PROVO — Among the most frequently asked questions BYU coaches fielded during the Cougars' national media day last month dealt with recruiting.
As in, how has independence impacted recruiting?
"Quite significantly," said offensive coordinator Brandon Doman.
This summer has seen BYU receive verbal commitments from a handful of highly touted non-LDS athletes, including linebacker Bobby Wolford, who hails from Jacksonville, Fla., and California running back Jamaal Williams.
"I don't know that the amount of LDS to non-LDS kids we will sign will change significantly," Doman explained. "But the pool of non-LDS kids who are looking for a faith-based institution with high academics has increased significantly for us."
Since going independent and signing an eight-year deal with ESPN, BYU appears to be more appealing to athletes who aren't LDS.
Another factor, ironically, may have to do with the widely publicized suspension of basketball player Brandon Davies, who missed the final month of the season due to an honor code violation.
News of the suspension shined a bright light on the honor code and the standards at BYU.
"The moment the Brandon Davies thing hit the media, one of our associate athletic directors received a check from a woman who was not a member of the LDS faith, but saw the integrity being upheld and said she wanted to support this," Doman said. "From that moment on, we've been receiving phone calls from moms and dads saying they wanted us to recruit their son because they want him in that environment. The volume of that hasn't been like that prior to this year."
BYU coach Bronco Mendenhall said that non-LDS athletes from around the country, who share the school's values, are indeed putting the Cougars on their lists of potential destinations.
"They're socially conservative. They don't drink, they don't smoke, they're not partiers," Mendenhall said. "They have strong Christian values, but maybe didn't view BYU in terms of football status as Ohio State or as a top 10 program, even though we've been consistently ranked very high. What's happened is they've become more intrigued. That's been an unintended byproduct.
"With the Brandon Davies story in basketball, it's been interesting to see how well-educated they are (about BYU) already. They are seeking us because of that story. They want those standards for their kids. It's helpful because they're not questioning, asking why (does BYU) have (those standards). They've already identified 'that's how we live, that's how we want our son to be raised.'"
While this development has broadened BYU's recruiting reach, "I think it's slowed us down a little bit in the amount of offers we were giving early to making sure we identify at least the quantity of kids we need to identify," Doman said. "And it puts an onus on us to get those kids to (a BYU) camp. We have not offered a scholarship unless he's been on campus for a camp. We tell them, 'You have to come to campus and see it first to make sure it's a fit before we offer you.' Those kids that did that and we offered, and I believe all have committed. And they're talented, good football players."
This doesn't necessarily mean the quantity of non-LDS athletes dotting BYU's roster will increase dramatically.
"Currently we have seven non-members and we've had as many as 15," Mendenhall said. "That's where it's going to stay. But I think the quality of (non-LDS) kids in terms of their ability level, maybe that's what I'm seeing that's a little bit different."
BOOSTERS BEWARE: In the aftermath of the Ohio State scandal last spring that resulted in the resignation of coach Jim Tressel, Mendenhall is being even more vigilant when it comes to monitoring his players' associations with boosters.
Recently, Mendenhall warned his players to be careful in this area.
"To say I know what they're doing, I don't know what they're doing. If (a player) sold his New Mexico Bowl football, I would have no idea," Mendenhall said. "We have rabid and passionate fans here that want access to our players. They want them to have them to dinner, they want them on their speed dial, they want to text them. They want to do all that.
"It drives me crazy. I don't understand it. I appreciate the interest, but I don't understand it. There's a huge push right now from myself as the head coach to educate and target those that might not be compliant and make them."
Mendenhall said he knows Tressel very well. "I actually visited his program because I thought his program was run at such a high level."
The coach added that this problem with boosters is widespread.
"To say anyone in the country doesn't have a similar issue, I think we all have it. I'm doing everything I know how to try to help those who think they're helping realize they're hurting."
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