Feb. 2, 2005
Utah football head coach Kyle Whittingham press conference quotes:
"First of all, I want to acknowledge my assistants. They did a fantastic job given the circumstances. We were not intact as a staff until after the bowl game because, obviously, we had several of the hold-over coaches from the last staff coaching in that game. Given the late start that we got, I thought they did a fantastic job rallying-up and put together a solid class. They did an exceptional job given our situation.
"About the class itself - the in-state athlete is always going to be a priority and I feel very good about how we came out in-state. We always try to get four to six players in-state, that's our goal each year. Some years there may not be as much talent as others. But, generally speaking, if we can land four to six in-state recruits, we're going to feel pretty good about things in the state of Utah.
"This year, in-state, I feel that we definitely got the premiere skill player in the state in Marquis Wilson. The guy is an excellent football player and I don't think there's a doubt in anyone's mind that he is the best skill player in the state of Utah.
"We got two out of the three premiere linemen in the state in Zane Beadles and Tony Bergstrom. So, that was two big `gets' for us. And, we also got Andrew Smart who we signed a couple years ago from Brighton High School - a linebacker - and Grayson Dart, who's the brother of Brandon Dart, who played here some three or four years ago. But, he will be going on a Church mission.
"I felt like we had a good in-state class.
"Overall, I felt like we definitely added athleticism and speed to the football team. We took care of our needs. The immediate need was at quarterback. The situation with our quarterback - you're not going to fix that in one year. That's just not going to happen. It's going to take a couple before we get that position up to speed where it needs to be. That's to take nothing away from Brian Johnson. We are very high on Brian Johnson. But, as of yesterday, he was the only scholarship quarterback in the program and he's a true freshman. So, that was our top priority. We landed a JC quarterback in Brett Ratliff and high school quarterback Kevin Dunn. Like I said, you can't just take four quarterbacks in one year. You got to build the position over the course of two or three years. We took steps in the right direction in the quarterback area.
"Other than that, our philosophy is to take the best football players available, the best athletes available. We are not going to take a lesser player at another position just because the numbers tell us we need a body at that position. We're going to take the best players we can get, be flexible with them, and find positions for them. A lot of the guys in this class aren't going to play in the positions that we recruited them at. And, that's just our philosophy. Much like you hear on draft day in the NFL, `The best player on the board.' We feel good about what we've accomplished. I've been here 11 years and I think this is the best class we've had in four, five, maybe six years, from an athletic standpoint and speed standpoint. In a nutshell, that's what it's all about. Recruiting is not an exact science. If you really want to talk about recruiting, we need to talk about the class two years ago. It takes two years before you evaluate a recruiting class. But, if we evaluated properly, it's looking like this is going to be a very good group of players for us."
On moving recruits to different positions:"We don't pull any punches in our recruiting. We tell guys that there's a chance down the road that he may line up at a different position for whatever is best for him and for the football team. We don't try to con people to come here and play one position and then trick them by moving them around when they get here. But, we do plant that seed and it has been successful for us over the years."
On grading this year's recruiting class: I tell you what, it's tough. There are a lot of unknowns until you have a chance to work with the guys. But, just on paper, I would give us a B+ or A- given the circumstances we were under. It was a double-edged sword for us. The positive, obviously, is being No. 4 in the country and winning the Fiesta Bowl. That go us into a lot of doors that otherwise we would not have been able to get into. But, it's not like when you get in the door, the players are begging to come here. You still have to work your tail off recruiting and sell the university. The success we had this year got us in more doors than we otherwise we would have.
On who's going to be an immediate impact: It's tough to say who's going to be an immediate impact in the program. Obviously, the JC guys have a better chance at that than do the high school guys. Losing (Steve) Savoy unexpectedly, Marquis Wilson is going to be - we told him to be ready this fall and to come in here and compete for a job. Other than that, among the freshmen, it's tough to say. The quarterback Kevin Dunn is going to need to take reps because he has to - there are only three of them there. It's a lot easier for a skill guy to make the transition and play sooner than it is for the offensive and defensive linemen."
