BYU Fans 5 Takeaways from National Signing Day 2016

When I heard that Bronco Mendenhall was going to leave for Virginia, I was shocked. I was shocked that his star was on the rise and wondered what was up next for the BYU Cougars. Tom Holmoe came out from behind the curtain, as is his way and laid out what his expectations were for the next BYU Head Coach in one word. Recruiting.

I was elated to hear that Kalani Sitake was hired as the next Head Coach. When he was at Utah, I campaigned for him regularly on a local podcast (The Taxi Squad Show) as I could clearly see that his ability to connect with students, athletes and his unique ability to command respect at the same time was exceptional. Sure, he was running Kyle Whittingham’s defense. Kalani brought his own spirit to the Defensive Coordinator position and for a lot of us in Cougar Nation we felt that Bronco had lost this when he was elevated to HC in Provo.

As I speak in my latest podcast (The BYU Sports Cave – Can be Heard Weekly on Stitcher and iTunes), since Sitake was hired he and this staff have been running a marathon in a “sprint” to change the face of BYU Football recruiting. He cited that this was a 24-hour, 365 day effort and that it would never end and made a call to all ‘LDS Faithful’ to bring athletes back to BYU. Instantly, the face of BYU recruiting had been established and BYU was going to come and recruit kids that for whatever reason were not entertained by the previous regime.

Relationships have started to take route – not just for the 2016 class, but beyond. The vision of BYU Football has clearly changed and BYU had their best recruiting class in over 5 years. Something in Provo wasn’t right for a while, and at first signs Kalani has taken deliberate steps to provide the cure.

Here are the five things that I think are takeaways from the National Signing Day:

1. Relationships

Kalani Sitake is the right face and the right coach for BYU at this time as BYU faces the fact that it may not have the deep pockets that some of the schools in the Power 5 schools do.  However, BYU does have the ability to use its alumni that is spread around the world. These alumni, fans and church faithful fill stadiums where BYU play, and they live in these same communities. These are passionate fans that promote and recruit players to attend BYU.

Two of the BYU coaching staff were also participants in the disciplinary side of the BYU Honor Code.  These players are people and their ability to connect, to have a first hand accounting of their journey and return to BYU is a very important one.  In Bronco’s era, the HC had been a snitch and report kind of thing- and in Kalani time with Lavel Edwards it was an “On my Honor”.  This “On my Honor” reflects a more real world and every day LDS Church lifestyle.  I get why Bronco had to do it, however a lot of players suffered being away from the program and the Church.  I get a real sense that Kalani will be working to make real changes in this area. If a player thinks you are for them, rather against them – they will run through walls for that coach.

Player development is built upon trust, and that is an essential key in building long-lasting relationships.  Players go to where they can get playing time and the ability to improve their skill sets for playing on Sundays. In Sitake’s time at the University of Utah he worked with several players with Ilaisa Tuiaki that landed in the NFL.  Assistant Head Coach Ed Lamb while at SUU a division II school, placed 7 players in the NFL.  And let’s not forget that Ty Detmer was a player coach in the NFL and has been lauded by his teammates, former coaching staff that he has the experience to mentor these young athletes to the next level.

2. Recruiting

BYU fans have finally gotten a taste of what modern recruiting looks like. Sure, we see that the University of Utah and Utah State are getting better.  However the casual fan couldn’t quite put their finger on the cause. The past six weeks has changed the tenor of BYU recruiting and I would say that the spirit is back in Provo.  The alumni have continued to come out of the shadows to assist a Kalani Sitake regime.  The attitude is also back and you can see folks in blue walking just a bit taller, more confident knowing that athletes no longer have to sell themselves to BYU.  In this regime BYU is going to find you.

BYU coaches know that it is their job to find these gems.  These coaches have come from other schools and have recruiting these same LDS athletes.  They understand that LDS athletes have many choices, and it is not a mortal lock for them to come to the steps of BYU.  Top LDS athletes are like choir members, they need preaching too – and in this scenario they need to be courted.

