Local high school coaches weigh in on Utah-BYU football recruiting
As usual, one of the major topics for conversation, and for newspapers, in the week leading up to the Utah-BYU rivalry football game is recruiting, and which school is winning the ongoing battle for instate recruits, specifically recruits who are members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. Utes writer Lya Wodraska and I collaborated on such a report, with Wodraska doing most of the heavy lifting, in today's Tribune. Also, in case you go directly to this blog, and not through the sltrib.com, here's my report on BYU linebacker Spencer Hadley's five-game suspension for violating the school's honor code. Here are a few leftovers from some of the reporting I did on the topic, which didn't make the story or did so in abbreviated fashion: I asked BYU coach Bronco Mendenhall on Monday about what impact Saturday's result will have on recruits, and whether he has ever heard a recruit say recently that he picked Utah because the Utes had defeated BYU three straight times. "I really haven't," he said. "A lot is made of it. I think the neighbors have more fun showing their flag, or having it hooked to their house if that team wins, or the other. I honestly can't say that we have lost a recruit, or maybe vice-versa, that a recruit has come to BYU, because of the outcome of that game. Not specifically, anyway." As the story suggests, BYU and Utah go head-to-head for recruits a lot less than most people think, Mendenhall confirmed. "Not as much anymore," he said. "There are some instances, I would say three or four players a year now, would be the max. But utlimately, kids chose BYU that want BYU, and those that choose Utah want Utah. But it is not as much [battling] as what people think, anymore." I tried to contact six Utah high school football coaches who traditionally have players recruited by both schools to get some perspective on which school seems to be winning the instate battle. Four of the coaches Syracuse's Russ Jones, Brighton's Ryan Bullett, Bingham's Dave Peck and Riverton's Mike Miller got back to me. Alta's Bob Stephens and East's Brandon Matich did not. Bullett, a former Utah player, most forcibly said that Utah has taken the upper hand in his area, mostly due to its Pac-12 membership. We quotes Bullett in the newspaper article, but here it is, in case you missed it: "My first 15 years at Brighton we had at least 6-8 of our kids go to BYU and play football. The kids would walk on or get a scholarship. We really had only one or two kids go to Utah. The majority of players in the Brighton area were all BYU or nothing. The last five years I feel like the majority of the players are Utah fans. Since 2009 Ricky Heimuli was the first player that had zero interest in BYU. I think the Pac-12 is what Utah has over BYU right now. The kids are always talking about who Utah is playing. We have three commits to Utah in the last three years with more to come. The kids talk to me about being in a conference and getting awards and conference titles." Bingham's Peck continues to send players to both schools, but also acknowledged that Utah's Pac-12 entrance is playing a factor. "I do think that Utah joining the Pac-12 has helped them pick up a few players because of the move," Peck said. "But overall, most of the players that grew up being BYU fans would take a scholarship offer from BYU over any other school in the nation. ... I do not think that there have been more head-to-head battles. Most of the players at my school have grown up either a Utah fan or a BYU fan and if they have offers from both, they usually stay with their loyalties." Peck added that both Utah and BYU are recruiting Bingham athletes at about the same level they were before Utah joined the Pac-12 and BYU went independent. "If you have good players, they will come," he said. "It does not matter what conference or independent schedule they are playing." Riverton's Miller said neither school has gained an upper hand in recruiting in-state LDS prospects since the conference switch but acknowledges Utah is recruiting fewer Riverton players, BYU about the same. "I haven't seen a big difference," Miller said. "Utah doesn't go after them as much. I think they are shooting for a different talent and the LDS thing doesn't matter as much [to Utah]. ... The good Mormon guys want to go to BYU go no matter what." Syracuse's Jones hasn't seen much of a shift, either, although Titans defensive back Kavika Fonua recently chose BYU over Utah and committed to the Cougars a few months ago. "I see no change in the state of Utah for recruiting between Utah and BYU since the change in conferences," Jones said. "They are both great schools and do an outstanding job in recruiting and in their football programs."