Cougars capitalizing on players' change of heart

Published: Wednesday, Feb. 1 2012 5:46 p.m. MST

PROVO —

Stanford-bound quarterback Taysom Hill was in Australia serving a church mission when he decided he wanted to return and attend BYU instead of Stanford.

Hill shared his future goals with his mission president, who contacted BYU to see if there was mutual interest. This set off a series of checks by BYU's compliance office to see if Hill's original letter of intent to Stanford had expired and all releases from Stanford's athletic department were in order. "Then we responded," said BYU coach Bronco Mendenhall.

So, what's the big deal?

BYU is getting great help from what one could call bounce-back players. These are athletes who, for whatever reason, signed with another school but later ended up with the Cougars after missions or playing at major programs.

Can you say Max Hall? How about Riley Nelson?

Nelson is the heir apparent to BYU's QB throne after doing his part in etching a 10-win season and bowl victory this past season. Hall notched more wins than any Cougar quarterback ever. Both began at other Division I schools.

Hill, a 2008 Idaho 5A player of the year, was the No. 30 ranked high school quarterback by Scout.com and the No. 1 rated Idaho recruit, according to Rivals.com. Known for not only his passes but his speed and running ability (1,500 yards rushing as a senior), Hill is currently enrolled at BYU and winning many of the offseason conditioning drills supervised by Jay Omer.

The Hill signing on Wednesday is an interesting if not key happenstance for BYU football. Hill joins former Alta High 5A quarterback Ammon Olsen on BYU's recruit list released Wednesday. Olsen, a former Southern Utah quarterback, actually played for the Thunderbirds before going on an LDS mission to Mexico City.

With the transfer of Jake Heaps, rising up of Nelson, a spring practice that will feature another senior-to-be James Lark and junior Jason Munns, Mendenhall told reporters the quarterback spot is one the biggest areas of discussion amongst coaches in recent weeks. Hill and Olsen on site is huge since a third QB signed in this class, Elite 11 co-MVP Tanner Mangum, is expected to go on a mission out of high school.

Bounce-back Players: A growing trend at BYU, gleaning Division I recruits that transfer? Recruiting coordinator Joe DuPaix doesn't know since he just game onboard just over a year ago. "I don't know if it is a growing trend, but it is happening and there are athletes who are interested in BYU because of the things we offer. Many of them who go on missions have a change in what they are looking for and BYU uniquely can offer them that and they change their minds."

I asked DuPaix if there are other such athletes who just called and made a request like Hill and Olsen. "Yes," he answered, but he could not elaborate.

Recent bounce-back players besides Nelson include current outside linebacker coach Kelly Poppinga who signed at Utah State. In the '90s, BYU had another Aggie become a star, punt returner James Dye.

This past season the Cougars got a lot of mileage from Division I transfers in Nelson, linebacker Uona Kaveinga (USC) and defensive lineman Hebron Fangupo (USC), both starters.

Both these USC players transferred primarily for lifestyle reasons.

In past years, Division I bounce-back players had key roles with the Cougars. These include Max Hall (ASU), Travis Uale (Utah), Manaia Brown (Nebraska), Elan Edwards (Colorado), Derek McLaughlin (Washington), Aaron Wagner (Washington State), Brandon Heaney (Air Force), Vincent Xanthos (Minnesota), and Jeff Holtry (Michigan).

"There is only one place in the world where you can go and get the experience and education BYU offers," said DuPaix, citing BYU's major pitch.

That athletes like Hill, Olsen, Nelson and Hall get to a point where BYU makes more sense even though they signed elsewhere? "There's definitely a component there," said DuPaix.

Email: dharmon@desnews.com

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