3. Perspective

For those who are not familiar with the LDS faith, young men 18 years of age can serve an 2-year mission.  Most schools on National Signing Day can anticipate about 30% (in a good recruiting class) to make a substantive contribution on Saturdays in the fall. BYU is a church owned school and has about 80% of its players as returned missionaries.  This is just a fact of life at BYU.

14 of the 26 athletes who signed on NSD will be sign and sends. 12 will get some consideration and time this fall.  However, the judgment on just how effective this recruiting class is will have to wait for two years.

Notable this year BYU has two players that will likely be playing significant time this fall:

  • Junior college Transfers Handsome Tanielu DT and Jonah Trinnaman WR from Snow College
  • Troy Warner DB a former Oregon commit and had an offer from hometown USC is already in school

4. Depth

We have talked at length about the path the University of Utah had to take in building their player depth as they entered the PAC12. Playing in the MWC was one thing, playing a 9-game conference schedule against the likes of USC, UCLA, Oregon and Stanford was a daunting task. Size, Strength and length are a good start – however until Utah added real team speed they struggled to be bowl eligible until 2014.

BYU’s journey into independence has been muted due to some heavy AAC and MWC opponents over the last few years that virtually assured a 6 win season. Tom Holmoe has now delivered P5 class schedules in 2013, 2015 and 2016 there is nowhere to hide.  BYU will need to continue to build their player depth to even compete in an a week-to-week schedule in 2016.

Sitake stated with regards to the 26 players signed this year, “We got bigger, we got stronger and we got lengthier and we added some speed to.”  This is indeed is a step in the right direction to building the depth needed.  However, we will have to wait the two years to truly see what impact 2016 has.  Additionally Kalani will need multiple recruiting classes like this to truly help BYU turn the corner to being a viable contender in a P5 league.

5. Notoriety

On Rivals.com the cited that BYU had a big jump in their recruiting class from their 2015.  In fact it was the seventh highest.  This 2016 recruiting class ranked 48th in the nation.  This is the first time that BYU has been in the top 50 since 2010.  ESPN and other national publications have taken note and have been giving BYU, Kalani Sitake credit – The key will be the continuation of the call to arms that Kalani cited on National Signing Day. 24-hour / 365.

About the author

Brian Child

Brian Child is a life-long BYU fan and general sports freak based out of Salt Lake City. Currently, he writes about BYU Athletics and commentary regarding BYU. Brian is a Podcast Veteran in the State of Utah. Currently, the BYU Sports Cave broadcasts its signal here on the Torn By Sports Network.

  • Dereck Smith

    1) Relationships:

    “In Bronco’s era, the HC had been a snitch and report kind of thing- and in Kalani time with Lavel Edwards it was an “On my Honor”.

    This makes no sense to me. Are you trying to say that Bronco would spy on his players and then gleefully call up the Honor Code whenever he caught any violations? Why do you think Bronco was a “snitch and report” person, and what does that even mean?

    Also, what is this “On my Honor” you are referring to? Were team rules and the honor code enforced under Mendenhall, but not under Edwards? Please explain to me what you mean with theses statements.

    “I get why Bronco had to do it, however a lot of players suffered being away from the program and the Church.”
    I am confused. How did Bronco keep players away from the church? It sounds like you are trying to say that Bronco somehow got players excommunicated from the church and kicked out of school. That is not possible. First, I am pretty sure that no players were excommunicated from the church while Bronco was head coach. Some might have to have gone through an extended repentance process necessitated by their actions, but that is between the players and their bishops. Second, the process worked out between the Bishop, the Lord, and the individual is for the individual. Are you trying to say that some of the players would be better off not repenting of serious transgressions? Third, even if someone was excommunicated, they are not kept away from church. They are strongly encouraged and are supported in their attendance.
    I apologize if my questions seem rude, I do not mean too, I just would like to understand what you are saying and why you are saying it. I do appreciate your posting and look forward to a broadening of my understanding.

