Editors note: Continuum asked sports analyst Frank Dolce BS'93, former Utah quarterback (1991-92), to check out the new Ute recruits. Dolce does color commentary for Utah football on KALL Radio and is general manager, Vyzynz International Inc., an internet service provider. He is a member of the Young Alumni Association Board of Directors.
With an 8-4 record and a second Copper Bowl appearance in four years, the University of Utah football team completed a noteworthy 1996 campaign. Unfortunately, a mass of unfulfilled pre-season hype paired with some disappointing losses tarnished an otherwise banner season.After fielding a defense that yielded 2,385 yards on the ground (4.6 yds/carry) and an offense that was mostly inconsistent, the Utah coaching staff was ready to hit the recruiting trail. And hit the trail they did, landing at least three big name recruits and a slew of talented athletes.Only a small handful of these players will have an immediate impact on the program. Most will either redshirt or play back-up roles during the next season. Such is the life of a young recruit. Remember Donny Utu, one of the most celebrated recruits in recent memory? Last year as a red shirt freshman, he did not crack the starting line-up and saw only limited action as a back-up.
The players who will contribute most significantly during 1997 are those with playing experience, usually upperclassmen and players who were recruited two or more years ago. Nevertheless, the recruiting class of 1997 is outstanding and will help to bolster what was an up and down 1996 team. Additionally, this talented group of athletes will help to fill the gaps left by graduating seniors.
Injuries, inconsistency, and a lack of on-the-field leadership dogged one of the most talented teams in the Western Athletic Conference. In order to rebuild this unit, Utah head coach Ron McBride started with what he calls the most important part of a football team, the defensive line.Because of a soft foundation and the loss of two key defensive ends, Chad Kauhaahaa and Nate Kia, the defensive line was the focus of recruiting efforts this year. In fact, one-third (10 of 30) of the new signees are defensive linemen. This group of recruits includes three key players who should see a significant amount of playing time early in their careers with Utah. They are Ronnie Price (6'3", 276, Fr.), Edward Taamu (6'4", 295, Fr.), and Michael Thomas (6'3", 280, Jr.). All have the ability to control the line of scrimmage and the tempo of a game. Thomas, a former Golden Gloves boxer, has earned early praise and should be the anchor in the trenches.Lining up directly behind the defensive line will likely be linebacker Dickie Purcell (6'2", 220, Jr.), a junior college transfer from California. Purcell possesses that rare combination of size and speed that could yield a stellar career at the U. The defensive secondary is solid, even with the loss of All-America free safety Harold Lusk. Brandon Dart, who played strong safety in 1996, will replace Lusk, and linebacker Robert Love will move back to his natural position of strong safety. In addition, starting cornerbacks Clarence Lawson and Calbert Beck will return to action in 1997. For good measure, however, two outstanding defensive backs were recruited and signed by the U coaching staff Andre Dyson (5'11", 170, Fr.), brother of current Utah great Kevin Dyson, and the defensive MVP in Hawaii, Wesley Tufaga (6'0", 190, Fr).
Offensively, the 1996 Utes struggled with consistency and changing personalities weekly. This Dr. Jekyll,Mr. Hyde problem may be intensified this season by the loss of key players from the 1996 squad. Wide receivers Terrence Keehan and Rocky Henry, quarterback Mike Fouts, and the cornerstone of the offensive line, center Chad Folk, all graduate this year. Therefore, the recruiting effort focused on correcting the deficiencies created by the loss of these players.The coaching staff did not spend a scholarship recruiting a quarterback. The Utes can rely on current back-ups, junior college transfer Jonathan Crosswhite, and the 1995 Hawaii player of the year, Darnell Arceneaux. These two players should provide ample leadership and abundant talent at the quarterback position.Utah will again be solid in the trenches of the offensive line. Chad Folk and Barry Sims, starters from 1996, will be replaced by transfers Luis Park (6'3", 295, Jr.), and Richard Tuifao (6'4", 295, Jr.), respectively. In addition, five potential standouts on the offensive line have been signed.As for receivers and running backs, this recruiting class simply strengthens an already outstanding group. With returning starters Chris Fuamatu Maafala, Kevin Dyson, and Juan Johnson, new recruits will be hard-pressed to crack the starting line-up. Nevertheless, two athletes, wide receiver Antonio Harrison (6'3", 185, Jr.), and running back Thomas Fortune (6'3", 220 Fr.), will have ample opportunities to demonstrate their skills on the field. Fortune is considered a super prep athlete from Colorado and possesses world-class speed (10.3 sec. 100 meter).
Utah head basketball coach Rick Majerus has signed two exceptionally talented players to letters of intent this year. Interestingly enough, both are brothers of current Utah players, freshman Jeff Johnsen, and standout senior co-captain, Ben Caton. They are Britton Johnsen, a 6'9" inside player from Murray High, and Trace Caton, a 6'4" swingman from Alamosa, Colo. With the eminent loss of all-world talent Keith Van Horn, Utah coaches will look for more performance from other players. Johnsen and Caton bring size and an ability to score. Of course, as on all Majerus-coached teams, playing time will be based on players ability and desire to play defense. Majerus has set the tone early for his newest disciples, and has high expectations for both recruits. According to Majerus, Britton brings to the table ... high integrity, work ethic, he is very unselfish, and has great determination. And Caton, Majerus says, should be one of the all-time great defenders in Utah basketball history who has that capability. Look for Utah mens basketball to maintain its high level of performance and once again be the favorite in the WAC race.
The Utah womens basketball team could do no wrong during the recruiting season, signing three high-school MVPs, as reported by head coach Elaine Elliott. Kristina Anderson, a 6'1" forward from Marist High School in Eugene, Ore., was a 1996 USA Today All-American. She was also named first-team all-state and the AAA Player of the Year, averaging 17.7 points, 10.3 rebounds, and 2.1 blocks per game last season.Amy Ewert, a 6'0" forward from Kitsilano High School in Vancouver, B.C., is the first Canadian to play for the Utes. She scored 20.2 points and pulled down 10.6 rebounds a game to earn first-team all-star and league MVP honors last season.The Utes also signed one in-state player, Lindsay Sodja, a 6'1" forward from Taylorsville High School. Sodja was named the Region 3 Player of the Year in 1996, and was twice selected as an all-region and all-state player. She averaged 16.8 points and 6.3 rebounds per contest last season. Elliot says, "All three of these players will help fill our needs by making us more athletic and giving us more height on the perimeter."
In keeping with tradition, Utah head gymnastic coach Greg Marsden has signed two outstanding gymnasts. Both are expected to make significant contributions early in their careers with the greatest gymnastics team in college today. Shannon Bowles from Oyster River High School in Lee, N.H. is a three-year International Elite. In 1995 and 1996, Bowles qualified to the USA Championships; in 1994, 1995, and 1996, was the Elite Regional All-Around Champion; and in 1994, was a National Gymnastics Festival Team member as well as a USA Gymnastics National Training Squad member.
Theresa Wolf, from St. Marys High School in Dundo, Ontario, has been a four-year member of the Canadian National Team. In 1996, Wolf was the National Balance Beam Champion in Canada; in 1995 was a World Championships Team member (Germany) as well as a Pan American Team member; and in 1994, she was a World Championships Team member (Japan).