Cougar Nation: BYU football looking unusually deep at defensive back

Published: Monday, May 9 2011 5:00 p.m. MDT

Matt Hadley was the first commit of 2012, getting the defensive back recruiting for this year off to a good start. (Matt Hadley family) Matt Hadley was the first commit of 2012, getting the defensive back recruiting for this year off to a good start. (Matt Hadley family)

Lately, BYU has fared well in recruiting defensive backs.

Last year, the secondary produced some its best play in quite some time, and the Cougars will look to follow it up with a group of player two-deep who are all coming off of very strong performances this past spring.

“You never know for sure until they play, but I’ve really been encouraged by the play of our secondary this spring,” said head coach and defensive coordinator Bronco Mendenhall. “We have a lot of potential to be very deep at the cornerback position, in particular.”

Corby Eason, a 5-foot-8, 172-pound senior, leads a group that includes such spring standouts as junior Robbie Buckner (5-10, 176), junior Preston Hadley (6-0, 200) and DeQuan Everett (6-3, 200).

At safety, BYU returns senior starter Travis Uale (6-2, 197), who was pushed hard by junior Mike Hague (5-10, 190) at free safety. At strong safety, sophomore Daniel Sorensen (6-2, 200) and sophomore Jray Galea'i (6-0, 179) will continue to compete for the starting spot into fall camp.

Austin Lee looks to be one of the top in-state defensive back prospects for 2012. (Austin Lee family) Austin Lee looks to be one of the top in-state defensive back prospects for 2012. (Austin Lee family)

With just two graduating seniors in the secondary, fans shouldn't expect many signees at defensive back in 2012. There are some spots left to fill, however, as coaches have secured two defensive back commits already, and might commit some more before the 2012 NLI day.

Cornerback recruiting

The cornerback position is typically the most difficult position for BYU to recruit. While safety prospects commit and sign early, very few cornerback prospects follow suit. So, BYU will mine the JC ranks for cornerbacks.

Eight of the 18 cornerback prospects BYU signed in Mendenhall’s first full-recruiting year in 2006 came from the JC ranks. Five of the 10 coming from the prep ranks were signed in 2007 and 2008, and four - G Pittman, Gary Nagy, Brannon Brooks and Garrett Nicholson - left school long before they were able to make contributions on the field.

When prep players don’t develop or complete their eligibility, BYU is forced to look to the JC ranks. The Cougars subsequently signed three JC cornerbacks in 2009 as a stop-gap measure to make up for the talent signed and lost from 2007 and 2008 recruiting classes.

Since 2009, the coaching staff hasn’t scrambled for immediate help at cornerback, and subsequently, they went back to the high school ranks and signed two cornerback prospects in Jordan Johnson and Kori Gaines.

Johnson appears to be a lock to break the two-deep roster this coming season in only his redshirt freshman year. In spring, Mendenhall described the battle between Johnson and Buckner for the field corner spot as being, “neck and neck.”

Gaines, meanwhile, is currently on indefinite suspension. He was a member of the scout team in his first year.

In 2011, coaches went back to the JC ranks and landed Hadley from Snow College and Joe Sampson from Foothill JC. They are expected to be immediate contributors this coming season.

Hadley saw every rep in the spring with the first-team defense at the boundary corner position and looks to play a major role within the defense this coming season. Sampson, meanwhile, is set to join the team later this month and compete for a spot at either corner or at safety this coming year.

As a means of explanation, the boundary corner covers the short-side of the field and is typically filled by a bigger-type player that is a strong tackler. The field corner covers the long-side of the field, covering more space than the boundary, and is typically filled by the defender who is best in man-to-man coverage.

With just one graduating senior don't expect the Cougars to sign many cornerbacks in 2012. However, if the Cougars plan to sign someone it most likely won't be made known until after summer camps.

Safety Recruiting

Safety recruiting differs from cornerback recruiting. Coaches are often able to fill both safety spots from the prep ranks. For this coming recruiting year, coaches are off to a good start in securing commits from both Matt Hadley (5-11, 190) from Connell, Wash., and from Alta High’s Rhett Sandlin (6-3, 195).

Hadley is the younger brother of current Cougar linebacker, Spencer Hadley. Like his older brother, Matt Hadley plays at a variety of positions for his high school team, but aims to contribute at safety when he gets to BYU.

He rushed for 2,399 yards and 47 touchdowns last season at running back. He also played strong safety. He was named as the Class 1A Player of the Year and named as a consensus first-team all-state performer.

“I love BYU and everything about BYU,” he said at the time of his commitment last June. “I love the coaching staff, the fact that I can play with my brother, the atmosphere, the school - I really love everything about it. It’s such an incredible honor for me to have the chance to be there and help out where I can.”

Hadley plans on playing one year before leaving on a mission.

With his overall physical talents, Sandlin draws comparisons to players such as Jordan Pendleton and Andrew Rich. He looks to play safety while at BYU, but like Pendleton, he may end up playing linebacker.

“I love BYU and I’ve always wanted to play there”, he said at the time of his commitment last October. “BYU is really the perfect place for me. They require that you live good and it will be the best place for me as a player and as a student.”

Like Matt Hadley, Sandlin plans on playing one year before leaving for a mission.

Other prospects

Although scholarships could be scarce in 2012, the coaching staff is constantly looking for the best talent.

They’ve identified two notable local prospects and have spent a lot of time recruiting both Austin Lee (6-0, 185), who is Sandlin’s teammate and good friend at Alta, and Micah Hannemann (6-1, 180) from Lone Peak High School. Hannemann is the younger brother of 2010 signee Jacob Hannemann, who is currently serving a mission.

Both players have been told by coaches at both the University of Utah and at BYU that they want to see each of them perform in their respective summer camps before offering. Both players are somewhat similar in that they have a lot of experience playing cornerback, although they’re both looked at as primarily safety prospects.

Lee has competed the past two years in the Elite Prep 7-on-7 tournament in Las Vegas, which always features the best prep players from the Western region. Lee played left corner for the team coached by Bingham’s Dave Peck this past year and was named as the top performer for Day 2 and as one of the Top 21 performers overall.

Hannemann has started since his sophomore year for Lone Peak and plays both sides of the football at wide receiver and corner. He had six interceptions a year ago, one of which he returned for a touchdown.

DB recruits since 2006

2006: Robbie Buckner, Ashdown, Arkansas, CB; Tico Pringle, Snow College, CB; Andre Saulsberry, Riverside CC, CB; Brandon Bradley, Tallahassee, Florida, CB

2007: Steven Thomas, Chino Hills, California, safety; Brannon Brooks, Elk Grove, California, CB; Gary Nagy, Kahuku, Hawaii, CB; G Pittman, Rancho Cucamonga, California, CB

2008: Cameron Comer, Springville, Utah, CB; Garrett Nicholson, Salt Lake City, Utah, CB; Shiloah Te'o, Kahuku, Hawaii, safety

2009: Craig Bills, Provo, Utah, safety; Trevor Bateman, Indio, California, CB; Lee Aguirre, Fullerton JC, CB; Brian Logan, Foothill JC, CB; Corby Eason, Erie JC, CB

2010: Jordan Johnson, North Andover, Massachusetts, CB; Kori Gaines, Loganville, Georgia, CB; Jacob Hannemann, Highland, Utah, safety; DeQuan Everett, Cerritos JC, CB

2011: Joe Sampson, Foothill JC, safety; Preston Hadley, Snow JC, CB

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