Big 12 prep 101.
Kalani Sitake will be kick-starting BYU football spring practice Monday with four new recruiters on his staff, a task he took on when he reorganized his defensive coaching staff after the 2022 season ended with a win over SMU in the New Mexico Bowl.
That means 44.4% of his nine-member full-time coaching staff that venture off campus for recruiting purposes are fresh salesmen.
Defensive coordinator Jay Hill, linebacker coach Justin Ena, defensive end and special teams coach Kelly Poppinga and defensive line coach Sione Po’uha are Sitake’s new staff members on board and have already been involved in chasing prospects.
Will this make a huge difference in recruiting?
Maybe, maybe not. Time will tell.
The 44.4 % new guys still have the same hurdles the old staff faced. BYU’s high admission requirements and strict honor code will remain part of the pitch. But they also have benefits that work with the right prospects.
This quartet of new recruiters brings new personalities and different ideas, as well as an infusion of new contacts with high school and junior college coaches.
Poppinga and Ena may have played for BYU as student-athletes, but they never represented the school as full-time coaches on the recruiting trail. Hill and Po’uha, two former Utah players and coaches, have paved their own paths on perspective.
Last November when BYU beat Stanford in Palo Alto, BYU athletic director Tom Holmoe could be seen on the sidelines talking to NFL Hall of Famer and former BYU quarterback Steve Young. I wouldn’t be surprised if part of that conversation centered on BYU recruiting, the presentation, intensity and challenges of signing the best prep players who are members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.
Walker Lyons, a four-star tight end from nearby Folsom High with extensive family ties to BYU, had committed to Stanford, decommitted to the Cardinal, then signed with USC.
Lyons rejected BYU not once, but twice.
The Cougars did end up signing four-star Arizona tight end Jacob Bower, who committed early last fall and is expected to be a key piece in Aaron Roderick’s future offensive plans.
In the latest recruiting cycle, BYU signed eight of the top 25 in-state Utah recruits, more than anybody else. But rival Utah signed three of the top five, including BYU legacy defensive back Smith Snowden and OL Spencer Fano, from practically across the street at Timpview High. BYU did secure Fano’s teammate, four-star linebacker Siale Esera, who was in the top five.
In 1996, BYU was 14-1 and ranked in the top 10. Why didn’t Po’uha sign with BYU?
Po’uha told the “Y’s Guys Podcast” (Blaine Fowler and Dave McCann) when he and Jason Kaufusi were members of East High’s state 1996 championship team, neither was recruited by BYU and ultimately signed with Utah, having strong relationships with Ron McBride. Po’uha later had a long career in the NFL and Kaufusi is currently coaching at the University of Arizona.
Po’uha’s story in high school with BYU recruiters alone brings a unique experience to Sitake on what new avenues are needed. I’m sure Steve Young had some ideas on what Holmoe and Sitake needed to do to improve recruiting presentations. Young also experienced BYU’s strengths and weaknesses in recruiting when he and his brothers were targets out of Greenwich, Connecticut.
With membership in the Big 12 looming, it makes sense that Sitake reevaluate BYU’s recruiting system and fine-tune what levers need pulling and how its presentation can be sharpened. He has more resources, additional staff and these four new faces.
Jeff Hansen of BYUSports Insider, part of the 247sports network, told BYUtv recently that Sitake just had one of the school’s best recruiting classes ever, although the overall ranking didn’t show it. In the metrics, if Sitake had signed just one more of the four-star Latter-day Saint recruits in the 2023 class, it would have clearly shown in the rankings as the best ever.
“Jay Hill, Kelly Poppinga, Sione Po’uha and Justin Ena all bring an immediate level of credibility on the recruiting trail, especially among local high school coaches,” Hansen declared in response to a request for his insight.
“Talent in the state of Utah is getting better every year and the competition among colleges for that talent is increasing every year. BYU has to fight to keep players home where 20 years ago, those players would go to BYU or Utah without hesitation. This defensive coaching staff is an advantage that BYU can use.
“Immediately after they were announced by BYU, they started reaching out to coaches and recruits. I heard immediate feedback from high school coaches that Hill and Poppinga already helped BYU get back into the conversation for a few players that had kind of eliminated BYU previously. That’s what BYU can do with this new coaching staff, and that’s what the new coaches will be expected to do,” said Hansen.
Yes, spring football is in full gear in Provo for Sitake and his staff.
But where they’ll ultimately need to get better through all the practice sessions and drills is in recruiting. From summer camps to letters, texts, in-home and on-campus visits to involvement from personnel top to bottom in the organization, all must be elevated.