Recruiting specialists Brandon Gurney and Ryan McDonald take a look at how the BYU Cougars fared during December’s early signing period. Quarterback Jacob Conover was the prize catch, but what other players could be difference makers? What holes are left to fill? They’ll also explore who the Cougars’ FBS counterparts, the Utes and Aggies, locked up, and address what big-name players are still there for the signing.
Editor’s note: The following is a transcript of the episode. It's been edited for clarity.
Brandon Gurney: Coming up on this edition of the Cougar Insiders podcast we break down BYU's recruiting class, the December version, from top to bottom. Talking about these guys, who headlines the class, what were the misses, going to talk about it all coming up here on the Cougar Insiders podcast. This is Brandon Gurney from the Deseret News, I'm here with Ryan McDonald and we're here to talk about recruiting. A bunch of signees came in this past Wednesday and we're going to break it down. Utah, BYU, Utah State, and some of the other in-state kids.
Ryan McDonald: Absolutely. Signing day is always fun and now that we're out of it a couple of days it's good. It was a fun day and we'll break it down for you.
BG: So the biggest thing for BYU was Jacob Conover, the four-star quarterback. It's a very good look to sign a four-star quarterback, no matter what year. He's going on a church mission and all that but you got the-four star kid with a lot of offers. It's a really good look for BYU, where fans are kind of looking for what's the identity of BYU? Can we still get these kids? Getting a guy like Jacob Conover was a big thing in my mind. Just having that guy as the headliner. He's great, won another state championship this past year, really good starting position for BYU in what was otherwise a pretty meat and potatoes class.
You highlighted Utah got a lot of offensive linemen, BYU got a lot of offensive linemen. Just three-star guys, no four-star guys, just guys with not a lot of offers and that's kind of what recruiting has become. Especially for BYU. In the past, when I started recruiting, it was just like, oh this guy has four stars, that guy was recruited by this school and that school and BYU beat them. That doesn't happen anymore. BYU's just kind of taken a turn, I think necessarily so just because of independence and all that, but what ultimately determines how good a recruiting class is how well the kid plays in college. People forget about these offers the second they arrive on campus, so it's kind of harder to evaluate in that vein. But the biggest thing that happened to me for BYU's class this past Wednesday was signing Chase Roberts. Chase has been committed to BYU for a long time. Man, if it wasn't for Puka Nacua I might say Chase Roberts is the best skill position player I've seen in the state. A guy who had 15 catches in the state championship game, just a phenomenal talent. 6-foot-4, he's everything you'd want in a receiver. He's going to the All-American Bowl. I think he should be four stars. I think he'll probably be four stars when it's all said and done, but BYU signing him and locking him up. And he was looking around. He came on Twitter and posted, yeah, Utah with all the gear on and BYU fans freaked out. There was some uncertainty whether he was going to sign so I think BYU locking him up was a big thing.
And then kind of the recruit that I really like lot, just because I saw him so much this year, but having seen him so much, I understand how good this kid is. Michael Daley from Lone Peak. He's a defensive end, probably going to project as an outside linebacker at the next level. Man he just gets sacks after sacks after sacks. He's a problem for offenses. A guy with a really good head on his shoulders. Just a real BYU kid is how I would kind of describe him. He led a state champion run for Lone Peak, where Lone Peak kind of did it like they don't do in past years, where it was their defense that was really good and Michael Daley was absolutely the team leader there. So I think when we look back at this BYU class, I wouldn't be surprised if we look at Michael Daley as the guy. Even over guys like Jacob Conover and Chase Roberts. But other than those three, it's kind of just a meat and potatoes class.
