Provo • Most BYU football signing classes have a decidedly local flair because the Cougars heavily recruit the state of Utah, which generally produces more than its share, per capita, of college football talent.
But that won’t be the case Wednesday when coach Bronco Mendenhall unveils his 2014 signing class. It is expected to include just two Utahns — Pleasant Grove offensive lineman Zac Dawe and Syracuse defensive back Kavika Fonua — which is probably an all-time low for BYU.
In a wide-ranging interview Thursday about recruiting, the state of his football program and other topics, Mendenhall said the lack of Utah high school products can be attributed to several factors. Mostly, fewer scholarships are available — perhaps as few as 15 — because of the recent missionary age change and because so many missionaries are returning this year to take scholarships.
Second, it just isn’t a banner year for Utah recruits. Mendenhall said BYU’s greatest needs this season are at receiver and outside linebacker. The Cougars probably won’t sign a quarterback to replace backup Ammon Olsen, who transferred to Southern Utah, but are keeping a spot open in case they find a suitable one between now and August.
“We always start [in Utah] first,” Mendenhall said. “But in terms of where are biggest needs were, and having that fit with urgency, there weren’t quite as many fits [from Utah] that way as perhaps there were before … That is just how it worked out.”
And third, Mendenhall decided to cast a wider net this year, pursuing more non-LDS players than at any time during his nine-year tenure and recruiting in some new areas where new assistant coaches had contacts.
Attempts to lure more non-Mormons to Provo weren’t all that successful (12 of the 14 current commits are LDS), but Mendenhall said inroads were made, key contacts established.
For instance, the Cougars got a commitment last August from Cedric Dale, a highly touted running back and defensive back from Lewisville, Texas. But Dale flipped Monday, committing to Purdue instead. BYU also lost late battles with Missouri and Vanderbilt.
“We are going farther, and in different areas, to find players that we think will help us,” Mendenhall said.
BYU is hosting around 15 recruits this weekend, taking them snowmobiling and to Saturday night’s basketball game against Saint Mary’s. Most of the visitors have already committed, but several have not and could bump Wednesday’s signing list to more than 14.
One of those prospects is Damien Mama, an guard from Bellflower, Calif. Mama, who is LDS, narrowed his list Wednesday to BYU, USC and Alabama, but most national recruiting experts say he is a strong USC lean. Mama has said he will announce his decision on signing day.
BYU’s 2014 commitments
Player Hometown School/College Pos. Hgt Wgt
Zac Dawe Pleasant Grove Pleasant Grove H.S. OL 6-4 260 Heavyweight is two-time All-American in wrestling
Kavika Fonua Syracuse Syracuse H.S. DB 6-0 200 One of state’s best athletes picked BYU over Utah in August
Fred Warner San Marcos, Calif. Mission Hills H.S. LB 6-3 205 USC trying to lure 4-star prospect away from BYU
Trey Dye Cooper, Texas Cooper H.S. WR 5-11 175 Son of former BYU kickoff and punt returner James Dye
Austin Chambers Shawnee Mission, Kan. West H.S. OL 6-5 285 Will go on a church mission before joining Cougars
Chandon Herring Gilbert, Ariz. Perry H.S. OL 6-7 260 Lifelong BYU fan committed early and has never wavered
Sione Takitaki Menifee, Calif. Heritage H.S. DE 6-3 240 Rated the No. 8 defensive end in the West by Scout.com
Teancum “Tico” Fuga Huntington Beach, Calif. Edison H.S. DL 6-2 320 Brother of Cougar great Romney Fuga
Earl Mariner Topeka, Kan. Washburn Rural H.S. OL 6-4 300 Two-star lineman committed last June after Junior Day
Tyler Cook Murrieta, Calif. Vista Murrieta H.S. LB 6-3 220 Three-star linebacker chose BYU over Arizona, others
Matt Bushman Tucson, Ariz. Sabino H.S. TE 6-5 205 Rated as the No. 10 tight end in the West by Scout.com
Tejan Koroma Allen, Texas Allen H.S. OL 6-0 250 Committed after watching BYU edge Houston at Reliant Stadium
Michael Shelton Raleigh, N.C. Wakefield H.S. DB 5-8 170 Graduated early, signed in December, enrolled in January
Nick Kurtz El Cajon, Calif. Grossmont CC WR 6-6 205 Cougars hope mid-year transfer can fill Cody Hoffman’s shoes