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BYU football: Mendenhall touts signing class as strong, capable and athletic

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(Rick Egan | The Salt Lake Tribune) Brigham Young Cougars head coach Bronco Mendenhall after BYU defeated San Diego State 23-6 in the Poinsettia Bowl, Thursday, December 20, 2012.

By jay drew

The Salt Lake Tribune

First published Feb 05 2014 08:30AM
Updated Feb 5, 2014 11:25PM

Provo • There hasn’t been much suspense for BYU’s football program and its fans on signing day the past few years, as coach Bronco Mendenhall has generally wrapped up his recruiting efforts days and even weeks before the first Wednesday in February.

But the 2014 version included drama, a few surprises, a couple of disappointment and, in the end, quite a bit of happiness for the Cougars and their 10-year head coach. Mendenhall held a 1 p.m. news conference to put a bow on the process Wednesday afternoon at the BYU Broadcasting Building on campus, and raved about his 20-player haul.

"Might be the strongest [in his 10-year tenure] in terms of ability and impact," Mendenhall said. "Please write that I said ‘might.’ As we know, time will tell. But I think we have done a really good job of knowing exactly what we are getting, especially on the athleticism and football particulars."

Just before Mendenhall stepped to the podium, highly touted defensive end Uriah Leiataua of Compton, Calif., a Stanford commit, announced he was flipping to BYU and would sign with the Cougars. Leiataua, who apparently changed his mind after visiting Provo last weekend, was the last player to sign, bringing the total to 12 defensive players and eight offensive players.

Mendenhall crowed that Leiataua’s signing meant BYU went head-to-head with powerful USC for four players and won three of those battles. The other two were Nick Kurtz, a receiver from Grossmont College who signed with BYU in December and is already enrolled in Provo, and Fred Warner, a four-star linebacker from San Marcos, Calif., who committed to the Cougars almost a year ago, but visited USC the middle of last week and received a late scholarship offer from the Trojans.

"I am pretty confident that we have done a good job," Mendenhall said. "How to rank it on a BYU class scale? I am not sure. On a national scale, I am not sure how to rank it. But it has been a great day, not just a good day. It’s been a great day."

BYU also announced the 18 returning missionaries who will join the team this year.

They are LBs Austin Heder, Va’a Nuimatalolo, Phillip Amone, Troy Hinds and Adam Pulsipher; DLs Tanner Balderree, Graham Rowley, Kesni Tausinga, Travis Tuiloma and Steven Richards; QB McCoy Hill; TEs Colby Jorgensen and Matt Sumsion; OLs Corbin Kaufusi, Ului Lapuaho, Manu Mulitalo and Brian Rawlinson; And kicker Corey Edwards.

The day started with good and bad news for the Cougars.

The bad news was that Damien Mama, a 6-foot-4, 370-pound offensive lineman from Bellflower, Calif., signed with USC. Mama, who is LDS and has said he will go on an LDS Church mission after his first season of college football, visited BYU last weekend and had the Cougars in his final three, along with Alabama.

Mama was rated as the No. 1 offensive guard in the country by several recruiting services.

The early good news was that Warner, a four-star linebacker from San Marcos, Calif., signed with BYU around 11 a.m. MST, keeping the commitment he made last summer despite offers from USC, Washington and other nationally prominent programs.

Warner is arguably the biggest prize of Bronco Mendenhall’s 2014 class, given the competition the coach faced to land the 6-foot-3, 210-pound playmaker who the Cougars hope can eventually replace All-America LB Kyle Van Noy.

Warner recorded 90 tackles at Mission Hills High School, 24 tackles for loss, and 13 sacks despite not playing full games in five of 10 regular-season contests.

"There have been other classes that have been highly heralded that didn’t pan out that way," Mendenhall said, perhaps referring to the 2010 class that included five-star quarterback Jake Heaps, now at Kansas. "I am not as concerned about the fanfare, but I feel really good about what I think this class is capable of doing, in relation to our program, at this time."

