Provo • Back then, it was the first tangible sign of things changing in the football program. A brief nod to its future, even as it prepared for one more year in the present.
At the end of BYU’s spring camp, the coaching staff walked out onto the practice field in black windbreakers with a blue Big 12 logo adorned to the sleeves. When Kalani Sitake was asked if it had any significance, he played it off as if he didn’t realize the logo of BYU’s future was on his shirt.
“I just thought the black was slimming,” he said.
But that was in March, a time when anything about the Big 12 still felt new and the awkwardness of looking so far ahead could conceivably be played off as a joke.
Now, as the one-year mark to BYU officially becoming a Big 12 member approaches, the view of 2023 has expanded from a once-small window to a fully open door.
There is no more subtlety around BYU’s impending move. If the program’s final media day as an independent team was any indicator — with all its Big 12 signage and talk of its Power Five status — BYU’s future is now firmly part of its present. Even if 2022 will be its last tour as an independent.
“Yeah, this feels different,” Sitake said at media day, held June 22 in the BYU Broadcasting building on campus, as he looked around at the Big 12 logos on even the notebooks handed out to participants. “... Being in a Power Five is validation almost of where we are as a program.”
Media day was merely a precursor to what this next year will look like for BYU. How, even in the face of a loaded 2022 schedule, the most compelling storylines will be of the changes happening in the program. That this season will inevitably be a mix of BYU being excited to get started on its future, while also paying respect to its current team.
It will be a year of firsts. The first full recruiting cycle. The first Power Five schedule. The first big push for resources.
The coaches — as much as they have wanted to focus only on 2022 — can’t help but peep into 2023 with an eager eye, especially when it comes to recruiting. Just this week, BYU landed a recruit from Texas, and it is closing in on another commitment from Florida. The dividends of Power Five sway are paying off in the here and now.
“We walk into high schools now, and the players being brought to us have offers from everywhere,” BYU running backs coach Harvey Unga said.
Even quarterback Jaren Hall can’t ignore it fully. He looked around media day and admired how far the program has come. Five years ago, when he walked onto the campus, BYU was coming off a 4-9 season and was stuck in independence for perpetuity. It was a proud program, but the future was uncertain.
Now, whether he comes back in 2023 for the Big 12 or not, he feels the program is in a good place
“I think it will be OK whether I am there for the Big 12 or not,” Hall said.
None of this is to say BYU isn’t ready for 2022. It has the most production returning in college football, with 85%. It had a schedule front loaded with nationally televised games against Baylor, Oregon and Notre Dame. It really shouldn’t be hard for this group to stay focused on the present.
But the reality also is staring this group in the face. Barring a nearly perfect season, BYU will wind up in an average bowl game because of its independent status. And it will leave everyone with the same idea: that the move to the Big 12 is necessary and can’t get here soon enough.
So, media day was just the start. This season will be a tightrope between pushing for the future and being grounded in the present.