    • BYUSportsCave

      Dereck, first off thank you for your comments and reading the article. Let me define: 1st: There was a culture in the Bronco era that players did report violations, rumors of violations. I am not saying that was the culture that Bronco set out to have. However, it is the culture that he fostered by the nature of how he handled the HC. Too often players would be sent away, suspended rather than brought closer, taught lessons within the program.

      I have never been a fan of the harsh HC nature during the Bronco era. One of the first premises in church disciplinary councils are to protect the soul of the individual. If a player is outside of the love and forgiveness the gospel offers him – I see that as a problem.

      Sitake’s take has always been to nurture the young athlete and to help them mature within the program. He is a direct benefit of Lavel not with drawing his support, love and compassion with in the football program.

      Lastly, I think the BYU HC is harsher on Student Athletes than it is on the regular student body. I think there are grave areas where the Student’s are put on a pedestal, and when there was a culture of report and guilty before proven innocent at BYU – I just think there is a compassionate service arm of the HC. It shouldn’t be feared, it should be embraced.

      I appreciate your comments. Although I think we look at these things from a different perspective, and as a result I think it is why social media, blogging and of course why when a new HC takes over we will get to see, hear and feel a difference in the culture of BYU.

      My hope is we retain our players, attract new and exciting 4 and 5 star recruits of all faith and that BYU get’s into a P5 league soon.

      • who_dat

        It is a sad day when BYU and the Church put their image above the interest of an individual. As you stated, disciplinary councils are to protect the soul of the individual. Why punishment should be greater because of image, really rubs me the wrong way. One step BYU did make is not making HC violations public. They still have a long way to go but enough of ‘image’. Sounds more like peer pressure which we have all been told to avoid.

      • BYUSportsCave

        Agreed. Well said Who_Dat!

  • dereck smith

    Depth and Recruiting
    Some people seem to be going crazy over this recruiting class and Sitake’s recruiting ability. While this year’s class is a good class, it is by no means any type of outlier for BYU. The Cougars signed three 4 Star recruits, some quality 3 Star recruits, and a fair number of hopefully diamond-in-the-rough or developmental 2 star projects.
    That sounds like a typical BYU recruiting class. Scout.com rates BYU’s 2016 recruiting class as the 54th best in the nation. Do you want to know what Bronco Mendenhall’s first 6 recruiting classes were ranked? 53rd, 46th, 42nd, 58th, 40th and 22nd.
    Interestingly enough, recruiting took a hit after BYU went independent. Mendenhall’s recruiting classes only averaged 61st after leaving the Mountain West. I think we will definitely see an improvement in recruiting over recent years with Kalani Sitake at the helm, but how big will that improvement be? If Sitake can keep BYU in the 40s in the future, he is doing a very good job. If he can get recruiting classes averaging in the upper 30s, then he will have lived up to all of the hype he has been getting.
    I think Kalani Sitake is the right man for the job at this time, particularly when it comes to recruiting. I really liked Mendenhall as a Head Coach and I think he did a great job turning this program around, but BYU is in a different situation now. If Sitake and Tuiaki can produce defenses that can equal or better Mendenhall’s (not an easy thing to do), I think the improved talent will have BYU consistently ranked like they were at the beginning of Bronco’s tenure.

  • MELVINDODD

    I agree with your overall premises. I, too, was shocked when I heard that Bronco was going to Virginia. But I was also thrilled. Bronco nearly drove me up the wall on a regular basis. It is insane to have the attitude that kids will have to sell the head coach on their desire to attend BYU. I’ve said many times that Bronco is a very good DC. but not very good as a head coach. I was quite surprised that Virginia wanted that staff.

    • BYUSportsCave

      Thank you for the comment. Totally agree, with the shock that UVA wanted the staff. However, I think that was a blessing in disguise for Sitake to make his fresh stamp on the program. With Kaufusi being the only hold over, I think it worked out for both sides. IMHO