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February 2, 2006

Utah: 2006 Signing Class Awards

Signing Day Awards

Top Offensive Commit: Walter Watts
The Utes lose a key piece of their offense with the departure of seniors Quinton Ganther and Jesse Boone. Boone, the anchor of the offensive line for the past few years is leaving a large hole, which will need to be filled by somebody. With the projection of Jeremy Inferrera or Tyler Williams taking over at the center spot, there is still a hole at the guard spot that was a known problem on the line during the 2005 season.

Assuming Watts' rehab continues as planned, the future bodes well with this incoming freshman, rated the number 34 offensive guard in the nation by Rivals.com.

Top Defensive Commit: Joseph Faifili
With the loss of the big DT Steve Fifita the Utes will look for somebody to groom into the next great defensive tackle of Gary Andersen's staunch 4-3 defense. With his experience going up against the top prospects in the nation in the All American Bowl, Faifili looks like a good candidate to step in and pick up where Fifita left off.

Gem of the class: Joseph Faifili
Army All American Joey Faifili took this one by a landslide. After watching film on this kid it's easy to see why he was so highly rated. With his speed and ability to play low, Faifili has the potential to anchor the 5th ranked defensive tackle class in the country. With the loss of Steve Fifita the Utes will need somebody to step up and fill in the large hole left by the All Conference tackle.

The rumors that have plagued internet message boards recently about Faifili's qualification are somewhat substantiated by the fact that he has yet to take his ACT test and get his core GPA higher. While Faifili has no problem qualifying academically to enroll at Utah, the qualification becomes an issue when the NCAA clearinghouse becomes involved. He will have until the start of fall camp to get his test scores and qualify. The coaching staff at Utah has had great success at getting their guys qualified and will work very hard to get Faifili in.

Sleeper of the class: Stevenson Sylvester
Watching film of Sylvester, one would get the sense that he might be just a little bit underrated. Sylvester, out of Las Vegas (Nev.) appears to be one of those "diamonds in the rough" that the Utah football program has been famous for developing into stars. Given the fluid nature of the high school population in booming Las Vegas, it's not surprising that Sylvester got somewhat lost in the shuffle. With his quick lateral speed and tackling ability, Sylvester has the upside to become one of the best prospects of this class after everything is said and done.

Best in-state commit: Pauli Latu
To see why Pauli Latu deserves this award click here. Latu's skills are unique to the in-state defensive prospects in the state of Utah. Latu plays with an attitude that will be sorely missed with the departure of Steve Fifita. Coach Gary Andersen has demonstrated the ability to form a strong bond with the island kids and with the commitment of Latu, Andersen appears to be bringing in one of the highest rated defensive line classes in the nation.

Best out of state commit: Neli A'asa
One thing was apparent at the All Poly camp in 2005: A'asa was playing at a different level than his competition. Neli A'asa, out of Big Rapids (Mich.) is a solid pickup for the Utes for many reasons. The first is that the Utes got A'asa out of the backyard of Michigan and Michigan St, both of which offered A'asa scholarships. Second, the fact that the Utes were able to get a recruit to commit and stay committed from back east, coupled with the fact that so many other BCS schools were offering A'asa is quite an accomplishment for the coaching staff.

Biggest get over rival: Pauli Latu
Widely regarded as the top defensive prospect in the state of Utah, Latu is a big get for the Utes. On film Latu looks very impressive with his low profile and aggressive physical nature. But perhaps the biggest asset Latu brings to the table will be his leadership qualities. Latu was the team captain and defensive leader at Hunter High School and will bring with him his fiery spirit that he was well known for in high school.

What makes the signing of Pauli Latu so sweet is the fact that three years ago there is no chance that a recruit like Latu would have every chose Utah over in-state church school BYU. Latu, a member of the LDS church said he has plans to server a mission in the future, but for now will just focus on school and football.

Biggest "steal" from another school: Mombroso Washington
Right up until the Mid-Year JC signing day Michigan St. fans were expecting Mombroso Washington to sign his LOI and fax it in to the football office in East Lansing. However, unbeknownst to the MSU and Utah fans, the coaches at Utah had brought Washington in for an official visit a week before that, and days after sealed the deal. Washington, out of San Bernardino Valley College is a defensive back in the mold of coach Andersen's vision for speed and strength. Look for Washington to make an instant impact in the Ute defense this fall.