A lot of offensive linemen. Blake Freeland, who's kind of a project from Herriman. I saw this kid play all sorts of positions, quarterback, and he was playing safety at one point, I believe he punts as well. He's probably going to project as an offensive lineman. So good talent there. Elijah Unutoa from Hawaii, Brock Gunderson, just a lot of offensive linemen. But what I really like that BYU's doing is they're still getting in good defensive back talent. I think that's one area that's kind of been upgraded. I really liked the young talent at defensive back at BYU, probably more so than anytime I've covered the program. They really have some good developing talent. Not even developing talent, these guys are playing this year and really put forth a good pass defense and they added to that with Eric Ellison, a kid from a junior college. They got a junior college guy. But when you look at the weakness in the class is is absolutely the inability to get in a running back. And they tried. They offered nine running backs, they didn't sign any of them. They were late in the process, they had the kid from Louisville, Aidan Robbins, who a lot of people were excited about but didn't end up getting him. I think that's a big miss for this BYU class because the program's in need of running back talent. Just look at the attrition rate. They had to switch a safety. So they need to get running back talent into the program. So that was the big miss but other than that, kind of a solid class. Not spectacular but having a guy like Jacob Conover and Chase Roberts is a big thing.
RM: Yeah, Utah. It's interesting. They had a small class, smaller class so far anyway, in general, and we'll get into it here in a bit. But it was small, a lot of people aren't super thrilled at this point. As far as the 247 Sports you know, those services who rank them all and they're ranked last in the Pac-12 right now. I think that's largely because it's a smaller class at this point. But then we'll talk about maybe Jayden Daniels here in a little bit, but people are kind of mixed about Utah right now but we'll see.
BG: So Utah signed eight guys. When you look at the guys they've signed, who are the notable guys? Just touch on some of the standouts of the eight guys they signed.
RM: There's a lot of offensive linemen. And maybe that's part of why people are less excited because there's not the big quarterbacks and running backs and that can maybe be a little bit boring right now. But of their eight, three are offensive linemen. One of them was a particular win for the Utes — Sataoa Laumea out of California. He was looking at UCLA and USC right to the very end and, if we're caring about stars, four-star kid and that was a win for them. Just beating out USC and UCLA and so I think right now he's probably kind of the one. There were some that have been committed for a long time but he was one who I think people think Utah won that recruiting battle.
BG: Who were some of the notable misses? If we could just start with Jayden Daniels, he's obviously the most notable one. How big of a miss was that for Utah
RM: I think big. For a couple different reasons. No. 1, rated the highest, the best dual-threat quarterback in the country. So anytime you swing for that type of player and don't get them that's going to be disappointing. But I think it was disappointing too, the fact that he went to the Pac-12. Arizona State, they came in late. So I think that's another part of the frustration is Utah has been recruiting him forever and ever. Arizona State came in the picture late and got him. Kyle Whittingham was pretty mad at his press conference on Wednesday about that. Another thing too, though, is they should be fine at quarterback for 2019 with Tyler Huntley and Jason Shelley. But after that, Tyler Huntley's gonna be gone and so then they have Jason Shelley and Drew Lisk, a former Jordan High quarterback is on scholarship. But I think they'll be looking for another quarterback in between now and February for sure. So from a couple different standpoints it was not great to lose on Jayden Daniels.
BG: As a guy who covers BYU recruiting primarily, BYU always struggles to get in really good defensive backs. Utah always seems to be able to get in good defensive backs, it's always notable to me just watching kind of from afar. Who are some those notable defensive backs that they brought in? Seems like they really do well getting good talent and developing that talent of that position.
RM: Yeah they did. There's one from Texas named Aaron Lowe. Especially from Texas, they have a long line of guys from Texas that turned into good defensive backs. Morgan Scalley does a really good job recruiting Texas defensive backs, that's his thing and so Aaron Lowe out of Texas, Lacarea Pleasant-Johnson out of Arizona, he supposed to be a good defensive back. They did miss out on one defensive back that they were excited about, Quandray Mosley. He ended up going to Kentucky. It was kind of Utah and Kentucky there at the end and he opted to go to Kentucky. But you're right, they do always seem to manage to find guys who end up being really good defensive backs.
BG: The one recruit I want to be really good for Utah is Falcon Kaumatule. I mean how awesome is that name? From Bishop Gorman, 6-foot-8, an athlete. Please be good.
RM: And I heard that he had some attention from USC late too. So that was another pretty good win, I think, for them. People are making up hashtags already like what are we gonna call this guy.
BG: Well great so what can we expect moving forward to the February signing date? Who are the targets? How many people do you believe Utah can get in?
