In part one of our two part article looking at junior college players at Utah, we looked at the many successful junior college running backs that have carried the rock for Utah. Running backs are not the only position where Utah has had success with JUCO players. As was mentioned in the first article though, JUCOs are not without their risks, so we will also look at some of the JUCOs who did not live up to their hype.
Three of the most dynamic return men in Utah history are former JUCO players: Shaky Smithson, Reggie Dunn, and Kaelin Clay. All three were named All-Americans as well. Smithson came to Utah from East Los Angeles Community College, Dunn played at Compton Community College prior to Utah, and Clay came from Mount San Antonio College. In 2010, Smithson led the nation in yards per punt return (19.1) and total punt return yards (572), and he returned two punts for touchdown. Dunn holds the single season (4, 2012) and career (5) record for kick returns of 100 yards. In 2014, Clay returned one kickoff and three punts for touchdowns. Smithson and Dunn were not drafted but both got a shot in the NFL. Clay was selected in the 6th round of the 2015 NFL Draft by the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.
Utah has several candidates to step in as a dangerous return man in this class. Both Cory Butler (Los Angeles Harbor College) and Kyle Fulks (Blynn College) have the speed and moves to be threats returning the football. Butler was the lone four-star commit in the 2015 class for Utah. He can play slot receiver or defensive back in addition to returning the football. It seems like Butler will probably end up on defense. Fulks has 10.2 100-meter speed and had several offers from Big XII schools to run track. Fulks is a rare JUCO with three years of eligibility left (he redshirted last season due to injury). Like Butler, Fulks can play slot receiver, defensive back, and return man. I want to see Fulks on offense. His speed could give the offense big play potential, similar to what Clay was able to do last season. Wherever these two play, their speed and moves in open space will make the playmakers.
Besides running backs and return men, Utah has had JUCOs from other positions step up big as well. Defensive tackles Tenny Palepoi (Snow College) and Sese Ianu (Golden West College) both found success at Utah after playing in junior college. Palepoi was named second-team All-Pac-12 as a senior. He is currently playing in the NFL for the San Diego Chargers. The defensive tackle who had the most success at Utah since Luther Elliss, also happened to be a JUCO player, Star Lotulelei (Snow College). Star won the Morris Trophy as the best Pac-12 defensive lineman as a junior, was a two-time first-team All-Pac-12 selection, and was named an All-American as a senior. He was selected in the 1st round of the 2013 NFL Draft by the Carolina Panthers and has had a successful NFL career so far. Defensive back Keith McGill (Cerritos College) was highly recruited coming out of junior college and showed why at Utah. He started at safety but moved to corner prior to his senior season. As a cornerback, McGill was named honorable mention All-Pac-12, and he led the Pac-12 in 2013 with 12 pass break ups. McGill was drafted in the 4th round of the 2014 NFL Draft by the Oakland Raiders. He scored a touchdown in his first NFL season returning a fumble to the endzone. Junior Salt (Mount San Antonio College) was a solid contributor for Utah as an offensive guard. Offensive tackle John Cullen (Fullerton College) was one of the top JUCO recruits in the country in 2010. He was Utah's starting left tackle for two years and was named second team All-Pac-12 as a senior.
Not all of Utah's JUCO signees have turned to gold however. Receiver has been a position where several highly ranked JUCO players have underperformed once they arrived at Utah. Anthony Denham was the No. 2 rated JUCO wide receiver in 2011, and Andre Lewis was the No. 8 JUCO wide receiver in 2013 (according to the 24/7 Sports Composite ranking). Neither lived up to their lofty rankings coming to Utah. Denham finished his Utah career with 35 receptions for 426 yards and two touchdowns in two seasons. Denham has found a home in the NFL with Houston Texans as a tight end. Lewis finished his career with one reception for 45 yards and a touchdown.
Utah's newest JUCO wide receiver, Deniko Carter (Gavilan College), looks the part of a big-time Pac-12 wide receiver. He has great speed especially for his size (he is 6' 5"). Carter is shifty in the open field and can make defenders miss. Lastly, he has good hands. He joins a receiving corps at Utah that features fellow JUCO Tim Patrick (Grossmont College). Patrick was a solid contributor last season before suffering a season ending leg injury against Oregon. He was a late addition due to academic concerns. He got his academics worked out and has already graduated from Utah. He figures to have a bigger role in the Utah offense as a senior.
Offensive tackle is another position where Utah had a lot of JUCO players not pan out, other than the previously mentioned Cullen. Players like Carlos Lozano (East Los Angeles College), Marc Pouvave (Southwestern College), and Andrew Albers (Contra Costa College) never panned out as starting offensive tackles. Lozano ended up leaving the team prior to graduating while Albers and Pouvave were solid depth players during their careers.
Utah has the potential to land a huge target at left tackle in this recruiting class though in Snow College offensive tackle Garrett Bolles. Bolles is the No. 2 overall JUCO prospect in the 2016 class (according to the 24/7 Sports Composite ranking). He would be the highest JUCO prospect Utah has landed since Cullen if they can sign him. They will have their work cut out for them though with many teams from the Big XII, Pac-12, and SEC after the Snow College standout.
Utah already has two junior college players committed in the 2016 class, Snow College linebacker Kurtis Taufa and Santa Barbara City College punter Mitch Wishnowsky. He will help fill the void at linebacker following the graduations of Jared Norris, Gionni Paul, and Jason Whittingham. Wishnowsky, gets the duty of taking over for fellow Aussie punter and Ray Guy Award winner Tom Hackett in the 2016 season.
No article on JUCO recruits at Utah would be complete without mentioning the work that assistant head coach Dennis Erickson and assistant director of player personnel Pablo Cano do in finding and recruiting JUCO players. It is not uncommon for talented athletes to get lost in the junior college ranks. With Erickson and Cano's experience and connections to junior college programs, they are able to find hidden gems. Without those two, it seems unlikely players like Booker, Carter, and Clay would have ever played for Utah.
Do you like Utah's strategy on recruiting junior college players? Do you think they should recruit more, less, or the same number of junior college athletes?