First to crack the staring lineup: Mombroso Washington
There are a number of possibilities here. But as a first pass you have to start with JC kids simply because they're usually recruited to fill a need or add depth. It might be linebacker Chet Blasucci, offensive lineman Dustin Hensel or defensive tackle Aaron Tonga but Mombroso wins this coin-flip. His experience and cover skills make him game-ready and the possibility of Eric Weddle at safety could have him starting early. Rest-assured a number of newcomers will see early playing time - both JC transfers and true freshmen.

First sack: Aaron Tonga
Replacing a defensive tackle at the caliber of Steve Fifita is no easy task. However, JUCO transfer Aaron Tonga is a prime candidate to fill the void left by Fifita's graduation. Neli A'asa, Joey Faifili and Pauli Latu may also see early playing time along the d-line. Tonga's experience gets him in the game first and also gets him the first of many sacks for this class.

First to score a touchdown: R.J. Stanford
Ute fans will miss Quinton Ganther, and there seems to be a lot of speculation about who will step up at the tail back spot. After sophomore Darrel Mack, the depth chart looks pretty unimpressive at the running back spot, and that is the reason the Utes are bringing in R.J. Stanford.

Stanford has a legitimate shot to make a true-freshmen appearance in the 2-deep this fall, and if that happens, he has a great shot at being the first incoming recruit to score a touchdown.

First to get an interception: Mombroso Washington:
This one was easy - Washington will bring to the Utah defense his maturity and 2 years of junior college experience. Utah already has one of the best defensive backfields in the MWC and the addition of Washington should bolster that claim further. Washington is seen as more of a physical corner who can match up with the faster more prolific receivers in the Mountain West and should bring the needed depth back to the corner spot. Don't be surprised to see Washington bring one back in.

Washington is an instant impact player, and that's the reason why he is being brought in. The fact that he spent four years in the military before enrolling in junior college gives him the advantage of being on a higher maturity level than his peers due to the age difference. Also, the fact that he played for two years in junior college gives him another advantage over incoming freshmen. Look for Washington to get a good chunk of playing time at the corner spot.

Biggest Surprise: Walter Watts
Walter Watts was selected first-team all-league and first-team all-section as a junior. Watts was the first verbal commitment for UCLA's 2006 signing class. All that ended when Watts broke his Fibula in the opening game of his senior season, ending his high school career and forcing him to watch the remainder of the season from the sidelines. Despite the injury, UCLA stayed committed to Watts, but continued to sign one offensive lineman after the other.

Watts' competitive nature forced him to de-commit to UCLA late in the recruiting process in search of a school that would offer a better chance at playing time. The fact that Watts' father played basketball at Utah for Rick Majerus made Utah an obvious option for Watts. After a great visit Watts pulled the trigger and added the depth that offensive line coach Charlie Dickey was looking to add in this class.

Biggest Loss: Travis Goethel
Those who have followed Utah recruiting for the whole season know how important the linebacker position was to fill. The same people will be familiar with Oceanside, CA linebacker Travis Goethel (aka "Sunshine") who Utah coaches identified, early on, as a top priority - even when other top programs were over-looking him. Unfortunately, for Utah, when Goethel's stock began to rise other heavyweights quickly took notice. Utah stayed in the race all the way until the finish line but Arizona St. ultimately won out. What's not as clear is just how close the Utes came to landing the four-star prospect. And maybe it's more consoling not to know.

Top Recruiter: Gary Andersen
The easy answer here is head coach Kyle Whittingham. On paper, his first recruiting class is one of Utah's all-time best - who can beat that? However, the idea was to select someone that was a little more "hands-on" in terms of scouting, contacting and landing recruits. While coach Whittingham has clearly learned the art of "sealing the deal", he probably has less day-to-day contact with the recruits compared to the rest of the staff.

Beyond coach Whittingham, the name that recurs time and time again is coach Gary Andersen. Not only does listening to him speak make you want to get off the couch, strap on the ol' helmet and hit the nearest delivery boy but his reputation among former and current players as well as future recruits is second to none. Each of Utah's highly touted defensive-line signees mentioned his name during interviews. - the man is respected.

From a pure numbers standpoint coach Andersen would win this thing pretty easily. Out of the 25 players that signed LOIs, coach Andersen recruited eleven. Of the eleven Andersen brought in, four are ranked in the top 100 in the nation at their respective positions. In short, coach Andersen just managed to bring in the fifth ranked defensive line class in the nation according to Rivals.com.


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