On Brett Ratliff: He's a big strong kid, about 6-3, 220-pounds, real raw. Coach Ludwig really likes him and sees a lot of potential. He's a Tom Brady-type of quarterback. He's not a flashy guy but he's a team guy. His football teams at Butte were 10-1 and 9-2, so he's a winner. We feel that there's enough to work with from a physical standpoint and coach Ludwig was very excited about him. He's going to take some time to develop but he's got the tools."
On the starting quarterback position: Brian Johnson is our quarterback. People have to come in here and beat him out. He will have the benefit of spring ball and we might run with Johnson. But, he's a 17-year-old freshman and there's going to be a learning curve there. Make no mistake about it, we're high on Brian Johnson and we feel the quarterbacks we signed are just going to add to the competition of the position. Obviously, you'd think that a JC player would be ahead of a high school player, but you never know. The Dunn kid is a very mature kid and he may surprise some people."
On Kevin Dunn: He's very similar (to Ratliff). He's very similar in size, stature and style. They're both pocket passers, drop back guys. But, so was Alex Smith when we recruited him. We didn't think he was going to run the option because in high school he was more of your prototypical thrower. They both have good speed, a pocket presence, escapability, but you never know until you get them in here and start working with them exactly what you got."
On Chris Joppru: He's an interesting story. I recruited JJ Joppru out of junior college about five or six years ago. I almost got him but he ended up going to Arizona. But, I got to know the family and JJ very well during the recruiting process. Consequently, he had another younger brother, Benny, who went to Michigan, and then the youngest was Chris. Chris was about 11 or 12 years when I went to recruit JJ and I remembered him from then. When we started this process, Sheldon, his dad, gave us a call and said Chris is now a senior and he was interested in us. JJ was excited about it because he often thought Utah would've been a better fit for him."
On recruiting islanders:We took the usual crop of islanders. There are five of them that played high school ball in Hawaii but some of them came via the JC route. But, we got five of them. Semisi (Livai) we actually recruited three years ago. He just got back from a Church mission. But, we kept that pipeline open. It's been great to us. The bulk of our team is made up of in-state players, Californians and Hawaiians. That's about 90 percent of our team."
On the defensive line recruits: "Gary Andersen has a factory there. He's got three or four kids from the same mold. The Tolifili Liufau kid from Fresno City college is of the same mold that we've been winning with for years - Sione Pouha and Steve Fifita - and he's just in a long list of guys that coach Andersen has been getting here. He's put six or seven in the NFL. With him, the Randy Faletoi kid, and Kenape Eliapo, we restocked that furnace. We don't see any drop off coming up the next year. I feel we've had the best defensive line in the conference the past five or six years and that should not be any difference this fall."
On the recruiting experience: It's different. The head coach's role is different from the assistant's job. You are the closer, whereas as an assistant, you work a geographical area and you recruit everyone regardless of position. The head coach can only visit one time so January was a busy month for me. I was on a plane traveling all over the country. The difference is you can talk to recruits one time and you work all the different geographical areas."
On being recognized: I think there's no question that recruits in California and Texas recognize us. We got into a bunch of doors. We used recruit and kids would say, `Utah, where's that?' `What conference are you in?' `What city are you in?' But now, it's instant. `Oh, the University of Utah in the Mountain West Conference, No. 4 in the country, beat Pittsburgh in the Fiesta Bowl.' Just with the familiarity and success that we've had this year, there wasn't anyone that we came across in recruiting that we had to tell them who we were."
On the running backs: Darrell Mack is a tremendous player. He led the county in rushing. He's a prototypical running back. He's got size. He's got speed. We're excited about him. Sean Smith might be a sleeper. He's a good-looking athlete from Pasadena who runs like a deer. We feel good about these two players."