Dick Harmon: Tujague hire provides BYU key JC recruiting strategy

Published: Saturday, April 13 2013 5:50 p.m. MDT

Spring Outdoor Football Practice March 13, 2013

Jaren Wilkey, BYU

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This is the second in a series of columns analyzing the new faces who are recruiting football players at BYU.

How will Garret Tujague do as a recruiter?

Bronco Mendenhall hired College of the Canyons head football coach Tujague this past January to coach BYU’s offensive line.

This JC strategy may be one of the smartest moves of 2013 for the Cougars.

Tujague is personable, smart, an excellent coach. And he's connected.

In coming seasons, BYU will not turn itself into a haven for junior college football players, but it will need to look there for help. Due to the recent policy change by The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints allowing 18-year-olds to serve missions, it will systematically require Mendenhall to design a different strategy to field a football team.

No other football program in America is impacted by this policy change as hard as the Cougars. It essentially changes the dynamics of recruiting and in Tuague, Mendenhall hired a 16-year veteran coach in the California Community College educational system — some 122 junior colleges. It is the largest system of higher education in the world, serving more than 2.4 million students.

Hiring a quality and experienced JC coach at BYU? This was a key ingredient, not only for BYU's offensive line, but recruiting strategies.

“The associations and contacts he has as a longtime junior college coach will reap tremendous rewards for the football program,” said former BYU basketball coach Steve Cleveland, who, as an eight-year coach at Fresno Community College, was the man former BYU president Merrill Bateman hired to turn around a program in 1997 that had just gone through its worst season in school history.

BYU deployed Cleveland from the JC ranks. People questioned it at the time. But it paid dividends immediately, especially in recruiting.

“At the time, BYU wasn’t going to recruit all junior college players, but without signing those players we did at the time, we couldn’t have done what we did,” said Cleveland. “We couldn’t do it recruiting just freshmen.” Cleveland referenced players like Danny Bower, Travis Hansen, Ron Selleaze, Terrill Lyday, Trent Whiting, Brian Dignan, Luiz Lemes and Rafael Araujo.

At the time, Cleveland, in turn, turned to close buddies in the junior college ranks for his staff. They included Dave Rose, John Wardenburg and Heath Schroyer. In time, they won conference titles and got BYU back to the NCAA tournament.

“They (JC players) jump started our program,” said Cleveland, who leaves in a few weeks to be president of the Indianapolis Indiana Mission of the LDS Church.

Because BYU no longer has Ricks College as a feeder school and now faces challenges with the new 18-year-old mission policy, a recruiting jump start already occurred last February after the Tujague hire when BYU signed four JC offensive linemen and a total of six JC athletes in the class of 2013.

“As a junior college coach, you get to know all the high school coaches. You also establish relationships with other JC coaches and they are close,” said Cleveland. “Whenever a JC coach gets a Division I job, other JC coaches rally around him, they want you to succeed. They trust you because you understand their academics and athletics. They respect you, they know you'll take care of their guys. They understand that you once had to drive a van or a bus to games. They are blood brothers of sorts.”

Cleveland said another plus is that JC coaches learn a ton from Division I recruiters. “They learn how it is done, they get coaching tips and recruiting tips. They see some who do it with meticulous detail and others who are sloppy and you see how not to do it.”

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