Casting a wider net.
That looks to be the theme of the 2014 recruiting class that BYU coach Bronco Mendenhall will announce Wednesday afternoon.
It's a move in the right direction, if this independent things is going to run its course and the Cougars continue to schedule Big Ten, Big 12 and Pac-12 schools — among other opponents — and play most of them on the road.
BYU's decison to cast a wider net was evident by the commitment of Hoover, Ala., defensive end Jaterrius Gulley during his on-campus visit last weekend. It shows in the focus. Utahns Kavika Fonua, a safety at Syracuse who was the MVP of an Oregon Nike camp, Pleasant Grove defensive end Zac Davis and Brighton linebacker Isaiah Kaufusi are expected to take up announced scholarships with a narrow Utah focus.
Players expect former Oregon wide receiver Devon Blackmon, who played junior college ball at Riverside (Calif.) this past year, to choose BYU. He has not made an official announcement between Fresno State, Utah and BYU.
Historically, it’s been kind of a cyclic thing for this school. At times, depending on who the recruiters are and their marching orders, the net has been wider. When there’s been player trouble with BYU's Honor Code, the net gets pulled in a little, reducing risks and chances of embarrassing headlines. Then, when rosters full of local kids begin to struggle to compete, the net gets wider again.
One of the most drastic moves in recent history came in 2004 when then coach Gary Crowton tried to cast a very wide recruiting net in Texas and California, attempting to get players who would be on campus for four or five straight years to help with chemistry and continuity. Those are code words for non-LDS recruits. The move blew up in his face and cost him his job after freshmen got in trouble just hours upon arriving in town before two-a-days.
The recruiting plank a BYU coach walks is very tenuous.
Because of the policy change in missionary age for members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, which has created a situation in which more Mormon recruits who sign with the Cougars will leave sooner than usual, these times may produce the most interesting recruiting moves for BYU under any coach ever in piecing together the recruiting spreadsheet, projecting five to seven years.
“We’re going farther, and to different areas,” is how Mendenhall put it last week when talking to reporters.
And this toss isn’t without immediate challenges. Mendenhall’s staff has admitted they’ve encountered some negative recruiting. Opposing coaches, protecting their territory, have attacked BYU and its sponsoring church.
Negative recruiting is part of the business. That BYU got some thrown its way might be a good thing. A new staff recruiter like Guy Holliday, who has been Mendenhall’s key off-campus net dragger this past year, is now far more wise about what he’s facing and can better prepare players he commits.
After coaching at Texas Tech and Arizona, Robert Anae is a longtime BYU blood guy now back in Mendenhall’s offices and knows the narrow net just won’t get it done.
He knows the importance of trying to recruit qualified non-LDS athletes who project to fit with BYU requirements. He was there when Cody Hoffman arrived and left. He knows the success list is long, including “outside-the-net” players like Curtis Brown, Ty Detmer, Derwin Gray, Matt and Mark Bellini, Moe Elewonibi, Jamal Willis, Brian Billick, Steve Sarkisian and Tom Holmoe — just to mention a few.
BYU should never shrink from the wide net challenge.
I don’t expect BYU recruiters to make regular trips to Compton and Oakland, but they shouldn’t shrink the car rental mileage to avoid going there for prospects. Holliday knows Houston is loaded with talent that would fit the BYU scene.
The hire of on-campus recruiting coordinator Geoff Martzen more than a year ago was a smart move. Mendenhall is piggybacking his knowledge and background of how things work at Alabama and Fresno State.
Bottom line, the wider net thing in this class and in months to come is a big deal for Mendenhall.
It’s a move that couldn’t come quick enough as an independent and should not detract from the core.
Dick Harmon, Deseret News sports columnist, can be found on Twitter as Harmonwrites and can be contacted at [email protected].