College football recruiting, boiled down to its simplest form, is often a game of geography. Most of the time, it’s a calculation about where a given school has the most pull, then allocating resources to recruit players from that area.
And for a long time, BYU focused its resources and manpower recruiting in Utah, with excursions into Arizona and California.
But as the program enters the Big 12, the calculation is beginning to shift. BYU is seeing more interest from recruits across the country. It is also finding itself more competitive with players in recruiting hotbeds like Florida and Texas.
Take Wednesday’s recruiting class as a prime example. BYU’s February signees included six players. None were from Utah. Five were from California and one came from Oklahoma. Not a typical class, but something that might become more of the norm.
“I think it’s important for us to span the entire country,” BYU head coach Kalani Sitake said. “Look at the [Big 12] conference that we’re in. UCF is in Florida, so we might as well head that way. You might as well look at Texas.
“It’d be foolish of us not to go down that path in recruiting. Widening the net a little bit more and seeing the other possible candidates. … But basically, I think we have to recruit the whole world.”
BYU’s recruiting base is not changing. Sitake said the team’s recruiting core will be members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.
But maybe the geography of where those members come from is beginning to expand. Sitake feels BYU has natural connections in Texas and Florida that have mostly gone untapped. There are church members there, but BYU hasn’t always had the resources to recruit them. The program’s recruiting staff remains a two-person crew of Jack Damuni and Jason Ah You.
In the immediate future, that will change. BYU athletic director Tom Holmoe noted last week there will be strategic investments in the football program to expand the recruiting staff. The end goal is to make BYU competitive with other Big 12 programs, where recruiting staffs can feature dozens of people.
Sitake gave a glimpse into where he would put those added resources: states like Texas and Oklahoma. The East Coast as well. He wants recruiting coordinators dedicated to those areas to build relationships.
“There’s technology [to help us with the tape],” Sitake said. “For us, we are just adding more bodies to spread out into those areas and broaden our recruiting. I feel like if you have the bodies, we won’t have guys so spread out they can’t really focus and master one [area].”
Korbyn Green, an Oklahoma signee in this class, is an example of how this could work for BYU. Green was recruited by Baylor and Oklahoma. BYU wasn’t really on his radar, mostly because the program didn’t have the people in the region to form a relationship.
In late January, though, BYU cornerbacks coach Jernaro Gilford used his ties to the Tulsa area to find Green. He worked camps in Oklahoma for years and knew the coaches. Within the span of a couple of weeks, Green committed to BYU.
“[We found him through] people in the area. Knowing his coach, a former Division I head coach at the University of Tulsa, [was key],” Gilford said, underscoring the importance of having people in the region.
Green is a player BYU had seen on tape for months. But the human connection made the difference. Something a recruiting coordinator could more easily facilitate.
Going forward, BYU will still recruit in Utah and Arizona. The recruiting pipelines are deep there.
But if there’s a lesson from this recruiting class, it is this: BYU is expanding its footprint and the trend will continue.
“I think our strong core will start within our membership,” Sitake said. “And there happens to be a lot of members in the states of Utah, Arizona and California. But there’s enough out there in Florida, Texas, and other places, that we can go to as well.”
• BYU added to its offensive line with junior college transfer Lisala Tai. BYU already returned seven offensive linemen from 2021 with starting experience. That does not include Kingsley Suamataia, a five-star transfer who signed in December. So Tai will be among nine players vying for five spots.
Offensive line coach Darrell Funk called Tai’s signing a move for both immediate depth and the future. Tai could play in the fall, but also has multiple years of eligibility left.
“I’m not a short-sighted person. Kalani isn’t, either. [We’re] looking not only for next year but into the Big 12 and beyond,” Funk said.
• BYU is inching closer to the 85 scholarship limit. Players who used their COVID year of eligibility, like wide receiver Gunner Romney, will count against the scholarship count this year. Factoring in players who return from a mission, BYU’s roster construction will be complicated.
• Sitake said the program has a few spots remaining, and maybe more after spring practice. BYU will likely fill those spots with defensive backs from the transfer portal.
List of February signees:
Zoom Esplin / DL / Encinitas, Calif. / La Costa Canyon High School
Lisala Tai / OL / Inglewood, Calif. / Snow College
Nathaniel Gillis / DB / San Diego, Calif. / Steele Canyon High School
Korbyn Green / DB / Tulsa, Okla. / Owasso High School
Zion Allen / DB / Stockton, Calif. / Manteca High School
Evan Johnson / DB / Monterey, Calif. / Stevenson High School