one player to keep an eye on next as he will try to take a similar path after beginning his collegiate career at Snow in 2016.
4) Brighton produces – Other schools had more players sign on to play football at the next level, but Brighton’s 2016 class is sending four players to Division 1 programs. Simi Fehoko is the headliner as the state’s top recruit is headed to Stanford, but the Bengals are also sending linebacker Doug Taumoelau to Oregon State and a pair of players to BYU (Drew Jensen and Jackson Kaufusi).
5) Speaking of Stanford – I know there was talk of BYU making a move on Fehoko in hopes of “flipping” the receiver, but I honestly don’t know what any school could say to someone who is heading to Stanford. Can you seriously make the case to someone who is serious about not just football, but also getting an education, who has been accepted at Stanford, that Palo Alto is not in his best interests?
6) Some guys I’m interested in following – There are a number of extremely high profile players from Utah, both those who chose to stay in state and some who chose to go to schools outside the state, who are expected to really shine at the next level. Then, there are a few that maybe flew a bit under the radar during the recruiting process or who seem like steals to the schools they selected.
I am really intrigued to see what develops with that group. Here are some players I will be watching either next year, or when they return from missions in a couple.
Leki Fotu (Utah) – Of all the recruits Utah brought in as part of a strong recruiting class, to my uneducated eye, Fotu seems to have the most potential. He hasn’t yet played a lot football, but he is a violent pass rusher and he attacks on every play. He could be the biggest get among this year’s Utah high school recruits.
Jaren Hall (BYU) – There was a lot of buzz about the Maple Mountain quarterback and three-sport star potentially flipping from his commitment to BYU, but in the end, he stuck with the Cougars. The next question revolves around what position he will play when he returns from his mission in Roseville, California.
One thing I love about Hall is his understanding of the game. It would have been fun to see what he could have done if he had been healthy his full senior season. As a quarterback, he has the athletic ability to pick up yards with his legs, and he does that at times, but it strikes me that he runs with his eyes down field, looking first to throw and then for a chance to make a play on the run.
His athletic ability would allow him to do a lot of things in Provo, so it will be fun to watch what Kalani Sitake and his staff decide to do with him.
Tre Miller (Utah State) – Miller is one of those guys who could be a steal for the Aggies. He has the size and the speed to be a solid back at the next level so it will be interesting to see how it translates.
Sione Finau (BYU) – Finau may be a bit undersized, but he was an extremely exciting and productive back at Kearns. Since he was headed to Oregon State, but has now switched to BYU, it is clear that Sitake really likes what this guy can do.
Adam Rodriguez (Weber State) – Rodriguez is another guy that made a ton of plays on defense. He was always around the ball at Springville and has an extremely high motor. Feels like it might be a really good pick-up for the Wildcats.
Cooper Smith (SUU) – The Salem Hills playmaker seems like he would have had a lot more interest from recruiters. I expect to see a lot of big results from Smith in Cedar City.
7) Maxs Tupai – The late-breaking news in this year’s recruiting class was the best-kept secret of all, as Murray’s Maxs Tupai waiting a couple of weeks before making his decision to play at Utah. It’s not that much of a surprise that Tupai would choose the Utes, but he kept the whole process very private so no one knew.
Perhaps the most uncomfortable moment of the whole recruiting season was the gathering of media at Murray High on the day he made his signing official. As he had done throughout the process, Tupai did not discuss his decision with the press.