Despite him being undersized at the time, the Utah coaching staff thought he projected better on defense and they have been proven right. What was a 6'3" 190 pound kid, is now a 6'4" 255 pound man that has developed into one of the best pass rushers in the Pac-12.
Kyle Whittingham didn't wake up one day while Orchard was a freshman and have an epiphany that Orchard was meant to be a defender. He was a an all-state wide receiver in high school, but he also had 17.5 sacks as a senior on defense. The thing that Whitthingham and the rest of the staff did with Orchard though is not pigeon hole him based on his size at the time. They knew he wasn't going to be a plug and play player immediately, but they also thought he could add the weight and strength to be the player he has become.
That's how Utah ended up with a great athlete at a position where they don't exactly land 4 and 5 star recruits ever year They have to make decisions on players like Orchard every year based on projection. "Everyone thinks this about a player, but what can we do with him?"
Recruiting is about the future for every program, but for the Utes, even more so because they don't land the top ranked guys that are on most of the teams they have to compete against in the conference. It's not about seeing the forest through the trees for them. It's about seeing what looks like a tree branch popping out of the ground and evaluating whether or not that branch can grow into a sturdy oak.
The Utes are having a successful year on the field this season, but the dividends aren't paying off yet for this cycle in terms of high ranked recruits. That could change later on, but for now they are doing what they always do: looking for those stones that may one day turn into diamonds. They have eighteen commitments currently and from what I've seen, there are some gems hidden in there that may one day have the same level of impact of a Nate Orchard.
Instant impact commit
When there aren't any 4 star players committed, it's tough to go through every recruit and guess who might develop faster than the others. Fortunately there was an obvious choice in wide receiver Kyle Fulks. Fulks is ranked as a 3 star player and is considered 10th best wide receiver from the JUCO ranks.
He shows the ability to be a threat on reverses and jet sweeps in addition to being a good player after the catch. Most importantly, he flashes an explosive burst out of his breaks to separate from defensive backs. That's exactly the the kind of thing any offense wants in a slot receiver and it's a big reason why I think Fulks can contribute immediately at Utah.
Don't sleep on ______
There are two under the radar players that I already wrote about on Pacific Takes that stood out to me in Utah's class.
The first is 3 star offensive tackle Nick Carman. I love his feet in pass protection and he's stepped up his game as a run blocker as a senior. I think he's a future starter at left tackle for the Utes.
The other is 3 star linebacker Tavon Cox. He's a Florida player with Florida speed. He's undersized and needs some work to improve his read and recognition skills, but I can see him eventually developing into a very good player.
He plays with a fire inside of him when he is pursuing the football and that jumped out on film to me. I would not be surprised at all if he turned some heads during his time at Utah.
Big fish still on the reel
Like most successful season's on the field, the effect in recruiting doesn't usually take place until the next cycle and that appears to be the case with Utah as there isn't a ton of new interest from 2015 recruits at this point. However, this season certainly should help the Utes out with 4 star wide receiver Jaylinn Hawkins. Hawkins already took an official visit this season and gave favorable reviews of the trip. He's a playmaker and it would be a huge coup to take him away from other programs in the conference.
It's starting to sound like more of a long shot for 4 star linebacker Osa Masina. He's from Salt Lake and is the kind of big time player that the Utes need to keep in-state. They have until January, that's when he plans to decide, to try and gain back some momentum in his recruitment. He's an athletic player that could play running back as well, but projects as a three down linebacker that can excel against the run and in coverage.
He's also an explosive blitzer that can get to the quarterback. It's an uphill battle, but there is still a little bit of time to get back in the mix.
I wrote earlier that Utah is finding 3 star players with 4 star traits and that pretty much sums up exactly their recruiting philosophy. They may struggle to keep the Osa Masina's home, but as long as they can turn a few lower rated players into guys like Nate Orchard, then they'll continue to be competitive in the Pac-12.
I think they've found some good potential so far in this recruiting class and if they can finish out this season strong, then they might not need to look so hard for diamonds in the rough in 2016.