Utah, BYU make their recruiting pitches

Published: Friday, April 20 2012 12:06 p.m. MDT

Utah coach Kyle Whittingham and defensive coordinator Kalani Fifita Sitake during Utah football practice Thursday, April 5, 2012, in Salt Lake City, Utah.

Tom Smart, Deseret News archives

With the intense summer football recruiting period just around the corner, Utah and BYU held two big recruiting functions this past weekend. Utah held a junior day while BYU held a new event it called “Super Elite Day” for a few very select recruits.

Junior days are typically invitation-only functions designed to get a particular program’s top targets together on campus. They receive an exclusive and up-close look into the finer points of the program.

Utah held its function in the morning, with BYU following up during the afternoon hours. With both schools interested in many of the same local prospects, a few of them made visits to both recruiting functions.

One of these recruits was Alta High’s Harrison Handley.

“It was a really fun day for me,” said Handley. “It was a bit crazy going up to Utah and then leaving to go down to BYU, but I wasn’t the only one who did it. There were a lot of other guys, and it was a great opportunity to see up close what both schools have to offer.”

Handley is a 6-foot-6, 200-pound tight end prospect and is the son of former BYU tight end Darren Handley. He holds offers from both BYU and Utah State, with Utah showing a lot of early interest and Harrison reciprocating that interest.

Upon arriving at Utah’s junior day, Handley and the rest of the prospects were ushered into a room within Rice-Eccles Stadium to listen to coach Kyle Whittingham talk about the successes of the Ute program with an emphasis on education.

“That was incredible listening to coach Whittingham speak,” said Handley. “He definitely gets you excited about Utah and all the great things they’re doing there when you listen to what he has to say. He’s just a really cool guy and someone you can see is very straight-forward and easy to relate to. I really like coach Whittingham and his approach.”

The 100 or so recruits then observed one of Utah’s spring practice sessions. They were able to see coaches work directly with their players during a typical practice session, with most coming away very impressed with the intensity and overall depth of the existing program.

The recruits were then shown the campus with an emphasis on visiting the dorms and touring Utah’s immense academic facility.

“That was incredible seeing how much emphasis they put on academics there,” said Harrison. “They taught us about all the academic resources they have there, which was great because getting a degree is extremely important no matter where you play. Coaches know this and they let us know that they’ll do everything they can to help us with academics.”

After his visit to Utah, it was off to BYU’s Super Elite function, which took place entirely within BYU’s new broadcast facility. After enjoying a lunch with their families and coaches, the students toured the building.

“It was a very impressive facility,” noted Handley. “On our tour, they emphasized their capabilities and talked a lot about being shown on ESPN and how we’d get a lot of exposure playing for BYU.”

BYU’s function was made a very exclusive one by the Cougar staff — inviting only those recruits who held offers along with a few who are being considered. There were between 12-15 prospects in attendance.

Harrison had to leave the function shortly after the tour of the building due to a family commitment, but other recruits, such as Bingham’s Keegan Hicks, continued the tour. Hicks is a 6-foot-3, 280-pound offensive line prospect who committed to BYU this past January.

“After the tour we all met in the studio room and listened to two professors talk about the academics at BYU,” said Hicks. “They had a religion professor there and a professor from the marketing department talk about all the work they did with Nike and other stuff. That was great and definitely a highlight for all of us.”

Following the presentation from the two professors, coach Bronco Mendenhall spoke briefly and then introduced 15-20 current players in the football program who took over from there. Players such as Riley Nelson, Kyle Van Noy and Cody Hoffman answered questions from the recruits.

“That was something really unique, I think,” said Hicks. “When you visit most schools, you get to just hear from the coaches, which is great, but hearing from the players, I think, gives you a much better look into the program, by just talking to people that are there and experiencing it. Listening to the current players was definitely the highlight for me.”

Another highlight for Hicks was getting an opportunity to meet many of his fellow commits and other prospective players. One player, in particular, who he hit it off with was Las Vegas linebacker prospect Trajan Pili, who committed to BYU this past summer.

“I’m taking the attitude that I need to help recruit players to the program now that I’m committed and Trajan feels the same way,” said Hicks. “I don’t want to be one of those guys who just keeps on listening to other schools and still considers other schools. I’m committed to BYU, and it’s up to me to help get the best recruiting class in that I can.”

These recruiting functions will hardly be the last for either Utah or BYU. Utah will hold another junior day function along with administrating its summer camp, while BYU will hold a much more inclusive junior day in early June and will also host a summer camp.

Email: bgurney@desnews.com

Twitter: @BrandonCGurney

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