Utah may not be a Pacific 10 Conference school, but that hasn’t stopped the Utes from making Southern California players a core of their program.
On Saturday, Utah will face UCLA at the Rose Bowl with at least 26 players on the roster with ties to local area high schools or junior colleges.
“Southern Cal, no question is a hotbed for us,” Utah Coach Kyle Whittingham said. “It’s been a staple for Utah recruiting ever since I’ve been here, which is 13 years.”
Starting with safety Eric Weddle, who attended Alta Loma High, defensive end Martail Burnett, who attended L.A. Jordan High, and running back Mike Liti, a former standout at Santa Ana Foothill High, Utah will start seven players with connections to the Southern California area.
And the Utes have several other local products in key roles including backup wide receivers Sean Smith, a redshirt freshman from Pasadena Blair High, and Freddie Brown, a sophomore from Citrus College and La Verne Damien High.
“There’s going to be guys that I’m sure that are in their program that people missed on,” UCLA Coach Karl Dorrell said. “That happens in Southern California. You try to recruit the area so well and you try to know the talent so well that there is always those guys who blossom as a senior who you weren’t really accounting for and a lot of people overlook and they end up going to a school like Utah and flourishing.”
Sometimes, Utah is a second-chance school for Southern California talent.
Running back Darryl Poston, a transfer from USC, and backup quarterback Tommy Grady, a transfer from Oklahoma, both attended Huntington Beach Edison High. Defensive tackle Kelly Talavou is a former Santa Ana Saddleback High standout who transferred from Idaho and defensive lineman Greg Newman played at Westlake Village Westlake High and transferred from Colorado.
Dorrell on Utah freshman Walter Watts, a 6-foot-2, 329-pound offensive lineman from Los Banos, Calif., who orally committed to UCLA a year ago but ended up signing with the Utes: " ... It just didn’t work out for us to hang on to him because of some issues with him getting eligible for our admissions,” Dorrell said about Watts. “He’s in their program and he’s a heck of a football player and that’s why we offered him.”
Sophomore wide receiver Gavin Ketchum is slowly working his way back into the offense after being sidelined for most of training camp because of a quadriceps injury. Although Ketchum spent part of Tuesday’s practice working with the scout team offense, he’s expected to be in the Bruins’ receiver rotation against Utah.
“The coaches have been really cool, they’ve just told me to focus on getting better and not worry about losing ground,” said Ketchum, who caught 11 passes for 153 yards and a touchdown last year. “I’ve mentally stayed on top of things and any changes we’ve made on offense. I feel like I’m ready to go.”
Running back Derrick Williams practiced Tuesday after being sidelined a week because of a hamstring injury and could play Saturday.... Utah has already sold nearly 6,000 tickets for the game and expects to have more than 8,000 fans at the Rose Bowl.... Former UCLA and NFL safety James Washington will serve as honorary captain for the Bruins this week. Washington played at UCLA from 1984 to ’87.