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Thursday, April 02, 2009

Utah emerging as recruiting hotbed

By Jeremy Crabtree, special to SI.com, courtesy of Rivals.com

Utah is one of the nation's fastest-growing states, having seen its population increase around 20 percent in the past 10 years. With that rise, there has been a major increase in the amount of Division I football talent in the state. The talent level has improved so much that Utah has become a must-stop spot for national programs.

In the Class of 2009, 26 Utah-bred players signed with Football Bowl Subdivision (i.e., Division I-A) schools compared to 11 from the Class of 2002. The state produced four "national" recruits in the class, including the nation's No. 1 center, John Martinez, from Cottonwood (Salt Lake City).

The Class of 2010 group looks as talented as ever, with two four-star prospects already on the charts and at least 12 players receiving offers before the spring evaluation process has started.

"Per capita, we sign more Division I football players than any other state," said Les Hamilton, the coach at Alta (Sandy, Utah) High. "Fifteen years ago, Skyline (Salt Lake City, Utah) High went on a roll and became a national program. They've set the stage and now you have the Altas, the Binghams (South Jordan), the Timpviews (Provo) and the Cottonwoods that are kind of the powerhouses of the state of Utah.

"Fifteen years ago, basketball was the No. 1 sport. It's changed."

There are many reasons Utah has become such a hotbed, but the biggest involve better coaching, great youth league organizations, the support of the community from a facilities standpoint and the family atmosphere generated throughout the region.

"We have a brand-new stadium that seats 7,000, and places like Bingham have a brand new video scoreboard," Hamilton said. "That's a commitment from our administration and our community. We put a lot of time and money into our facilities. We're not Texas by any means, but we do have very nice facilities.

"Our kids are motivated to play high school sports in the state of Utah. You put that with a family-oriented community like you have in Utah because of the predominant religion, you get pretty good athletic programs."

Utah coach Kyle Whittingham points toward coaching and the increase of population as the biggest factors in the increase in talent.

"The population increase has been big," Whittingham said. "I think [the number of signees] increases proportionally as the population increases. I think the quality of coaching in Utah is getting better and better each year. The high school coaches are doing a great job with these athletes with fundamentals, techniques and that type of thing."

The state's top prospects for 2010 are Timpview tight end Bronson Kaufusi and Brighton (Salt Lake City) defensive tackle Ricky Heimuli. Kaufusi has committed to BYU, and Heimuli has plenty of national offers.

Both are four-star prospects, and other big-time prospects around the state are Pleasant Grove quarterback Dallas Lloyd, Skyline running back Algrenon Brown, Alta offensive tackle Jordan Black, Orem Timpanogos defensive end Joe Kruger, Cottonwood defensive tackle Jordan Afo and Timpview safety Chris Badger.

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