PROVO — Traditionally under coach Bronco Mendenhall, BYU has solidified its recruiting classes months in advance thanks to early commitments.
But on signing day on Wednesday, things were a little different. To find out the fate of a few key recruits, the Cougars had to wait until the final hours.
The Class of 2014, comprised of 20 athletes from all over the country, provided some last-minute drama as the Cougars were in the running for high-profile, highly touted recruits, and battling national powerhouses like USC and Stanford.
And BYU won a few of those recruiting battles.
One national letter of intent — from defensive lineman Uriah Leiataua, who had previously committed to Stanford — didn’t roll in until just before Mendenhall’s press conference at the BYU Broadcasting Building Wednesday afternoon.
“We compete against Stanford frequently,” Mendenhall said. “In Uriah’s case, what a great decision by him. He chose us after already committing and agonizing last night over where he was going to be. That was the highlight of our day. Not that he’s more important, but to see a young man put that much time and effort into his decision and he chose BYU.”
At one point Wednesday, it appeared that four-star linebacker Fred Warner, who had committed to BYU, might flip and choose USC. But ultimately he picked the Cougars.
Mendenhall said that his program “went head-to-head with USC on four recruits. They got one, we got three.”
Mendenhall was referring to the signings of Warner, Leiataua and wide receiver Nick Kurtz, a midyear signee. One recruit the Cougars lost out on to the Trojans was one of the nation’s top-rated offensive guards, Damien Mama, who made his decision in a ceremony that was televised on ESPNU. Mama had narrowed his final three choices to BYU, USC and Alabama.
By broadening its recruiting base, BYU coaches are waiting longer to wrap up their recruiting classes.
“It’s the type of kids we’re going after. It’s different than in the past,” said BYU's 24-year-old player personnel and on-campus recruiting coordinator, Geoff Martzen. “When you’re going after those national guys, they’re going to decide later. They’re going to have more options. It’s a tougher decision for them rather than a kid that was born and raised a BYU fan and wanted to come here all his life.”
Of course, the waiting game produces a higher level of stress as signing day approaches.
“We had four or five spots open and we had a couple of guys drop late,” Martzen said. “It’s outrageous. Even with Fred, a guy that was committed for a year almost, he was scary down at the end. But we pulled him in. Sleepless nights — a few of them.”
But the Cougars can rest easy for now, and bask in the glow of the culmination of plenty of long hours and hard work.
“It might be the strongest (class) in terms of ability and impact," Mendenhall said of his 10th recruiting class at BYU. "As we know, time will tell. But I think we’ve done a really good job of knowing exactly what we’re getting. It’s been a great day. Not just a good day — it’s been a great day.”
This class is smaller than usual, in terms of numbers, due to The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints allowing young men to serve missions at an earlier age, Mendenhall said.
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