PROVO — Recruiting is tough, challenging and sometimes a little humiliating for grown men as they chase down and impress teenage recruits. Then there’s Kalani Sitake, who has to make sure the fit is just right — sometimes above everything else.
One year after his team won just four games, he’s spent significant time with both recruits and roster players to make sure they are capable of staying aligned with the mission of the university. And still win.
Sitake knows far more about the layers of this challenge today than he did three years ago or when he played in the late '90s in Provo. In fact, behind the scenes, folks say he is grinding hard sorting out details peculiar to this job.
Sounds like a lot of gibberish? Don’t all schools require certain standards, goals and compliance both in academics and behavior?
But not at the same intensity. From facial hair restrictions to policing dating intimacy, it’s a whole different world in Provo. And that, in large part, is why opponents revel so much when there are those who fail to live up to the standard.
As the NCAA’s National Letter of Intent Day looms, Sitake has cycled through enough players that his approach is more fine-tuned and refined than even a year ago. As his offensive coordinator Jeff Grimes told BYUtv Monday, “Sometimes the fit can be more important than a position need.”
During the past 36 months, Sitake has learned what Bronco Mendenhall learned before him — that discipline off the field directly impacts performance on the field. And he’s elevated accountability. In a series of intense meetings with players, he’s bemoaned shortcomings and demanded correction.
The following examples shared were confirmed by two separate people who had knowledge of the events.
In November, after a 21-16 loss at Boise State, Sitake called in every player who had served a two-year mission for The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints and asked that they elevate themselves as an example to teammates.
He was specific about language and the type of music that was played around team functions. In what was described as a passionate plea, he personalized it. He told the group that he would never have gone on his own missionary service to Oakland, California, but for the encouragement of his teammates.
Sitake asked those present to be a greater influence on teammates who were considering missionary service. Immediately, swearing subsided, music choices improved, BYU finished 3-1 with the only loss an emotional nail-biter at Utah. Soon after, freshman tight end Dallin Holker, a key cog for 2019, announced his plans to serve a mission.
At the beginning of this winter semester, Sitake called a team meeting and praised the team for its compliance with the school’s honor code the past season. He then called out players for lax performances in the classroom and said it was unacceptable, and if there wasn’t an improvement, scholarships were in jeopardy.
That edict wasn’t just for the strugglers and stragglers, but for bookworms, too.
Sitake challenged the elite academic thoroughbreds on the team whose school work and studies come easily to look out for those who may be having a hard time. He said those with 3.98 or 4.0 GPAs should encourage and help those with 1.9s. That is what teammates should do, he reportedly said: tutor, push along and give guidance so we can get better as a team.
Sitake has also accepted that some players who have proven a distraction can derail team discipline, and separation isn't just an option but a necessity. He can't be everybody's best buddy.20 comments on this story
So, as Wednesday’s annual signing day approaches in Provo, there is a great emphasis on measurables like size, speed, highlight videos, accolades and star ratings.
But for Sitake, he has to be on the lookout for much more. Part of his plan is to line up a small army of preferred walk-on prospects who may not be announced as signees during press conferences, but will become a key part of his roster as he finds overachievers who are motivated to challenge those who do enjoy scholarships.
There are recruits. Then there are recruits.