BYU is a unique college football program. It is a football independent, a school attached to a religion, and there’s an honor code that student-athletes have to abide by.
So needless to say, BYU’s recruiting approach is definitely different compared to what we see from programs within the Power Five structure in college football.
BYU head coach Kalani Sitake hasn’t looked at the Cougars’ uniqueness as a negative. He’s embraced what BYU has to offer and has worked to enhance the Cougar brand on the recruiting trail, spanning the country to find the best fits as BYU tries to navigate the lonely path of independence.
This was Sitake and his staff’s first class where they had a full year to form relationships and pursue prospects. Now being a few days removed from National Signing Day, let’s take a look at the five things we have learned about BYU from this year’s class.
1. Welcome to the family
When Sitake was hired as BYU’s head coach last year, he said in his introductory press conference, “family is all I know.”
That theme hasn’t lost a beat with Sitake. The Cougars’ slogan on National Signing Day for the new commitments signing their letters of intent was, welcome to the family.
Every recruit that signed with BYU in the 2017 class will tell you, family and the relationships being formed with BYU’s staff is the reason why they signed with the Cougars.
2. Strong finish in the state of Utah
BYU landed three heralded prospects in the state of Utah on National Signing Day, including Rivals 250 recruit and hometown product Chaz Ah You.
Ah You, a four-star safety from Provo, made his commitment to BYU known with a Bleacher Report video that involved a helicopter landing at LaVell Edwards Stadium. Ah You had offers from UCLA, Washington, Utah, Notre Dame, Michigan and many others.
A pair of three-star, in-state defensive linemen in Alden Tofa (West Jordan) and Lorenzo Fauatea (West Valley City) helped bolster BYU’s class as the Cougars beat out rival Utah for both.
3. Creativity with the class
Sitake has built his program around recruiting and forming relationships with families. Those relationships helped BYU add a few surprises on National Signing Day.
Defensive lineman Khyiris Tonga is an example of the creativity BYU’s staff uses on the recruiting trail, and how relationships help them bolster their roster. Tonga is a former Utah signee who was recruited by Sitake and BYU defensive coordinator Ilaisa Tuiaki when they were coaching the Utes. Now Tonga is transferring to BYU and coaches like his upside to bolster the Cougars’ defensive front.
If you’re reading this, and you’re not familiar with BYU recruiting. You’re probably thinking, what in the world is a sign-and-send?
Being a school that’s affiliated with the LDS church, BYU has a lot of student-athletes that have a desire to serve two-year LDS missions before enrolling in school.
Many of the players who signed on Wednesday won’t see the field at BYU until the 2019 season at the earliest. It makes for a unique juggling act of scholarships and who’s coming and going. On the flip side, BYU will have many players from its 2015 class return for this upcoming season. Including 6-foot-6 quarterback Kody Wilstead, who could be the future star at the position after Tanner Mangum’s playing days at BYU are over.
5. Sitake delivering on promises
When Sitake took over at BYU, he wasn’t inheriting a broken program. BYU football had tremendous success under Bronco Mendenhall, but recruiting-wise, there was a feeling around the program that more could be done. That’s where Sitake and his staff are filling the gap.
BYU is evaluating and offering more prospects than ever before. If the Cougars want to compete with the schedules they have coming up in future seasons, Sitake understands that they will have to bolster the depth in their program to try and stay up-to-speed with Power Five teams.
It’s a unique style, but for BYU, the Cougars wouldn’t have it any other way.
— 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.