Boise, Idaho • BYU football coaches obviously want to recruit the best high school and junior college football players they can find, coach Kalani Sitake said Wednesday afternoon after the school announced it has signed 13 preps and one junior college star to National Letters of Intent.
But at BYU, there is a lot more to it than that, the third-year coach stressed before the Cougars practiced at Boise State’s indoor practice facility in preparation for Friday’s Famous Idaho Potato Bowl across the way at Albertsons Stadium (2 p.m. MST; ESPN).
“The measurables we look at have more to do with the standards of the school,” Sitake said. “That, we won’t fluctuate on. That is the honor code and academics. So that right there is the most important part.”
It is all about finding players who can handle BYU’s strict honor code and rigorous academics Sitake noted, perhaps more forcefully than he has since getting the job at the private school owned and operated by The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints in December of 2015.
“And then we work with the other parts,” Sitake said. “I feel like if we are able to get them right, they will be plenty strong and plenty big and plenty fast by the time we get them on the field with the coaches that we have, with our experience, and they will get it done.”
Former BYU coach Bronco Mendenhall used to claim that there were fewer than 50 high school players around the country who had enough talent and athleticism and could handle BYU’s other off-the-field demands, and Sitake talked Wednesday as if he were experiencing that same limited recruiting pool. He said most of the 14 players he signed Wednesday have been committed to BYU for several months, or even years.
“Guys kinda choose whether or not they are BYU guys [early on],” he said. “The three parts are the football part, the academic part and the honor code part. So for us, we target guys based around football potential and then if the other parts fit, great. If not, we keep moving.”
It was somehow fitting that one of the first players BYU signed Wednesday was Jacob Conover, a 6-foot-1, 205-pound quarterback from Chandler, Ariz., whom Sitake called “a national recruit.”
Conover and American Fork receiver Chase Roberts are easily the biggest prizes of BYU’s 2019 recruiting class; Conover will depart in February on a church mission to Paraguay, while Roberts has not decided yet whether he will go before or after his first season in Provo.
“Jacob Conover is one of the best quarterbacks in the history of the state of Arizona,” BYU quarterbacks coach Aaron Roderick said in a school-produced video announcing Conover’s signing. “You could argue he is the best. He won three state championships and set a whole bunch of records. He’s a great fit here just because he is a humble guy who was highly recruited and knew what he wanted out of his college experience and his college football program.”
Conover threw for more than 10,000 yards and 100 touchdowns in three seasons as a starter.
“We have been battling, just trying to hold onto him, but for the most part, he has been solid, 100 percent [committed],” Sitake said. “I think we are always worried about bigger schools coming in. … But he’s been probably one of our best recruiters.”
Roberts committed to BYU in June of 2017, before he blew up nationally due to sensational performances at talent combines and his junior and senior seasons at American Fork, the 6A runner-up in 2018. He made some BYU coaches and fans worried last weekend when he visited Utah, but Sitake says he was never overly concerned.
“It helps that we have guys who have been thought highly of by other places and haven’t really wavered at all,” Sitake said. “So it is nice to get them locked in.”
Eric Ellison, a utility player from Mt. San Jacinto (Calif.) College was the only junior college player to sign with BYU Wednesday. Ellison accounted for 27 touchdowns as a receiver, kick returner and running back in his only juco season and will be classified as a sophomore in 2019. He will likely play defensive back.
Sitake said he “can add a few more” signees in February when the traditional signing day occurs, but couldn’t give an exact number because it isn’t clear yet how many players will go on missions immediately after high school.
The Cougars will welcome back 19 scholarship players from missions who will join the program in 2019, including four who were announced Wednesday as mid-year additions in January: LB Solofa Funa, OL Caden Haws, DE Freddy Livai and LB Keenan Pili.
BYU’S 14 EARLY SIGNEES
• Jacob Conover, 6-1, 205 QB from Chandler, Ariz. (Chandler High School)
• Blake Freeland, 6-8, 260 ATH from Herriman, Utah (Herriman High School)
• Brooks Maile, 6-3, 285 DE from St. George, Utah (Pine View High School)
• Michael Daley, 6-3, 220 LB from Highland, Utah (Lone Peak High School)
• Chase Roberts, 6-4, 195 WR from American Fork, Utah (American Fork High School)
• Ethan Erickson, 6-5, 225 TE from Kahuku, Hawaii (Kahuku High School)
• Carter Wheat, 6-4, 225 TE from Mesa, Ariz. (Red Mountain High School)
• Bruce Mitchell, 6-4, 265 OL from Kamas, Utah (South Summit High School)
• Keanu Hill, 6-3, 190 WR from Euless, Texas (Trinity High School)
• Caleb Christensen, 5-9, 180 DB from Smithfield, Utah (Sky View High School)
• Eric Ellison, 5-11, 170 RB/DB from Banning, Calif. (Mt. San Jacinto College)
• Brock Gunderson, 6-4, 265 OL from Cypress, Texas (Cypress Woods High School)
• George Udo, 6-1, 210 LB from Walnut Creek, Calif. (Berean Christian High School)
• Elijah Unutoa, 6-5, 290 OL from Kapa’a, Hawaii (Kapa’a High School)