Also Wednesday, BYU’s receiving corps - trying to replace Cody Hoffman, the most prolific pass-catcher in school history - got significantly better and more experienced.

UTEP’s Jordan Leslie and Devon Blackmon, who played last season at Riverside City College in California - signed with BYU.

Leslie, a 6-3, 210-pound senior from Houston, will graduate from UTEP in May with a degree in engineering and will enroll in a graduate program at BYU. That means he will be immediately eligible to play his final season of college football at BYU.

In three years, Leslie caught 125 passes for 2,015 yards and 15 touchdowns. His numbers fell his junior season after he caught 51 passes for 973 yards as a sophomore when current BYU receivers coach Guy Holliday was his position coach. He caught 44 passes for 612 yards in 2013.

The 6-1, 185-pound Blackmon was a high school teammate of current Cougar RB Jamaal Williams. He signed with Oregon out of high school as one of the fastest players in the 2011 class, but transferred to Riverside CC, near his hometown of Fontana, Calif. He will have two years to play two seasons.

It wasn’t all good news for BYU, however.

Oregon State announced that former Bingham High defensive lineman Baker Pritchard, who signed with BYU before going on an LDS Church mission, has signed with the Beavers.

Mendenhall said he immediately released Pritchard to sign with OSU when the DL approached him a few weeks ago.

Also, BYU was in the running for Courtland Sutton, a safety from Brenham, Texas, who visited Provo the weekend that the Cougars beat Texas. However, Sutton announced Wednesday morning that he has signed with SMU.

The first future Cougars to get their letters of intent in were Jaterrius Gulley, a defensive lineman from Hoover, Ala., and Trey Dye, a receiver from Abilene, Texas. Dye is the son of former BYU kick and punt returner James Dye. Shortly after their letters arrived, BYU received a letter from one of three Utahns who signed with them Wednesday, Syracuse defensive back Kavika Fonua.

Pleasant Grove defensive lineman Zac Dawe and Matt Bushman, a tight end from Tucson, Ariz., also got their letters in before 8 a.m. MST. Then came a letter from Brighton High’s Isaiah Kaufusi, a receiver and outside linebacker who is the cousin of defensive line starter Bronson Kaufusi.

Then came etters from Austin Chambers, an offensive lineman from Shawnee Mission, Kan., and Teancum "Tico" Fuga, a defensive lineman from Huntington Beach, Calif.

Fuga is the younger brother for former BYU star lineman Romney Fuga.

Tyler Cook, a linebacker from Murrieta, Calif., also joined the fold. Cook shined at Vista Murrieta High School and chose the Cougars over Arizona and others.

More offensive linemen added their names to the list later Wednesday morning, including Tejan Koroma, a 6-foot, 255-pounder from Allen, Texas, and Chandon Herring, a towering 6-7 tackle from Gilbert, Ariz.

Defensive tackle Earl Mariner, a 6-4, 300-pounder from Topeka, Kan., signed just before Leiataua did.

High schooler Michael Shelton of Raleigh, N.C. (Wakefield H.S) and Kurtz, of El Cajon, Calif., signed with BYU in December and have already enrolled.

Timpview High’s Isaiah Nacua, a defensive end who transferred to the high school in Provo after playing his junior season at Bishop Gorman High in Las Vegas, also signed with BYU. Nacua, brother of current BYU safety Kai Nacua, committed to BYU a year ago, then re-opened his recruitment when he moved to Utah to play for Timpview.

Mendenhall and Martzen, who appeared at the news conference to answer questions about the class, said they might add a quarterback to class if they find one they believe can help them.

"There might be an additional addition to this class at quarterback, over some point," Mendenhall said. "I really won’t or can’t say any more than that. But I will examine hard whether we want that to happen. If not, we will certainly address it in the fall."

drew@sltrib.com

Twitter: @drewjay

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