Dick Harmon: Sitake leading BYU to a last-ditch recruiting binge before signing day

Published: Wednesday, Jan. 20 2016 5:25 p.m. MST

BYU's director of athletics Tom Holmoe introduces Kalani Sitake as the new head football coach at a press conference in Provo Monday, Dec. 21, 2015.

Scott G Winterton, Deseret News

There they sat, former teammates now rivals, doing something for the first time miles from home. Together.

Once upon a time, Ty Detmer and Fred Whittingham shared the same backfield and ball but on this night they were in a high school gym sitting in the stands together, one with BYU Nike gear, the other with Utah Under Armour threads, both with logos front and center. They were watching tight end prospect Cole Fotheringham play basketball.

Wonder if they went out for pizza after.

This is how unique it has evolved in 2016, a month after Bronco Mendenhall departed BYU for Virginia and the Cougars hired former Utah defensive coordinator Kalani Sitake to come home to Provo. And he hired Detmer. And Kyle Whittingham hired BYU receiver coach Guy Holliday and elevated his brother, former Cougar fullback Freddie, to coach Utah tight ends.

Now both are in one another’s business, chasing each other’s recruits. And liking each other because their history as friends is stronger than a legacy of hatred.

This is an interesting final stretch heading to the national letter of intent signing Feb. 3.

It’s enlightening to see how Sitake has recruited since hired at BYU just before Christmas. As Sitake’s new defensive coordinator Ilaisa Tuiaki, a former Utah coach put it: “We're going after everyone we can, no matter who is recruiting them.”

That also means evaluating the current roster, recruits committed to the previous regime and making a last minute dash for talent they believe they will listen to a late-minute pitch.

So far that’s meant withdrawing some offers made by Mendenhall’s staff. The ones we know of are 2013 Bingham lineman Keegan Hicks who returned from an LDS mission Dec. 5, and 2016 prospects quarterback Keaton Torre of Bingham and Wayne Taulapapa, a running back from Hawaii.

There could also be some current roster players whose scholarships may not be renewed. Other scholarships could also be made available through attrition because BYU is in dire need of them due to its missionary program, a transitional roster challenge.

Chiseling out room, Sitake’s staff immediately went after a lot of Polynesian linemen BYU’s previous staff hadn’t made inroads with this past year. Sitake, as many experts predicted, played his Polynesian card and slammed it on the table.

Oregon State RB commit Sione Finau, recruited by Sitake while at OSU, immediately received a BYU offer and is considering. Utah commits DE Leki Fotu (Herriman), OL Alema Pilimai (Tustin, California) and Fotheringham (San Clemente, California) were also offered/recruited as was Cottonwood linebacker Fua Pututau, who immediately dropped a trip to Washington when BYU came calling. Same thing happened with USC commit Keanu Saleapaga, who will officially visit BYU Jan. 29 with an army of 2016 prospects. BYU came from nowhere to gain a visit from Saleapaga. Five-star prospect Mique Juarez, the nation’s top linebacker from Southern California, agreed to a trip to Provo that same weekend after he visits Alabama.

Former Alta High receiver Mack Richards flipped his commitment from Hawaii and will enroll at BYU this summer after a church mission. The letter of intent signed by 2015 Utah recruit James Empey, whose father Mike was just hired as BYU’s offensive line coach, expires in February. He is on a mission in Portugal. Will he follow his dad to Provo?

Combine these reports with other rumors, plus the quick signing of Snow College four-star recruit/defensive lineman Handsome Tanielu and one can see Sitake’s new staff has staged a January recruiting blitz.

The reneging on offers disturbs some. Hicks even took his disappointment to social media. But recruiting expert Brandon Huffman, the national director of recruiting for Scout.com, says Sitake had to make hard choices to fit his roster to his needs as soon as possible.

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