Just how unprecedented is it for BYU football to have 21 recruits committed to sign by mid-July? The February 2007 national letter-of-intent signing date remains nearly seven months away.

Well, it's never been done before. Unmapped territory for the Cougars.

Chris Pella, the former Utah State head football coach who worked as recruiting coordinator for LaVell Edwards in the 1990s, says it's a risky business to get recruits on board early, but BYU football was moving in that direction at the end of 2000 when Edwards retired.

"The SEC has always gone after commitments early," Pella said. "It's just what they've done in that highly competitive league over the years. Penn State started doing it the past decade. We started getting six or eight through the summer after our camps when we'd have a chance to see recruits."

The 21 oral commits to the Cougars is one shy of the University of Texas, according to Scout.com, an Internet recruiting service. BYU had 11 on June 16 and added 10 more within 24 days.

Of course, commitments are relative. They are not binding until a letter of intent is signed, and the earliest that can happen with high school football players is February. And, it goes without saying, there are recruits, then there are recruits.

The 21 commits is seven times as many as all the teams in the WAC at this stage, three times more than the remainder of the MWC combined. It is more than Nebraska and Oklahoma combined (13). It is more than Alabama and Tennessee added together (19) and Georgia and Florida combined (18). Miami has seven, Clemson 10 and Boston College nine. Both Oregon and USC lead the Pac-10 with eight commitments each, according to lists on Scout.com.

In the MWC, New Mexico has three commits and TCU two, according to the Internet.

Ty Detmer committed to BYU in July of 1986, the summer before he played his senior year. Although he committed to BYU recruiter Claude Bassett, Edwards upheld the pledge when Detmer visited the campus during a summer camp.

Norm Chow, however, warned that Detmer's commitment wasn't binding, and without a signature, it meant nothing. He was right, but both parties kept their word.

When Edwards saw Detmer's size, he wondered what he'd done, but the Texan from San Antonio was the Texas player of the year, an honor given annually by the Amarillo Chamber of Commerce. Four years later, Detmer was MVP of the Freedom Bowl and had won the Heisman Trophy.

The risk in taking recruits early comes if they can't handle it, according to Pella. With these 21 recruits, there is another risk — many will serve LDS missions right out of high school, and right now that number has not been nailed down and likely won't be until winter.

Said Pella: "Once a scholarship is secured, some kids slack off as seniors, try to not get hurt, play tentatively or don't work hard because they've got a scholarship. It's kind of like spring football practice with seniors; sometimes they don't work as hard because they feel they don't have to."

As a recruiter, you can second-guess yourself when you have a player go through a lackluster senior season or mentally take time off in the classroom. But most kids aren't that way.

Pella said BYU's operation takes time. Evidently, Bronco Mendenhall has speeded up a process that has criteria deemed more strict than a decade ago. These days, the Internet has helped recruiters; so has exposure to players at camps.

"It was tough for us to get academics and character and skill level evaluated this early, but the summer camps helped," Pella said. "There is the risk that if you don't get on a kid early, you may lose him. And guys that say if you don't offer them early, they'll go elsewhere and you get caught in the swinging door."

At this stage, nothing is in writing, for either the school or the recruit.

Said Pella: "Even big-name schools have come back on kids after commitments and reneged after players didn't have a great senior year or were injured. Recruits change their minds and de-commit. But on our end, LaVell's word was considered solid."

But back to BYU's 21 commits as of today. It could be 22 or 23 by August. The total number to sign could be anywhere from 23 to 28 by January, depending on knowledge of mission plans.

Again, as it should be argued, there are recruits, then there are recruits.

Any staff could commit 21 right now — but the question that cannot be answered until about the sophomore year is how good are these guys? A month ago, when he had more than a dozen committed, Mendenhall answered the question of early recruiting by keeping his plan simple. He has a criteria and a product to sell. If a recruit meets the criteria and likes the product, why wait?

It does make for a less-complicated fall and winter for recruiters.

BYU oral commitments for 2007

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.; J.J. Diluigi, RB, Canyon Country, Calif.; Braden Brown, TE, Highland High; Kaneakua Friel, TE, Honolulu; Eathyn Manumaleuna, OL, Timpview HS; Aveni Lueng Wei, LB, Grossmont JC; Star Lotulelei, DE, Bingham HS; Jordan Smith, WR, Spanish Fork; Brannon Brooks, DB, Elk Grove, Calif.; Gary Nagy, DB, Kahuku, Hawaii; Tyler Beck, LB, Vista Murrieta, Calif. — Scout.com

E-mail: dharmon@desnews.com