When Bronco Mendenhall left to take the head coach position at Virginia, BYU athletic director Tom Holmoe emphasized the importance of recruiting for the next head coach.
When Kalani Sitake was hired to be the Cougars’ new head coach, the consensus from people that have known him is that he is a tremendous recruiter who has a knack for forming relationships.
For the six weeks that Sitake has been in charge of running BYU’s football program, there has been one common theme, recruit, recruit, and recruit some more. Sitake and his staff have made it clear that recruiting is a never-ending process that consumes the program 365 days a year. That attitude is a complete 180-degree turn from Mendenhall’s regime. There were far too many stories under Mendenhall that saw top talent within the state of Utah not holding BYU offers for reasons few could comprehend.
In six short weeks, Sitake and his staff of coaches formed relationships and sold the vision of BYU football to the masses, and it resulted in BYU’s highest-rated recruiting class by Rivals.com since 2010. In Athlon Sports’ consensus team rankings, the Cougars check in at No. 52, ahead of several Power 5 conference schools, including Missouri, Washington State and Georgia Tech.
Here are the five things we’ve learned about BYU with National Signing Day now in the rearview mirror.
1. BYU has entered the modern world of recruiting
Sounds like a comment that would make you say, “well, duh.” But the thing is, Sitake has brought a new attitude and, dare I say, swagger to BYU football again? Recruiting is the foundation of BYU’s program now. No longer are you going to hear about kids needing to sell themselves to BYU. The new coaches understand it is no longer a lock for BYU to land the top LDS talent anymore. Schools around the country now are recruiting that top Mormon talent and BYU has to be aggressive in its recruiting, and Sitake’s staff has made that clear from the start.
2. Human capital
The week before signing day, Holmoe addressed the media for a semi-annual Q&A regarding BYU’s athletic department. One particular comment stood out to me when listening to Holmoe, and it showed for BYU on National Signing Day. Holmoe said that BYU might not have the resources and finances like schools in the Power 5 conferences, but what they lack in financials compared to the P5 schools they have in human capital.
That capital spreads around the world with BYU alumni and the Cougars’ passionate fan base, but also within their own coaching staff. All-time great BYU quarterback and 1990 Heisman Trophy winner Ty Detmer takes on his first college job as an offensive coordinator and instantly gains the attention of recruits when he talks about his illustrious career. Sitake and defensive coordinator Ilaisa Tuiaki have coached NFL players dating back to their days at Utah. You know that Star Lotuleilei guy who’s on the Carolina Panthers? Yeah, he’s going to be playing in Sunday’s Super Bowl, and Sitake and Tuiaki coached him during his time at the University of Utah.
3. Big jump in recruiting rankings
According to Rivals.com, BYU had the seventh-highest jump in team recruiting rankings from the class of 2015 to this year. In 2015, BYU’s class ranked 67th. This 2016 class came in at No. 48. It’s the first time BYU has finished in the top 50 of Rivals’ rankings since 2010.
4. Instant-impact players
Most schools get excited about the possibilities of their team after National Signing Day with all the new talent that’ll be joining their program in the fall. At a place like BYU, the excitement has to be toned down just a tad. Why? It has to do with that supposed advantage BYU has over every other program in the country, the two-year LDS mission.
More than half (14) of BYU’s 26 signees will be serving a mission right away, but there are still a few players that BYU is hoping to get immediate contributions from this fall.
Defensive back Troy Warner was once an Oregon commit, but changed his mind. His hometown USC Trojans came after him, with it coming down to them and BYU. Ultimately, Warner signed with BYU and is already in school.
Junior college transfers Handsome Tanielu (DT) and Jonah Trinnaman (WR) were each pursued by a number of Power 5 programs as well. All three signees could end up starting right away for the Cougars.
5. Looking to build depth
As BYU continues on its independent path, the Cougars are starting to face some of their toughest schedules in program history. BYU will need to continue building depth in order to compete week in and week out with the Power 5 programs it has lined up. The 26 players BYU signed is a step in the direction towards building that depth, even if the Cougars have to wait a little longer for some of these players to arrive on campus. Ultimately though, the numbers game won’t work in BYU’s favor unless Sitake and the coaching staff are able to develop this incoming talent and help these players reach their potential.
— Written by Mitch Harper, who is part of the Athlon Contributor Network. Harper is publisher of Rivals' BYU site, CougarNation.com, and also is the BYU reporter and insider for 1320 KFAN and co-host of "The Cougar Center" podcast. Follow him on Twitter @Mitch_Harper.
(Top photo courtesy of Getty Images)