Saturday’s The Salt Lake Tribune sports section will include our annual pre-signing day football recruiting package of stories, including an update on how BYU’s recruiting is coming along leading up to Wednesday’s start of the signing period. We will also have a list of BYU’s 14 known commitments. There will be stories about Utah and Utah State’s recruiting as well.
The Cougars are hosting around 15 prospects on campus this weekend. Most of those guys have already committed, but there are a few — such as five-star offensive guard Damien Mama — that remain uncommitted. Mama is in Provo today, ending a strange week in which the native of Bellflower, Calif., cancelled his visit to BYU and instead said he was tripping to UCLA. Two days later, Mama apparently changed his mind and kept his original promise to visit BYU, which is in his top three, along with USC and Alabama.
Mama has said he won’t make an official announcement until signing day — he’s apparently going to do one of those pick-a-cap ceremonies for live television — but most national recruiting experts say he is going to sign with USC.
BYU coach Bronco Mendenhall talked to three beat writers via teleconference on Thursday, and you probably read some of what the coach had to say about recruiting, the 2013 season, position changes and more on the blog I posted yesterday.
Here are more of Mendenhall’s responses:
On whether BYU coaches deal with a lot of negative recruiting and whether they have to clear up issues and misconceptions because they are recruiting in some parts of the country they generally haven’t been to before:
"Each year, it is a little bit different that way. As you go into new areas … We have cast a wider net. Part of when you cast a wider net is education. And it is interesting, the lack of knowledge about BYU, and the [LDS] Church, in those areas. Or, the misconceptions. Sometimes even animosity toward members of the church, and our faith, and especially in areas that maybe we haven’t been in as much before.
So a lot of times having to [address] anti-LDS sentiments more than anything is what occurs. So I would say on a number of occasions that has happened this year in areas that we hadn’t been in quite as frequently, or as much.
So the education process, I would say, is what is happening in those areas. We have had to spend more time on that than maybe we had to before."
On how recruiting is going overall this year as opposed to last year when the coaching situation was being worked out:
"I am really encouraged by not only how efficiently our recruiting has been going, but by the quality of players, the quality of people that have been attracted to BYU. I think when you consider recruiting, you have to consider a number of different things.
The main purpose of recruiting is to improve your football team. I think this class will have done that. Most of the way that happens is by fulfilling the needs you have on the team and by doing it with players that are certainly as capable, if not more so, as the players you currently have within your program.
Again, I think we have added the right people, and the right players, to BYU. I think we have addressed our needs."
On the decision to "widen the net" in recruiting and why that was done:
"I would say that is certainly the case. This is a very effective recruiting staff. I have looked at the numbers over the nine years that I have been the coach, and I am very impressed with how hard this staff works on the road. We have very good people in terms of character, and we have really hard workers.
And with the existing areas that they knew, as well as some of the targets that we had in place, it is just what you said — we are going farther, and in different areas, to find players that we think will help us."
On having a coaching staff in place this year as opposed to last year:
"The differences at this time of year from a year ago are just, you can’t really [compare the two]. There aren’t any commonalities. … The turmoil, not only internally that I felt, but just the continuity within the program. I was exciting and optimistic about what that would bring but it was difficult to get to that point.
So now to have the coaches who have already been out in the spring, and working together in those areas, and how hard and the hours they are putting in, and how diligently they are staying on prospects, and finding prospects, if I am able to keep this staff together, for no other reason but recruiting purposes, it would do well for BYU’s football program."
On what were specific needs of recruiting this year:
"First need was wide receiver — when you play as many plays as we are playing, and at the tempo we are playing at, we clearly need to have more quality receivers. A year ago, I believe we started with that. And then through the process of attrition ended up having very few left at the end of the season, which was very difficult in terms of the tempo and having the targets we needed on a play-in, play-out basis.
So adding volume to the wide receiver corps was first priority, and foremost priority.
Then at outside linebacker, getting fantastic players at that spot was probably the next target area, and the rest of the positions would be significant drop-offs as far as filling needs from there.
But those are the positions I think you will see from the class is where the emphasis was. When you see the quality, you will see that we did very well."
On whether increased tempo brought in by Robert Anae’s new offense changed the recruiting approach:
"It absolutely did. And after going through it for a year, it became difficult towards the end of the season, through practices, as players were still recovering for the game. So the fact that our practice tempo, in trying to have players heal up and be ready to play, was difficult. So I learned that lesson.
But I am encouraged, and what I do know was there was a lot higher chance, a lot more likely for freshmen to come in and possibly play up to 22 snaps a game either through their position or on special teams, than what they had done before.
Simply because the need of quality players, or quality athletes, on the field to manage the number of plays [was needed]. So our job is to prepare them to handle a specific role, or level, for their first year, at a higher level. So that is one of the ways we will address it."
On the different things he has to deal in with recruiting as opposed to other teams and the rest of the country:
"I can summarize that in one experience. I was at AFCA meetings. In the board meetings, there is a new board member who sits immediately to my left. He’s the coach at Duke [David Cutcliffe].
"He looked at me, and he said, "you have the most difficult and unique job in all of college football,’ is what he said. He is very bright and very intuitive. He was referring to managing the transition and the attrition and turnover with missionaries. I think that the Naval Academy and Air Force and Army have very unique and distinct challenges as well. Ours are quite different than that, but that would be just one of my colleague’s [thoughts], what he said. I would say that sums up most of the comments I get.
I have met various coaches over the years, and we have become friends, and they all know what BYU is, that is usually what they think."
On having fewer overall scholarships this year and how that happened:
"Not only this year, but next year, fewer scholarships available because of missionary age change and the number of kids who are coming back and are going on missions first. So not only this year, but next year as well will be similar. And in terms of Utah, we always start first here. But in terms of where are biggest needs were, and having that fit with urgency, there weren’t quite as many fits that way as perhaps there were before. Then the scholarships being down affected that, and what some of the specific needs we had affected that as well.
Not my priority or not my focus, that is just how it worked."
On why he didn’t say the offensive line was an area of need and whether that means the right guys are in place to see an improvement in 2014:
"I believe it is more process right now than ability. I can’t say it is exclusionary, one over the other. Based on how the class finishes out, there was one internal change, we put one of our better players, Tuni Kanuch, over Then you will see returning missionaries coming home as we already mentioned [Lui Lapuaho and Brian Rawlinson].
Then by the time fall hits there will be two others: Manu Mulitalo and Corbin Kaufusi.
Another offensive lineman back is Jordan Black, from injury. So that is either four or five off missions or added to that pool.
Then you add recruits to it, based on what that will look like, you might be talking up to six new faces.
Whether there is someone that we recruited that the world says ‘that will be the answer.’ That really wasn’t our intent because we are integrating missionaries right back into it.
There might be a player or two that it looks like we have targeted to address it, but those would be high school players which takes time anyway."
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