Provo • A year ago at this time, BYU looked like it was going to land one of its best football recruiting classes ever.
But one by one, highly regarded prospects who had committed to coach Kalani Sitake began to look elsewhere, some before the Cougars’ disastrous 4-9 season, some during and some after.
High-profile recruits such as Brandon Kaho, Tyler Manoa, Cameron Latu, Jaren Kump, Tevita Fotu, Zadock Dinkelmann and Allan Mwata signed with other schools in February.
Perhaps that’s why recruiting analysts are reticent to praise the class that Sitake and his mostly new coaching staff are building this year. In the football recruiting game, it’s not who you get a commitment from in June, it’s who you sign in February.
“It’s a strong bunch, but it’s early,” Brandon Huffman of 247sports.com told ESPN 960 Sports, a Utah County sports radio station. “If BYU can hold on to those early commitments, it will be even more impressive.”
That’s a big if — after what happened last year.
Through Monday, the Cougars had 10 known commitments, fewer than most years at this juncture for two reasons, according to Jeff Hansen of CougarNation, the BYU site on the Rivals.com network. First, BYU has fewer scholarships to give to the class of 2019 — between 14 and 17, Hansen believes. Second, the 4-9 season has given pause to some recruits who normally would have committed by now.
“The 4-9 season hurt last year’s class. We know that," Hansen said. "And it has really slowed down this year’s class. Recruits are taking a more calculated approach, and so has the staff.”
“So far, it looks like the best class since 2014, when Fred Warner signed,” Hansen said. “It is a similar class to that, but they’ve got to keep them, which won’t be easy.”
The biggest prize to date is four-star quarterback Jacob Conover of Chandler, Ariz. Conover, who plans to go on an LDS Church mission before enrolling at BYU, committed on Mother’s Day and has become a recruiter himself since then. He has reportedly contacted several other high-profile prospects that BYU is recruiting, including three-star offensive linemen Logan Sagapolu of Lehi’s Skyridge High and Sataoa Laumea of Eisenhower Senior High in Rialto, Calif. Both prospects are LDS.
“It is the second year in a row BYU got the quarterback it wanted [joining Zach Wilson]," Huffman said. Conover could have that Pied Piper effect and help them get other skill position players.”
Sitake also managed to get early commitments from Orem defensive end Chuck “CJ” Alatini, Kahuku (Hawaii) linebacker Tausili Fiatoa and American Fork receiver Chase Roberts. All three have stuck so far despite offers from Pac-12 schools.
For instance, Roberts committed in May 2017, after his sophomore season, but recently picked up an offer from Utah after a phenomenal showing at a Nike SPARQ Combine in Ohio. Southern California also showed interest after Roberts and an all-star team of Utah prospects won a Level Up Elite Camp competition at USC in June.
“I went down to USC, and they liked me, but they didn’t offer me because of the mission deal,” Roberts said. “They didn’t know a lot about that.”
Roberts, who posted a SPARQ score that was among the 10 best in the nation, said he made a “hard commitment” to BYU but will still entertain offers and campus visit invitations from other schools, as he did with the University of Utah recently. He wants to be sure the school for which his father, Kyle, played and has been his “dream school” since he played youth football is the right fit.
Along with Conover, Alatini, Fiatoa and Roberts, BYU also has commitments from defensive end Brooks Maile (Pine View), quarterback Blake Freeland (Herriman), linebacker Michael Daley (Lone Peak), tight end Carter Wheat (Red Mountain, Ariz.), tight end Ethan Erickson (Kahuku, Hawaii) and offensive lineman Bruce Mitchell (South Summit).
How the Cougars play this fall could be key to how many of these recruits eventually come to Provo.
“They are always in danger of losing guys. Every school is," Hansen said. "But I have talked to several of the kids, and it will probably come down to how well the Cougars perform on the field. I don’t think there is much danger if BYU shows well. Everybody is panicking because of 4-9 last year, but if BYU shows well I think for the most part these kids will stick. If they go in and have another average season, or if the offense sputters like it did last year, then yeah, they absolutely are at risk of losing some commits.”
BYU’s known football commitments from Class of 2019
• Jacob Conover, quarterback, Chandler (Ariz.) High School
• Chuck “CJ” Alatini, defensive end, Orem (Utah) High School
• Tausili Fiatoa, linebacker, Kahuku (Hawaii) High School
• Chase Roberts, receiver, American Fork (Utah) High School
• Brooks Maile, defensive end, Pine View (Utah) High School
• Blake Freeland, quarterback, Herriman (Utah) High School
• Michael Daley, linebacker, Lone Peak (Utah) High School
• Carter Wheat, tight end, Red Mountain (Ariz.) High School
• Ethan Erickson, tight end, Kahuku (Hawaii) High School
• Bruce Mitchell, offensive lineman, South Summit (Utah) High School