Recruiting classes accomplish at least two purposes: reloading after the departure of players who graduated or went to the NFL the year before, and stockpiling talent to develop for the future.
In the state of Utah, and particularly at BYU, this is a bigger challenge than at most other schools around the country because the majority of signees leave on two-year LDS missions before ever playing a down in college football.
As such, many of the players who will sign National Letters of Intent with the Cougars on Feb. 1 become an investment that won’t be cashed in on for at least two years, and it’s often as many as four or five before they make a real impact.
Nevertheless, here’s a look at how BYU’s signing class is shaping up for 2017 in relation to the needs the team will likely have come fall. It includes players who have transferred from other schools into the program during head coach Kalani Sitake’s first recruiting cycle at the helm, but does not include players who are expected to return from missions.
Positions are listed in the order the Cougars will likely end up having the most urgent needs.
Wide receiver: BYU loses its top three pass catchers from 2016 to graduation, Nick Kurtz, Colby Pearson and Mitch Juergens. At the moment, the Cougars have just one player committed for 2017 who plays wide receiver, California’s Keenan Ellis. Early enrollee Neal Pau’u, the younger brother of linebacker Butch Pau’u, could also end up at the position.
Safety: Star Kai Nacua is gone, as is Eric Takenaka. The Cougars have some solid prospects committed at the position in Lone Peak’s Ammon Hannemann, Bingham’s Tongi Langi and Tariq Buchanan of Texas. University of Utah transfer Austin Lee has also begun classes at the Provo school.
Defensive line: The line will take a hit with the graduations of Travis Tuiloma, Harvey Langi and Logan Taele. Oregon transfer Wayne Kirby will be looking to make a big impact, but it’s likely he won’t be eligible to play in 2017. Additionally, Lone Peak’s Preston Lewis, Payson’s Tyler Batty and Seleti Fevaleaki Jr. of California are committed to the program, but each will serve a mission out of high school.
Linebacker: Sae Tautu was a senior in 2016, as was the hybrid Langi. Olympus’ Ben Bywater is the only high schooler currently committed for 2017 at the position.
BYU has a number of players committed who will enter the program having primarily played positions that are currently of less need to the Cougars. Many of them will be serving missions soon, however, and therefore won’t be on campus for a few years.
Quarterback: Tanner Mangum will surely be the starter in 2017 after the departure of Taysom Hill, but the Cougars don’t have a ton of the depth after that, with Koy Detmer Jr. and Beau Hoge behind him. One returned missionary who is known to have enrolled in school is former Pine View star Kody Wilstead, but BYU doesn’t have any other prospects currently committed.
Running back: All the Cougars will have to do here in 2017 is replace the program’s career rushing leader, Jamaal Williams. BYU will be adding two players in this recruiting class who are looking to play running back, former East star Ula Tolutau and Lone Peak standout Jackson McChesney.
Tolutau, a former Wisconsin signee, joins the Cougars after serving a mission in California, while McChesney is expected to leave after high school.
Offensive line: BYU has plenty of returning power on the offensive line, but it’ll immediately add junior college transfer and former Oregon commit John Vaka, and high schooler Seth Willis is also committed.
Tight end: The tight end position is coming back to the Cougars. BYU wanted to bring it back in 2016, but got in the recruiting game late and had to piece things together.
The staff has made it a priority in recruiting during the 2017 cycle, as five players at the position are committed. Former East standout Joe Tukuafu is on campus, while Bentley Hanshaw, Donovan Hanna, Tanner Baker and Isaac Rex will serve missions out of high school.
Punter: Ryan Rehkow of Washington is committed to sign with the program and will join it after serving a mission. He will be in the mix for the starting spot in the post-Jonny Linehan era.