Kalani Sitake’s vision of bringing the best football recruits possible to BYU may originate from a worldwide perspective, but the sample size of prospects still remains small and extremely targeted, and the requirements for admission are getting tougher.
But he still has the charm, according to assistant head coach Ed Lamb, who sees it up close.
Starting this past week, Sitake began sending recruiters to respective territories from coast to coast and the islands of the South Pacific.
Utah head coach Kyle Whittingham has been the beneficiary of Sitake’s recruiting at Utah and told ESPN 960 this past week that, as a school, BYU’s greatest competitive advantage is getting prospects who “want to go to BYU no matter what.”
In Sitake and quarterback coach Aaron Roderick, BYU has inherited two very good recruiters from rival Utah. How can BYU best use them?
It’s not as complicated as one might think because the recruiting universe is whittled down significantly, said Lamb.
For instance, BYU had a Junior Day last weekend, and those who came were mostly prospects who’d been on campus most of their lives. Coaches were very familiar with them and their parents, and many knew BYU football history by heart.
Almost two months ago, BYU released recruiting coordinator Tevita Ofahengaue and has yet to replace him. Lamb said unlike other schools, that position may morph more into a technology, social media expert because there is significant “recruiting” experience on Sitake’s staff. A “hoarder” of recruiting targets isn’t necessary.
“We do not cast a wide net here in comparison with other schools. We have a different dynamic. First, there are the returning missionaries and second, there are a number of walk-ons who have stepped up and are deserving of scholarships. That impacts our numbers,” Lamb said.
Pointing to a wall in the football office lobby where names of 2018 signees are featured, Lamb said he can point to guys there who didn’t “take much salesmanship” to sign.
“They grew up as Cougar fans and were just waiting for the offer.”
At most Pac-12 schools, Lamb said, a recruiting coordinator may start with 10,000 prospects and narrow it down to 700 or 800. At BYU, a recruiting year doesn’t even start at 700. “It’s a much lower number.”
Said Lamb, “I believe it’s a higher trust factor we have to establish with the player and the parent. It’s a deeper and more deliberate decision a recruit has to make, and in that way it’s more work to do but less work in terms of the actual number.”
Lamb admitted the 2017 four-win season had an impact on some recruits who decided to go elsewhere on signing day, but there were other highly regarded athletes whom the Cougars did not want in the end.
Lamb said Sitake often may not get credit for recruits he got to come to BYU including running back Zach Katoa, linebacker Chris Folau, quarterback Zach Wilson and one of BYU’s most dominating defensive linemen sophomore Khyiris Tonga.
Knowing some fans like to count recruit star rankings and judge, Lamb said the ultimate judgment is wins.
“Our fans are only looking for victories on the field, and that is the end result of recruiting,” he said.
Lamb explains a Sitake recruiting strength that doesn’t show up in signing day ratings, a factor he proved at Utah and will do so at BYU. It is something he has experienced.
“If I started to reel off names of kids that have accomplished the most in the sport that I’ve recruited, nobody else recruited them," he said. "They aren’t guys who would be exciting to fans until they’ve moved on to the NFL. Kalani has that same kind of experience. Many of the guys he brought into Utah were under the radar or developed from walk-ons or guys he switched into other positions.”
Sitake is known for switching player positions and finding success, guys like Trevor Reilly, Paul Kruger and Harvey Langi.
He also turned walk-ons into all-conference players, including Christian Cox and Mike Wright, who came from SUU.
“His relations inside the business, his reputation, is more about the guys he has developed, as much as recruited," Lamb said. "He has found diamonds in the rough, guys he has taken from among walk-ons, moved to other positions and has had an eye for it.”
Those players have moved on to become NFL prospects for the Utes.
“Really that is more about development. The thing that usually makes a strong player developer is that he can develop trust," Lamb said. "The reputation Kalani does have as a recruiter is the fact he can walk into a room with a group of coaches and he’s the one the players feel the most comfortable with. Pretty soon they’re all gathered around him.
“He still has that magic, but that doesn’t win games, and those aren’t always the guys we’re after. If anything, there is a history here at BYU of highly ranked recruits coming in and not living up to expectations," he said. "This is a really tough place for a guy who really feels entitled, or that BYU owes him something for being here. This is a place where if you are a highly recruited player and you choose BYU, your gratitude is not going to come from your opportunity at BYU, it is going to come from your environment at BYU. We are keeping a close eye on that. It just has to be about wins.”
Indeed, wins absolutely solve most debates in coaching and recruiting.
Sitake circa 2018 is about getting more wins. And recruiting with proper development has to be the answer.