RM: So there's quarterback. They did have a small senior class this last year, so that means that they're recruiting class is going to be on the smaller end just because there's scholarship limits and whatnot. So it's not going to be huge but they're probably going to get a quarterback. They might need one more running back, they've got some decent depth there but I think they might take one more. I think they're looking at one or two more defensive back spots and maybe one or two linebacker spots. Maybe six or seven more guys and then there are guys, locals like Puka Nacua, who's committed to USC right now but I think they'll keep pushing for him and if they can get him, they might not need a receiver per se, but anytime you can get a kid like him you're gonna take him and figure that out.
BG: Just watching from afar, what's kind of notable is there's no in-state kids signed yet. I believe those Bingham kids, I think Lolani Langi and Junior Tafuna are both gonna go to Utah but I believe Bingham's just waiting until February, they like to do their thing. Maybe that's the reason there and maybe we'll talk about that a little later, but man get some local guys. We got good in-state talent here. Maybe Logan Sagapolu — he's another kid who's still in play so we'll see how that goes.
RM: Yes. Sagapolu's looking at Utah, looking at BYU, back in the day before Utah went to the Pac-12 and BYU went independent, they would go after it with more guys and I think Sagapolu's really the only guy, this year anyway, Chase Roberts a little bit, he visited Utah before signing with BYU. But Sagapolu is one who both programs want.
BG: Yeah Sagapolu's an offensive lineman from Skyridge who could basically choose a school. He's been recruited by lot of people. Then Puka Nacua was our Mr. Football, for good reason. Definitely the best skill position player I've ever seen in this state. Just phenomenal, talent-wise, just incredible.
OK, let's move on and talk Utah State recruiting. We don't cover Utah State as in-depth, but some notable things coming out from that class. I think it's interesting with Gary Andersen and all that, I think maybe the main work for Utah State, and maybe Gary Andersen's influences, we'll see come February when he gets in there and identifies some guys. But what stands out to you about Utah State's class?
RM: Gary Andersen didn't say this as much, but I listened to Matt Wells' press conference at Texas Tech and and he said that it was just madness with the early signing period, getting hired, and he said it was just crazy. So I imagine it was was similar with Gary Andersen. I think that is a really hard thing with the early signing period is when there are new coaching hires I think that's really tough. They got a quarterback and I think they've had good luck and good development with Jordan Love. This kid from California, Josh Calvin, he's a similar build to Jordan Love and they're excited about him. There's a linebacker, Christian LaValle, who was committed to Arizona. He's a year older, but he was committed to Arizona State, had some injury issues, and so that kind of fell through. But now he's at Utah State. I think anytime a Mountain West program can get a kid who was pretty firm with a Pac-12 program I think that is a highlight. Sione Moa, local linebacker. He's Ben Moa's son. Ben Moa played at Utah, so I think that's highlight there.
BG: I like Jackson Owens too, an offensive lineman from East. East has always had pulverizing offensive lines in recent history, so getting in on that East action is never a bad thing. East didn't have a great year this past year but they're still pumping out talent. It's gonna be interesting to see what East is going to do. Two of the biggest recruits, probably the two biggest recruits in state are still in play. We're talking about Logan Sagapolu, who we kind of touched on before, and Puka Nacua. What what are you hearing about those guys?
RM: Publicly Puka is gonna say, I'm committed to USC. That's what I'm hearing right now and he visited USC that last weekend before signing. Maybe you've heard different things about about Puka Nacua than I have. Those Bingham kids, yeah, they're all going to sign together in February.
BG: Is Simote Pepa going to go to Utah?
RM: That's the lean. In a sense I think that's almost been a foregone conclusion as much as anything else.
BG: He doesn't like to talk about it, I know that.
RM: So I'll put it this way, I would be very surprised and shocked if he ended up somewhere else.
BG: Those would be three very good lands for Utah. Lolani Langi, linebacker, just exceptional. I mean, he's a Langi, that's kind of all you need to know. Junior Tafuna, very, very good. And Simote Pepa might be the best of all of them, playing defensive tackle. Bingham always has headline defensive tackles and Simote Pepa is as good as any of them.
