Our quarterback at my last school (Keller Timber Creek) was a guy named Sterling Castleman. He was Mormon, and was all someone we looked up to. The way he lived and conducted himself left a great impression on me — a great example. —Cedric Dale
PROVO — As BYU's football team works feverishly to prepare for the 2013 season, two very promising prospects pledged their services to the Cougars' program over the weekend.
First to pledge was Cedric Dale, a 5-foot-8, 175-pound running back from Lewisville, Texas, who committed to BYU shortly after the Cougars' first public scrimmage of fall camp Saturday afternoon. About 18 hours later, Nick Kurtz, a 6-foot-6 receiver from Grossmont (Calif.) Junior College, tweeted out his decision to commit to BYU.
Neither player is a member of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. But both were drawn to BYU for its unique religious culture and stated mission within the program — the same factors that many see as debilitating in drawing prime, non-LDS recruits.
Take Dale, for example.
BYU was late to the table in recruiting and offering the Hebron (Texas) High School product, but the Cougars quickly made an impression. BYU coaches first approached Dale last spring, almost a full year after he had received his first offer from Texas Tech.
Like most out-of-state non-LDS prospects, Dale knew a little bit about BYU — but nothing about some of its unique aspects.
“I just knew BYU was a Mormon school, and I saw that as a good thing,” Dale said. “Our quarterback at my last school (Keller Timber Creek) was a guy named Sterling Castleman. He was Mormon, and was all someone we looked up to. The way he lived and conducted himself left a great impression on me — a great example. So when BYU first approached me I already had a good first impression knowing it was a Mormon school.”
Dale is a devout Christian and holds the same sort of standards required of those who attend BYU. The more he learned about the program, the more he felt it would be a good fit for him and his goals.
Dale and his family took their time investigating and visiting the various schools interested in him over the summer. Texas Tech, Colorado State, Nevada-Reno and North Texas were among the schools he held offers from at the time of his BYU commitment.
“I visited all over and definitely visited all the schools that had offered me,” Dale said. “I carefully went over each of the school’s benefits and the things I didn’t like that much and it became clear that BYU was the place for me.”
Dale visited BYU over the weekend and immediately felt a connection with other non-LDS players who are currently in the program, particularly with standout sophomore running back Jamaal Williams.
“I was invited to the running backs position meeting and Jamaal was there early and we immediately hit it off,” Dale said. “He let me know everything about BYU, what it was like for someone who wasn’t Mormon, and we started watching my film right there. We also watched some of his film and it just felt like home. Jamaal is a great guy and I can’t wait to play with him at BYU.”
Dale has experience playing at running back, slot receiver, and at defensive back in high school. A lot of schools offered him as a cornerback, but he says BYU wants him to play running back.
“The position I play doesn’t really matter, and wasn’t a factor in my decision to commit to BYU,” he said. “I guess I’d rather play running back, and I like BYU’s system and the emphasis on catching the football. I catch the ball very well and I’ve had a lot of practice doing it when I play slot receiver.”
Following BYU’s scrimmage Saturday, Dale took some tours of the facilities, and then met with head coach Bronco Mendenhall. He committed shortly after the meeting and says he couldn’t be happier, or more confident, about his decision.
“College is about becoming a better man, a better student and a better football player, and BYU is the school that will help me do that most,” he said. “When I spoke to coach Mendenhall, it struck me how much he was concerned with me as a person. All the other programs I visited were all about football and it’s all they talked about. BYU offers something more and it’s why I committed.”
Dale believes that as BYU grows, and its message grows, many non-LDS prospects, like himself, will flock to the program.
"There are tons of strong Christian players in Texas, and I know they'd love BYU, just like I do," he said. "I just don't think all of them know about BYU, but I think that's changing. I'm going to do my best, while there, to promote BYU as best I can and let people know what a great place it is for everyone — not just Mormons."
Kurtz, meanwhile, chose BYU over programs like Oregon, Cal, Kansas State and Texas Tech, all of whom offered him a scholarship.
“BYU is just a straight-forward program that promotes clean living with a focus on football,” Kurtz said shortly after he was offered. “BYU has told me they want me to help replace Cody Hoffman and I believe I have the talent to maybe help replace him and play his position. I know that they’re thinking that and it’s why they offered me.”
Email: firstname.lastname@example.org, Twitter: @BrandonCGurney