Dick Harmon: Suddenly, 5-star recruits reportedly making visits to BYU. Is Sitake the reason?
Scott G Winterton,
Mique Juarez is one of the nation’s top high school football players, a class of 2016 5-star prospect who remains uncommitted heading into this weekend before national letter of intent signing day Feb. 3.
And he’s in Provo.
Najee Harris, a running back from Antioch, California, is a year younger than Juarez and ranked the No. 1 running back in the class of 2017. Harris committed to Alabama in April 2015 and he is the Crimson Tide’s first such pledge in the class of 2017. He is also reported to be visiting Provo this weekend.
How does this happen?
Well, not by accident. A major part of the Juarez story is that he is a member of the LDS faith. His mother is Tongan and so is BYU’s new head coach Kalani Sitake. His mother, Nathasha, is very close to the mother of current BYU linebacker Butch Pau’u. Juarez was at the Las Vegas Bowl this past December and Butch’s parents, Tupou and Uepi, posted a photo on Facebook of them with Mique at the Rio Hotel and Casino in front of the famed buffet.
It is unlikely Juarez will sign with BYU next week. He just had a trip to Alabama last week. He was committed to USC before Steve Sarkisian was dismissed. His father is a huge UCLA fan and he has taken recruiting trips to Mississippi, Washington and Oklahoma. Nick Saban was in his home this past week in Torrance, California.
Smart money says Juarez will end up at UCLA or Alabama. Scout.com just posted its final Top 150 of the West and Juarez was ranked No. 2 behind Georgia-bound quarterback Jacob Eason of Lake Stevens, Washington.
Unlike Juarez, Harris is in Provo to be on an “unofficial visit” to BYU. His interest in BYU is kind of a mystery. According to ESPN 960's Zac Hicken, Harris has been recruited by BYU's Steve Kaufusi since 2014 and he was at the 2014 BYU-Utah State game. The Alabama recruiter who got Harris to commit so early to Alabama is Tosh Lupoi, a former assistant at the University of California and Washington. His father, John Lupoi, played defensive tackle at BYU from 1967 to 1969. Perhaps John Lupoi got Harris and BYU together.
What does all this mean? Two 5-star recruits in Provo? Maybe nothing. Maybe something. Maybe it’s a sign BYU is leaving its “safe zone” and branching out, that talent, plus effort, is actually a great mix.
New BYU head coach Kalani Sitake has only been on the job just over a month. Some of the first words he spoke when introduced to the media is that he would make recruiting a priority. A few days later, members of his new staff proclaimed they’d be going after top players in the country and they didn’t care who else was involved.
This weekend is the final days college programs can host prospects on campus before the Feb. 3 signing day.
Lists that have circulated on social media indicate high school players who have committed to several Pac-12 schools will be in Provo, mingling with Juarez and others who are committed to signing with BYU.
One of those prospects is Brighton High’s Semi Fehoko, a 4-star receiver who is committed to Stanford. His trip comes just days after Sitake’s staff got a commitment from his best friend, Jackson Kaufusi, a teammate at Brighton.
This reach, even though a late push, will be interesting to watch as Sitake finishes a recruiting class in which he came aboard at the midnight hour.
Perhaps some of this reach, if not productive, is for the benefit of getting in doors in the future, making approaches to siblings, cousins and friends. Or, it could just be placing of a foot in the ring where some alpha dogs have already marked their territory.
Sitake, it appears, is making good on his promise.
He’s making recruiting his highest priority. It just isn’t part of the job description, a task to be marked off.
“Kalani is scary,” VIP Recruits director Will Snowden told sports radio 1280 AM the Zone on Friday.
Yes, it appears he is.
This new energy in Provo will be intriguing to monitor in months to come. Heck, it’s already made Feb. 3 a far more interesting day than it was before the Las Vegas Bowl in December when Juarez was hanging around Sam Boyd Stadium and buffets.
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