As the BYU Cougars draw closer to their first ever football season as an Independent, many have been wondering how the lack of a conference affiliation will affect their recruiting. With the University of Utah moving up in the college football world as a member of the Pac-12, there have been countless discussions about them trumping the Cougars in recruiting. When the Utes landed local recruits Harvey Langi and Chase Hansen, some were worried.
Last week it was reported that BYU, a school affiliated with the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, landed a non-LDS running back from southern California, Jamaal Williams. He was also recruited by the Utes. Was this a product of the Cougars being Independent? Patrick Kinahan of 1320 KFan doesn’t think so. Here’s what he had to say about it on his morning radio show:
“The recruiting pool for BYU is not going to change nor is their recruiting strategy. This kid Williams is going to be a Senior in High School this year and I don’t see where this is any different from the past. From time to time they can get kids who aren’t of their faith to come in and play football. That’s not unique … they’ve been doing that for years. The pool is going to remain the same even if Independence is a home run and they’re playing in BCS bowl games. Assume those things come to pass, the recruiting base will still not change. It will be heavily LDS kids.”
Kinahan then recalled a time when BYU coaches decided to recruit mostly non LDS players:
“It is absolutely a bad idea to bring in a bunch of non mormon kids to BYU. Ask Gary Crowton. The same kind of people need to be doing the same kinds of things so BYU players must and always will be mostly LDS with the occasional non LDS kids and that philosophy will never change at the Y. Crowton got himself in big, big trouble and that wasn’t good for BYU and led to a brief demise of the program.”
BYU as an Independent signed an eight year contract with ESPN to broadcast most of it’s games on one of their family of networks. This will be great for exposue for Brigham Young and some may believe this will help recruiting. As reported by the Deseret News, when Williams announced his verbal commitment to the program, he didn’t specifically mention ESPN or Independence being a factor, but rather BYU in general offered the best of any other school who recruited him:
“It just feels right and it always has, but today, I don’t know, I just woke up and decided that today was the day I needed to commit. I went out and compared them to different schools, and no one could compare to everything BYU had to offer. Nothing that those schools had matched up to what BYU had to offer. Their facilities didn’t match up, and it didn’t feel right being there like it did while I was at BYU.”
As Kinahan mentioned Williams has one year left in High School. That would make him a true freshman next season. Joshua “Juice” Quezada, who is also a non-LDS Cougar, will more than likely be the number one back in 2012. Another back that has Cougar fans excited is Drew Phillips. Phillips has dangerous speed and will likely see some time this coming season in the return game. Williams could also be competing with another speedster Michael Alisa who is a sophomore in 2011. If Williams decides to redshirt, he could have one or two seasons as the premier back on this team. However, I’m sure Brandon Doman would find a way to get him involved next season if he doesn’t redshirt.
As of right now the recruiting scene doesn’t look any different than before for BYU. They’ve had no trouble getting a few non-LDS players to come to Provo. A few All-American Quarterbacks come to mind as some of those guys. Heisman trophy winner Ty Detmer (who was baptized a member of the LDS church after he graduated from BYU), Steve Sarkisian and Jim McMahon all came to Provo because it “fit” them well as quarterbacks. McMahon went on to win a Super Bowl for the Chicago Bears and Sarkisian is currently the head football coach at the University of Washington.
I agree with Kinahan. I don’t think the recruiting system will change for Bronco Mendenhall and the Cougars. The ESPN exposure may very well strike interest into more recruits, but it won’t have much effect if they’re losing games. But Mendenhall’s BYU teams rarely do that. He’s never had a losing season as the head coach. His first year he got the Cougars to a bowl game and finished the year 6-6 after four years of sub-500 football under Crowton. Four consecutive ten win seasons followed that and last years 7-6 squad made great strides late in the year to keep the winning tradition alive.
Much is expected from sophomore quarterback Jake Heaps. If he can be the next great BYU quarterback, (and many believe he will) he could very well receive Jimmer-like attention from the fans and nation. He has already affected the recruiting program at BYU. Redshirt freshman and highly touted Wide Receiver Ross Apo de-committed from the University of Texas and chose BYU instead when Heaps announced he was heading to Provo. Apo redshirted last year after he broke his finger before he could enter the season opening game as a true freshman against Washington. Watch for the two of them and Cody Hoffman (another non-LDS player) to do great things on the offensive side of the ball.
Landing players like Williams tells me there’s nothing to be worried about. BYU is already set at quarterback after the Jake Heaps era ends. The names Tanner Mangum and Taysom Hill will be well known in Provo in the coming years. Perhaps there will be more things to look forward to that are announced at BYU’s media day tomorrow. (You can watch it at ESPN3.com, BYUtv, BYUtv.org, or listen to it at KSL 1160 AM locally in Utah or nationally on BYURadio XM channel 143). The future is very bright for the Cougars and the sky is the limit. There is nothing to be worried about.