Provo • BYU football coaches stressed Wednesday the importance of developing players and finding diamonds in the rough — guys who probably won’t be able to play right away but will contribute down the road — when they announced the eight new signees who will join the 14 players they signed back in December to form the school’s 2018 recruiting class.
In other words, don’t judge this class by what the folks who put together the national recruiting rankings think of it. Websites like 247Sports.com and Rivals.com are more unimpressed by this particular class than they ever have been. Rivals had BYU at No. 91 in its latest rankings, and 247Sports (formerly Scout.com) had the Cougars at No. 83.
Coach Kalani Sitake’s first full class, assembled last year, was ranked 66th and 63rd. That 4-9 season took its toll, even if Sitake is unwilling to admit as much. The 2016 class he signed a few months after replacing Bronco Mendenhall was ranked 49th and 48th by the major recruiting services.
“There is a lot of potential here,” Sitake said. “You look at the guys we have recruited, the ceiling is high on these young men and we are excited about the skill and athleticism. The speed is there, and we also have some size, so we are a bigger team, we are a faster team and we are a stronger team. ... I am really proud of the hard work it took to get some of these guys here.”
But can they play? That may take awhile.
Of the eight players who signed Wednesday, two will go on LDS Church missions first — Lehi tight end Dallin Holker and East linebacker Viliami Tausinga — so they really should be considered part of the 2020 class. Fourteen players who currently are on missions or recently have returned will play for BYU for the first time in 2018, most notably Spanish Fork quarterback Jaren Hall and Wasatch kicker Skyler Southam.
“I’ve never paid any attention to the recruiting rankings,” said former Cougar Preston Hadley, hired away from Weber State to coach the defensive backs at BYU. “I had zero stars, and I’d like to think I did OK. … A lot of things you can’t measure. For instance, you can’t quantify heart. You can’t quantify grit.”
Assistant head coach Ed Lamb acknowledged that BYU never will be able to go “toe-to-toe” for five- and four-star recruits with the top 10 programs in the country on a consistent basis.
“The only acceptable result for us at BYU is to be nationally relevant,” Lamb said. “If we have an eye toward player development and we do a better job identifying guys who have measurables to be among the top players in the country and then develop them appropriately and push them hard, that’s how we are going to have to get there.”
BYU’s biggest get Wednesday was three-star receiver Gunner Romney, a 6-foot-3, 200-pound receiver from Chandler, Ariz., who stuck with the Cougars despite a last-month push from Arizona State.
“A big, strong receiver who I think is not only a talented player, but the right kind of kid,” new offensive coordinator Jeff Grimes said. “The guy is all business and is very serious about his training, has a plan to get here and compete right away. We are looking forward to seeing him do that.”
Its biggest miss was Tanner McKee, a four-star LDS quarterback from Corona, Calif., who signed with Stanford after also considering BYU, Texas, Texas A&M, Alabama and Washington. McKee, who will go on a mission before playing for the Cardinal, accepted an in-home visit from Grimes and new quarterbacks coach Aaron Roderick last week, which gave BYU fans some hope that he might sign with the Cougars despite never making an official campus visit to Provo.
Roderick said the meeting went well but that it wouldn’t be appropriate to talk more about a recruit who signed with another school.
BYU’s most surprising signee Wednesday perhaps was Danny Jones, a 6-4 punter from Essendon, Australia, who has been playing Australian rules football.
Lamb discovered Jones through Prokick Australia, a group that facilitates the transition of Aussie players to American football, and visited Jones shortly after BYU ended the season with a win over Hawaii. Lamb said Jones “is a little bit older” and more mature and was identified by Prokick Australia as being a good fit for BYU and its honor code.
“He really follows American football and it is a dream come true for him to be here,” Lamb said.
BYU lost several early commits to Utah in December but beat the Utes for returned missionary Amone Finau, a running back from Kearns who signed with the Utes before his mission.
The other three recruits who signed Wednesday were Las Vegas (Arbor View) defensive back Isaiah Herron, southern California (Los Alamitos) linebacker Alex Miskela and San Diego (Point Loma) defensive back Malik Moore.
COUGARS RECRUITING CLASS
Signed Dec. 20 to 22
Harris LaChance, OL, 6-8, 275, Herriman, Herriman HS
Tysen Lewis, OL, 6-5, 270, North Ogden, Weber HS
Stacy Conner, QB, 6-5, 185, Wylie, Texas, Wylie HS
Ben Tuipulotu, TE, 6-4, 200, Fort Mill, S.C., Nation Ford HS
Jacob Smith, OL, 6-6, 305, Farmington, Minn., Rosemount HS
Isaac Matua, LB, 6-3, 205, Kearns, Kearns HS
Campbell Barrington, OL, 6-6, 280, Spokane, Wash., University HS
Oliver Nasilai, LB, 6-2, 245, Jessieville, Ark., Jessieville HS
Chinonso Opara, DE, 6-8, 270, Draper, Juan Diego HS
Connor Pay, OL, 6-6, 295, Highland, Lone Peak HS
Brach Davis, DB, 6-1, 170, Salt Lake City, Olympus HS
Talan Alfrey, DB, 6-3, 185 DB, Auburn, Wash., Auburn Mountainview HS
Brayden Cosper, WR, 6-3, 195, South Jordan, Bingham HS
Zach Wilson, QB, 6-3, 195, Draper, Corner Canyon HS
Signed Feb. 7
Alexander Miskela, LB, 6-1, 220, Los Alamitos, Calif., Los Alamitos HS
Gunner Romney, WR, 6-3, 200, Chandler, Ariz., Chandler HS
Danny Jones, P, 6-4, 223, Essendon, Australia, La Trobe University
Dallin Holker, TE, 6-5, 222, Lehi, Lehi HS
Isaiah Herron, DB, 6-1, 175, Las Vegas, Arbor View HS
Viliami Tausinga, LB, 6-2, 220, Salt Lake City, East HS
Amone Finau, RB, 6-2, 205, Kearns, Kearns HS
Malik Moore, DB, 6-1, 180, San Diego, Point Loma HS