For the second summer in a row, BYU football coach Bronco Mendenhall has sold almost half his football scholarships for the upcoming recruiting class, still eight months from the close date in February.
It's a strategy Mendenhall believes fits his model and criteria as BYU's second-year coach and his mandate as Cougar mentor.
To date, BYU has 11 recruits who have pledged to sign letters of intent. Two are junior college linemen Magnum Mauga, a 6-foot, 270-pound utility defender from Grossmont Community College in San Diego, and Eastern Arizona offensive lineman Levi Mack. Both committed to the Cougars after official visits this past week.
Come February 2007, BYU expects to sign fewer than 25 players, a number in the "low 20s."
To offer and receive pledges so early is a debatable strategy. It has its benefits and drawbacks. But for Mendenhall, getting out on the front end of recruiting work is something he sees BYU must do.The positives:
Conventional recruiting wisdom says if you don't offer a recruit early, someone else will beat you to it and it is difficult to get a prospect to de-commit once he has made a decision.
If you know what your needs are and who you are after, why not pull the trigger now?
Early commitments can create recruiting momentum, establish a social-type domino action among prospects, especially when a highly regarded QB commits and other receivers and backs want to join in.
Can the football staff really tell enough about a recruit as a sophomore or junior in high school to know if he can play Division I football?
What if the prospect commits and then is injured with a season-ending ACL operation? Does the school stick by its commitment and accept damaged goods, or wiggle out of the deal?
If you commit a player to one position and you are only giving out one spot there, what if a far more attractive athlete comes along and declares his interest?
At BYU, those issues may be a little different. While some Mountain West Conference schools try and wait out Pac 10 recruits, to see what bones get tossed their way, BYU's selective process with an ecclesiastical endorsement restricts the pool. Since they can filter through athletes who they believe will fit the environment and honor code, they can load up early almost have to if evaluations, including physical skill level, fit.
To date, the Cougars have received commitments from Utah juniors in Bingham safety Jordan Pendleton, North Sanpete linebacker Austen Jorgensen, Jordan wide receiver Scott Ebert, and Kennewick, Wash., quarterback Jason Munns, among others.
This core of players are stock BYU would have recruited in September and October and offered January visits to any other year for the past three decades. Mendenhall has apparently decided to close the deals before most summer vacations rather than wait until Halloween or Thanksgiving.
Will it pay off? Who knows.
It does provide momentum and interest.
Coaches are restricted by the NCAA from speaking publicly about specific recruits. BYU recruiting coordinator Paul Tidwell didn't feel comfortable speaking about this year's number of offers on the table.
"But it is more than we had out at this time last year," Tidwell said.
"I think it is very simple," Mendenhall said Monday. "At BYU, we're looking for very specific athletes and very specific requirements. And with those screening measures, it enables us to identify prospects early, recruit them and offer. Once we find them, we believe it's in our best interests to act right away."
Mendenhall said he leaves timing of the recruit event up to the athlete. That it comes early is a bonus.
One of the tools Mendenhall has turned to is a junior day, where prospects and their parents can come on campus at their own expense and receive information. In his first year, Mendenhall had about 83 athletes. This past month, the number increased to around 105.
Another event is official summer football camps on campus.
"It's been one of the most affective tools (junior day) we've had in terms of assessing and getting an early evaluation, and it really works both ways we have a chance to see the interest level early, and if they can come from out of state, from Nevada, Texas, Alaska, California or whereever, it shows us their interest. It speaks volumes about our program and gives us a chance to evaluate them against their peers men with the same age, same aspirations and the same goals. I think it's been very effective in terms of the classes we are signing."
Tidwell echoed his boss: "We speak about it and we believe in the strategy as a staff. If the kid is someone we'd take later in the fall, why not get it done. And by the offers some of the guys are getting from other schools, it appears to give our evaluation some backing."
Mendenhall said the quality of the athlete and the increased numbers, especially "true" prospects, were better this past month than a year ago for junior day.
So, to commit or not to commit before the Fourth of July?
Mendenhall apparently believes in the hair trigger right now.And so far, he likes work on the front end.
Published BYU Commitments
Magnum Mauga, DL, Grossmont JC
Levi Mack, OL, Eastern Arizona JC
Jordan Pendleton, DB, Bingham HS
Austen Jorgensen, LB, North Sanpete HS
Scott Ebert, WR, Jordan HS
Manaaki Vaital, OL, Euless, Texas
Marcus Mathews, WR, Beaverton, Ore.
Ryan Kessman, WR, San Jacinto, Calif.
Jason Munns, QB, Kennewick, Wash.
Steve Thomas, DB, Chino Hills, Calif.David Angilau, DT, Longmont, Colo.