PROVO — How will Utah, BYU and Utah State protect the state's high school talent from outside invaders from the SEC, Pac-12, Big 12 and other Power 5 conferences?
It’s a growing trend. It was so in 2017 and on Wednesday we saw more of it during National Signing Day.
East High offensive lineman Junior Angilau signed with Texas and teammate Sam Taimani with Washington. Olympus defensive end and one-time BYU commit Cameron Latu is headed to Alabama. Washington State plucked record-setting Lehi quarterback Cammon Cooper, and Desert Hills offensive lineman Penei Sewell, one of Utah’s top-ranked players, signed with Oregon.
Last year Stanford signed Ridgeline defensive back Levani Damuni and Brighton's Sione Lund (although in November Lund announced he was transferring to Utah), while USC lifted Utah’s No. 1 prospect Jay Tufele of Bingham along with Layton’s Tayler Katoa.
“It is a challenge and credit to the high school coaches and players in Utah,” said BYU assistant head coach Ed Lamb. “Per capita, this is a very productive state and players have gone on from here to great careers in college and the pros.”
Lamb, however, has a different mindset about what the USU, Utah and BYU coaching staffs should do about it.
“There are a lot of players in this state who are being overlooked and there are plenty to go around for Utah, Utah State, BYU, all quality programs who develop very good players. Even Weber State and SUU can tap into qualified players, and do.”
Lamb said Utah is producing a “special character quality” that enables players to make it outside the state.
“In no way is that intimidating to us to have recruiters come inside this state and recruit Utah players. If anything, it is a great opportunity for them to chase dreams in other places. That’s a good thing for them and good for college football.”
Lamb said there are plenty of Utah high school players that can stay at home and still become nationally relevant.
Lamb, who has coached at the University of San Diego with Jim Harbaugh and was the head coach at Southern Utah, has had plenty of experience finding talent others have overlooked, many from Utah.
So has Cougar defensive coordinator Ilaisa Tuiaki, who has coached at Utah and Utah State. While at SUU, Lamb put seven players in the NFL, albeit most were not native Utahns.
“There was a time a decade ago when I first got into coaching when in-state kids stayed in-state and those schools were their priorities,” said Tuiaki.
But with the advent of social media platforms like Twitter, many Utah high school players are no longer a secret.
“It’s difficult, recruiting against others outside the state, but kids are going to go where they feel comfortable," he said. "Some leave and do a great job and others leave and it doesn’t pan out. Now you really are competing against a different sales pitch.”
Tuiaki cannot say with certainty that Utah is producing more Division I talent than a decade ago because he believes the state has consistently produced very good players — they’re just receiving more attention.
“There are kids who were getting under-recruited then and are under-recruited now and there are some that are getting over-recruited. The way things go now with social media, things are getting blown up and you just say, ‘Wow, really?’”
Said Tuiaki, “I remember my first year at Utah State we got a lot of in-state kids as walk-ons and many of them worked hard, panned out and went on to play in the NFL. It is not an exact science by any means and to tell you the truth I can’t say 10 years ago we had any more than we have now.”
Should Utah schools move toward a protectionist defense of its talent?
Lamb and Tuiaki say it is not the time to panic. Just feed off more of what the Beehive State has to offer because house by house, school by school in the boundaries of the state, there are future stars to be harvested.