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:
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.
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.
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
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.
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.