BYU is making strides in recruiting in-state. Is it because of Kyle Whittingham’s uncertain future?

Eye on the Y: Utah’s recruiting woes are BYU’s gain.

(Francisco Kjolseth | The Salt Lake Tribune) Ephraim Asiata, a top 15 player in Utah, is surrounded by friends and family in West Jordan on Tuesday, Dec. 19, 2023, as he signs his letter of commitment to play football for BYU.

The night Ephraim Asiata committed to play football at BYU, I sat in a hotel ballroom with his family.

I ate dinner with his grandfather, who explained Asiata’s road from a hospital bedroom to a college football field. I spoke with his father, the legendary Ute Matt Asiata, who joked about wearing blue on Saturdays now instead of red. About halfway through the evening, BYU defensive tackles coach Sione Po’uha walked into the room with his wife, Keiti, to eat and celebrate.

But when I talked to Ephraim Asiata moments after he put on his Cougars’ hat, he said something that turned into an unexpected story.

We were talking about why he chose BYU over Utah. He said he heard head coach Kyle Whittingham was going to retire soon and that “played a big part in [his] decision.” He emphasized how BYU’s coaches made him feel like they’d be there for his entire career — giving him the stability he craved. That swayed him.

It had me thinking about how many other recruits were thinking the same thing. And how many other opposing coaches were using Whittingham’s uncertain future against the Utes on the recruiting trail.

The days after Asiata committed, Utah continued to lose a series of top prospects to BYU. Eighth-ranked recruit Kinilau Fonohema chose the Cougars over the Utes. Third-ranked player Faletau Satuala flipped from Utah to BYU on national television in January.

When the dust settled, Utah’s recruiting class took an uncharacteristic dip into the mid-50s nationally. BYU finished 46th — the best in the Kalani Sitake era. BYU hadn’t beaten Utah on the recruiting trail since 2014. It hadn’t signed a top three composite player in the state since 2017. Utah’s hold on the state’s recruiting strings were loosening.

How much of that was due to Whittingham’s future?

We spoke to several top recruits in Utah, both in the 2024 and 2025 class, who were recruited by BYU and Utah. All of them said Whittingham’s status played a role for them and that other schools were using the coach’s potential retirement against Utah in some capacity.

One recruit, Jerome Myles, a 2025 player out of Corner Canyon, said Utah was off the table for him entirely. Age, he said, was arguably the most important aspect of the recruiting process. He just committed to Ole Miss after being considered a near-lock for Utah.

This reporting ended in a story we published this week on how Whittingham’s age is playing into the recruiting dynamics in the state, and beyond. BYU made up ground. Utah is left with a question it can’t answer.

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