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Crowded QB room to build strong competition among Utah’s signal-callers

SALT LAKE CITY — Utah’s quarterback room may very well have a revolving door. Changes — and lots of them — have come with great regularity.   

The Utes, in fact, enter the 2021 season with only guy (Cameron Rising) that has ever taken a snap for the program. His tenure was short-lived, too. The former Texas transfer suffered a season-ending shoulder injury just 14 plays into his debut last year. He completed 3-of-6 passes for 45 yards with one interception in a loss to USC.   

Rising’s replacement, Jake Bentley, has since transferred to South Alabama. Drew Lisk, who also saw action in 2020, moved on as well.   

In their place, the Utes have brought in a pair of transfers — senior Charlie Brewer of Baylor and Ja’Quinden Jackson of Texas. They’re joined in the mix by California prep star Peter Costelli. All three are expected to get reps this spring while Rising continues his recovery. Freshmen walk-ons Bryson Barnes and Cooper Justice round out the roster at quarterback. 

Andy Ludwig, Utah’s offensive coordinator and quarterbacks coach, acknowledged the new faces. However, he also noted a high bar in terms of talent.   

“It’s going to be a very competitive situation,” said Ludwig, who added that Rising will be around to provide leadership and insight.    

Brewer brings a wealth of experience. He played in 44 games for Baylor (starting 39) and set a school record with 828 completions. His 9,700 passing yards and 65 touchdown throws rank second in team history.   

Jackson, meanwhile, is coming off a redshirt year at Texas. He was an high school All-American and rated as the Lone Star state’s No. 2 overall recruit in 2019.   

Costelli rounds out the new quarterbacks on scholarship. He enrolled at Utah early after a stellar high school career at Mission Viejo in California. Accolades include All-America honors and South Coast League Offensive Player of the Year recognition.   

“It’s a good group. A couple of football junkies,” Ludwig said. “So it’s a great fit in that quarterback room.”   

Ludwig praised the new additions for coming in and learning the system. He said it’s been a very productive two months and everyone is up to speed.   

“But it is a challenge,” Ludwig said. “It’s basically a quarterback rebuild in that room.”   

And that, he explained, is what the profession is all about. 

While noting the Utes have a lot to accomplish this spring, head coach Kyle Whittingham said sorting out the quarterback situation would be at the top of the list. However, with Rising on the shelf this spring, it won’t be completed until fall camp.

Spring ball opened with Brewer on top of the depth chart. Whittingham explained that he’s the upperclassman of the group. As such, he’s the leader — at least from the on-set — over the freshmen currently in camp.     

“That’s what spring ball is for, is to try to get position battles ironed out and get guys situated on the depth chart,” Whittingham said. “So that’s our job as coaches to start making those decisions. We’ve just got to evaluate every day and make the decisions that we feel are the proper ones.”

Decisions, decisions, decisions   

Johnson opted for Utah after speaking with childhood friend Ty Jordan, who has since passed away. He broke things down and explained the family atmosphere and how everyone came together in the community.   

“So from that point on I was like I’m coming to Utah,” said Johnson, who later noted that the program gets players ready for the NFL and is special.   

A change was also in the cards for Brewer. He was ready for such a move and ultimately ended up with the Utes.   

“I’m glad it worked out the way it did. I’m really excited to be here,” Brewer said. “I had a great coaching staff, a great team and now I’m fortunate to be part of Utah football.”   

Brewer was sold quickly, calling it a good opportunity and a good fit. He didn’t want to drag things on and considers it a “great decision” — even if Utah’s quarterback room is a bit crowded.   

“Everywhere you go in college football there’s going to be competition,” Brewer said. “I welcome that and you know I’ve been through many competitions before and I think it’s not just good for me but the team.” 

Although Costelli wound up giving up his final season of high school eligibility to enroll early at Utah, he sees the benefit in doing so. It’s allowed him to learn the offense and begin competing. Make no mistake, Costelli wants to play.   

“We have a lot of good quarterbacks. It’s also good to learn from the older guys, too, with their experience,” he said. “They can teach me a lot of things and coach Ludwig can teach me great things. It’s just a really good opportunity to be up here.”   

After prevailing against Bentley and Lisk for the starting job in 2020, Rising is once again in a battle for the starting job. And he’s not complaining.   

“Personally, I love it. Competition drives me. It’s the reason I play football. It’s the reason I love football,” said Rising, who noted that it pushes everyone. “Having a great quarterback room is only going to drive me to be better and drive these guys to be better. So that’s how I’m taking it.” 


3 — JA’QUINDEN JACKSON6-2, 232, freshman, Texas (transfer)° High school All-American, two-time Texas all-state selection

7 — CAMERON RISING6-2, 220, sophomore, Texas (transfer)° Started 2020 opener against USC before season-ending injury

8 — PETER COSTELLI6-3, 223, freshman, Mission Viejo (Calif.) HS° Under Armour All-American, 23 TDs and five INTs as a senior

9 — COOPER JUSTICE6-6, 235, freshman, Lakeridge (Ore.) HS° Passed for 1,870 yards and rushed for 398 as a senior

12 — CHARLIE BREWER6-1, 210, senior, Baylor (transfer)° 9,700 yards passing and 65 TDs over 44 games with the Bears

16 — BRYSON BARNES6-1, 196, freshman, Milford HS° State record 137 career touchdown passes

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