Wednesday, July 08, 2009

Constructive Summer | by Pat

It was only two weeks ago that Notre Dame's recruiting class stood at five players. That number is now double with the latest surprise news that California defensive end Justin Utopo publicly committed on Monday and made the recruiting class of 2010 hit double digits.

"I wanted to get away from home and do something different, like try a whole (new) experience," said Utupo, who has not yet visited Notre Dame, but plans to make an unofficial visit next month.
The fact that Utupo hasn't visited campus is the main reason for the surprise. It happens a few times a year, but the norm is to land a public commit following an unofficial or official visit. Utopo admitted that the recent recruiting momentum played a part in his decision.
I knew they picked up a couple of other defensive ends as well so I didn't want to risk losing my spot there so I thought now was the best time to commit.
As with the rash of recent commits, Utupo isn't ranked all that high on the recruiting sites. Rivals has him as an 3-star strongside defensive end prospect and unranked (meaning not Top 35) at the SDE spot. Scout projects a slightly different college position, tabbing him as a 3-star defensive tackle and the #48 DT in the class. ESPN sticks to their 0-100 grading scale and gives Utupo a 78.

Despite the lukewarm at best rankings, most likely stemming from recruitnik uncertainty where he will play in college and how big he can get, Utupo did pick up a number of other college offers including UCLA, Colorado, Nebraska, Oklahoma State, Washington, Oregon State, Utah, BYU, and others.

ND visited his high school early in the spring evaluation period (his HS also is home to ND safety recruit Dion Bailey) and Coach Polian brought back news that Utupo was worth serious consideration. Corwin Brown went on a return trip to eyeball Utupo himself and speak with his coach. Evidently he saw what he needed to see as Utupo was offered shortly thereafter.

Utupo tips the scales at 6'2" 250 pounds currently, but played mainly defensive tackle for his high school last season in the competitive Moore League in California at 235 pounds. According to his high school coach, seven defensive linemen in the conference earned D1 (err...FBS) scholarships last season, including Utupo's teammate who went to Washington. Utupo still led the entire conference in tackles for loss (28 of his 78 tackles last year were TFL) and was named All-League first-team defense. You can see him in action in this youtube highlight roundup. He isn't identified on each play, so look for #53.

Utupo is the second straight Mormon to commit to Notre Dame and will give ND three Mormon players with Manti Te'o already running around campus with his new teammates. The reason I'm bringing up his religion is two-fold. First, ND has long had a hard time convincing the many excellent Mormon football recruits to make the trek to a northern Catholic college. Te'o has already helped ND land two in this class and it's possible ND might finally be gaining traction in a rich recruiting bed of talent that normally sticks to the West Coast. Second, ND fans are now going to have to get used to the idea of depth chart engineering with the added uncertainty of some players taking one or two year missions. No official mission plans have been made public by Te'o, Badger, or Utupo, but we'll all have to update our homemade recruiting charts accordingly when they do.

Taking a look at the 2010 depth chart, I'm keeping Utupo listed with defensive ends for now, even though very likely could play as a faster, undersized DT, ala Derek Landri or Ethan Johnson. That will depend on how much weight he can productively add over the next few years. In the meantime, let's keep him with the DEs.

Fifth Year
Senior Junior Sophomore Freshman
Kallen Wade
Kerry Neal
Ethan Johnson

Chris Martin

Emeka Nwankwo*
K. Lewis-Moore*

Blake Lueders

Justin Utupo

Looks like defensive end recruiting is done for the year. There might be room for one more pure pass rushing DE to add to the class, but just like Lueders and Utupo are DEs with the potential to turn into speedy DTs, ND may go after linebackers with the potential to turn into speedy DEs.