As far as Puka, it's kind of interesting to me, in the summer he had a whole thing scheduled and he went to California and UCLA was kind of the favorite but he went to USC and that's it, I'm going here. He canceled his UCLA visit and that was it. Then you see USC struggled and all that, it's notable that he didn't sign. Why didn't he sign with USC. I mean that tells you a lot right there. What I've learned about these kids, having covered this a long time, their actions speak a lot more than their words. So the fact that he's out there, Utah might have a chance. I think an interesting dynamic with a Nacua family, their brothers are really competitive against one another and I don't think he wants to play with Sampson. I think he wants to play against Sampson, from what I know of the Nacua family. So maybe that will play out, maybe it won't. I've always thought Utah has a really good chance at Puka. I don't think BYU has much of a chance but I think Utah make some inroads and maybe Sampson, hey come on man. Just come and play here. That would be a huge thing for Utah. As I said, this kid is phenomenal. I've tried to compare him athletically to other players I've seen in the state and I just can't do it. The best athletic comparison I can think of is Frank Jackson, a guy who's now playing in the NBA, just because I believe he is that phenomenal athletically with what he can do. Whoever lands that kid, that's going to be a big thing. Logan Sagapolu, I do believe BYU is in play for Logan. I don't believe he'll ultimately sign with BYU, it would be a really really good get for them. Utah's absolutely in play. I've heard Oregon's the favorite. I don't know if you've been hearing that as well, but he's going to be really someone to watch. I get the sense that he really doesn't have any idea where to go at this point.
RM: Those are the three that I've heard as well. Utah, BYU and Oregon who are in play for him. It will be interesting. I think with Puka, coaching changes, anytime that happens it's going to be weird. I think maybe it was was an influx when Tee Martin got let go at USC. But they brought in Kliff Kingsbury and he had that air raid at Texas Tech and I think he's someone who kids like. That's what I hear, and so that's going to be interesting to see. That's a big hire, that's a big name hire their for the offensive coordinator at USC. So that'll be interesting to see if that sways Puka. You know if he was kind of wavering at all if that's maybe a clincher in any way.
BG: The other thing I want to touch on is the preferred walk-ons. BYU was able to — there's some pretty good preferred walk-ons still out there. You talking about guys like Braedon Wissler, and there's some guys that Skyridge has that I really think people could benefit getting these guys. I just think it's a real solid class and I see Utah State and Utah not really sign these periphery guys and even BYU. And I think maybe they're missing out. I'm very big on the in-state talent. I guess I'm a homer that way. I cover these guys a lot. I just think they missed out. I think the school that's going to clean up on that eventually is Weber State, because Weber State is very intent on picking up these guys. And you look at the success Weber State's had and I think it's because of the focus on in-state talent. And especially Utah State. I think that's going to be a change because I think Gary Andersen's more locked into the local scene. I think he believes in it more than Matt Wells. When you saw Gary Andersen leave you saw Matt Wells kind of completely go away from in-state recruiting, which I think was a mistake. So I think that's going to come back Utah State is going to be a real player in-state in the coming years just because of Gary Andersen's influence because Utah State's a rising program. So it's gonna be interesting to see how it pans out. A lot of good in-state talent, a lot of good stuff. Any final thoughts from you?
RM: I was just gonna say on Utah State, Gary Andersen went on the radio the other day and he did say that. And every coach is going to say that, I think when they get hired that's the thing. We're gonna recruit in-state. But I do think that is the case with Gary Andersen. I get that vibe with him. I will say also, you mentioned Braedon Wissler. Big bummer that he had the injury there at the very beginning of his senior year. I think he was due for big things that senior year and I think he's one of those kids who's going to do good things if he can be healthy and wherever he ends up I think he's going to do big thingsComment on this story
BG: Yeah Braedon Wissler, kind of the most apt comparison would be Britain Covey. You look at him and he's shockingly short. But man, he's more physical than Britain. He can actually run between the tackles and could probably defense at the next level. Although I project him as a slot receiver. But I think he's going to be a guy that any program that brings him in, they're going to be really lucky. He tore his ACL the first game of the year.
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