The cougar photoshoot and the recruiting weekend BYU hopes will make a statement

BYU hosted four four-star recruits during an important weekend for the program. But at least three of those recruits are set to visit Utah this weekend.

(Kapri Lyons via Instagram) BYU recruit Walker Lyons takes a photo with the fake cougar.

The cougar doesn’t get out in the wild much.

Usually it rests inside BYU’s football offices, stuffed and silent, a decoration that has become an afterthought to the coaches and staff that work inside the building.

Last weekend, the cougar caused a bit of a roar.

With highly touted recruits Walker Lyons, Ethan Thomason, Jackson Bowers and Hunter Clegg all on campus — one of the most important recruiting trips this year — BYU staffers made the weekend memorable.

“I knew we were going to do a photoshoot before the trip,” Thomason, a four-star offensive lineman who was on the visit, said. “I didn’t realize we were going to the mountains to do it. The social media team just said, ‘Do you want to do it with the cougar?’”

What ensued was a series of pictures that set off a flash of takes and tweets. Lyons, a four-star tight end, lay down in full uniform next to it. The other recruits — Thomason, Bowers and Clegg — all took their turns with BYU’s mascot with the mountains in the backdrop.

National college football accounts picked up the photos. Some lauded it, others laughed at it. But for a weekend, they dominated college football’s short attention span.

With Lyons, Clegg and Thomason all set to visit the University of Utah this weekend, BYU hopes the cougar and the rest of the visit was memorable for the foursome of four-star recruits.

It certainly felt like a statement weekend in that way — an overture into Big 12 recruiting, a pitch to four players who could represent the new face of BYU’s next era.

“It definitely felt like this was an important weekend for the program,” Thomason said. “They didn’t go over the top to where it is unrealistic. But you could feel it was really important.”

The coaching staff took the four players boating on the lake at Deer Creek for hours. On the first night, they went to Top Golf and talked about football and life.

In between, head coach Kalani Sitake had one-on-one meetings with each player to figure out what a Big 12 plan would look like, and their role in it. The entire trip was focused on getting the players to see their place in the bigger picture, with the head coach heavily involved.

In truth, though, it is easy to visualize how they would mesh

Clegg is a 6-foot-4, 235-pound edge rusher with offers from USC, Baylor and Utah. His wingspan and size make him an easy fit to translate to the Power Five level.

Bowers and Lyons are both tight ends with natural pass-catching skills. Between them, they hold offers from Alabama, Arizona and USC. Getting either one of them would be big for an offense that has a tendency of making tight ends a focal point.

And then there is Thomason, a lineman with options in the Big Ten, Pac-12 and Big 12 already.

Realistically, this visit was about selling BYU in its new form. The coaching staff took them to the training rooms, where prospects got a presentation on what meals and treatment options were available. The locker rooms were toured. The Big 12 logos were prominently displayed.

Of course, there were also signs that BYU is still new to this. The school is the first stop on many of the summer tours for these athletes.

For now, though, BYU made its biggest push in years for a series of recruits. And, at the very least, it made a statement that it is ready to compete in the same recruiting circles as the teams it will play.

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