One of the country’s foremost experts on college football recruiting in the western United States has a message for BYU fans who are a bit concerned that their school’s pending move to the Big 12 has yet to produce the big bump in recruiting they were expecting.
Have some patience, says Brandon Huffman, national recruiting editor for 247sports.com.
“I think they’ve done a really nice job of getting quality over quantity. And I think they are (holding off on extending a ton of scholarship offers) because word is they are going to hit the transfer portal really, really hard.” — Brandon Huffman, 247sports.com
“I think you will see an upgrade in 2024 (next year) because then they will already be in the Big 12,” Huffman told the Deseret News Tuesday. “BYU is essentially a Big 12 member two weeks from now when the season ends, and that is when you will really start to see their Big 12 move pay off in the 2024 class and the ensuing classes.”
It’s not that Huffman is down on BYU’s 2023 signing class, which was ranked No. 67 in the country as of noon Tuesday.
“I think they’ve done a really nice job of getting quality over quantity,” he said. “And I think they are (holding off on extending a ton of scholarship offers) because word is they are going to hit the transfer portal really, really hard.”
Wednesday marks the beginning of the early signing period for the 2023 recruiting cycle. The period runs through Friday before a quiet period for the holidays. National Signing Day is set for Feb. 1, 2023. As they’ve done since the early signing period in December was instigated in 2017, the Cougars will sign the bulk of their class this week.
As of Tuesday afternoon, the Cougars had commitments from 14 high school players, one junior college player (Cerritos College cornerback Jayden Dunlap) and two transfer portal entrants — UNLV running back Aidan Robbins and Boise State kicker Will Ferrin, a Davis High product.
According to 247sports.com, the gem of Kalani Sitake’s eighth recruiting class since he arrived at BYU in 2016 is Jackson Bowers, a 6-foot-5, 225-pound tight end from Mesa, Arizona (Mountain View High), who is rated a four-star recruit by 247sports.com.
“We are really high on Bowers,” Huffman said. “Probably higher than some others (recruiting sites) in our industry. He can really play. He’s got all the tools.”
Thirteen of BYU’s commits have been given three stars by Huffman’s group, and of those some of the bigger gets for Sitake, according to Huffman, are Timpview edge rusher Siale Esera (6-3, 250); Fort Collins, Colo., offensive lineman Ethan Thomason (6-8, 315); and Josiah Phillips, a wide receiver from Chatsworth, California (Sierra Canyon High).
“Siala Esera is a big pickup for them, and I’m really excited about Josiah Phillips, too,” Huffman said. “Josiah Phillips is a high-level kid out of a great program with a lot of Power Five recruits on it. … It is easy to get lost in the shuffle there. He’s a kid that, had he played a junior year of football, might have had some bigger options out of the Pac-12.”
Phillips also had offers from Cal, Colorado, Michigan State and Utah State. He is not a member of the faith that sponsors BYU, The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, which Huffman views as another sign that BYU coaches are “casting wider nets” this recruiting cycle as they move toward Big 12 membership.
“He is a non-LDS kid that I think BYU really connected with,” Huffman said.
Last year, a few months after earning the Big 12 invite, BYU’s 2022 signing class was ranked No. 51 when the early signing period began and finished at No. 56.
When transfers such as Robbins and others are added in, BYU’s 2023 signing class could get back in the 50s, but likely won’t come close to Sitake’s highest-rated class, which came in 2016, his first year, and included some of the guys who were recruited by his predecessor, Bronco Mendenhall.
That class in 2016 was ranked No. 49 and included current players such as Jaren Hall, Max Tooley, Keenan Pili, Clark Barrington, Atunaisa Mahe and Caden Haws. Barrington announced Monday night that he has entered the transfer portal.
Sitake appeared on “The Jim Rome Show” Tuesday to mostly discuss the Cougars’ 24-23 win over SMU in the New Mexico Bowl last Saturday, but also talked about BYU’s recruiting efforts as it prepares for Big 12 membership.
“It is about finding young men, and their families, and letting them know they are going to be part of something bigger than just themselves,” Sitake said. “… That’s our goal. And I don’t think we will ever go away from that. I know with us going into the Big 12, everyone is expecting a different way to recruit.
“We will do unique things and do things differently. … It has got to be aligned with the mission of our university, the mission of our church. And definitely our program is aligned with that.”
Huffman said he’s seen BYU pursue more higher-rated players in this recruiting cycle, especially non-Latter-day Saint prospects, than perhaps ever before. The Cougars even got commitments from a couple of them, such as Washington athlete Leo Pulalasi and Texas running back Landen Chambers, before they backed off their pledges.
Pulalasi has since committed to Washington State, while Chambers had not announced his plans as of Tuesday.
As BYU fans await a decision from 2021 and 2022 starting quarterback Hall on his future, coaches have been actively scouring the transfer portal for his replacement. Notre Dame QB Drew Pyne and Pitt QB Kedon Slovis have visited Provo, although Pyne recently committed to Arizona State, the same school that lured former four-star recruit Jacob Conover from BYU.
“We are always recruiting quarterbacks. It never ends. I want the five best quarterbacks I can get at all times in that (quarterbacks) room,” BYU offensive coordinator and quarterbacks coach Aaron Roderick said in November. “That will never change.”
Roderick said the Cougars will sign “at least two” quarterbacks this cycle, “because right now we are down two (after Conover’s transfer), so we will try to replace two.”
One of those is Springville quarterback Ryder Burton, who committed to BYU last May and will sign Wednesday and enroll in January, having already graduated high school. Burton has worked with former BYU QB John Beck and his 3DQB program and will join a QBs room that will presumably include New Mexico Bowl offensive Most Outstanding Player Sol-Jay Maiava-Peters, Boise State transfer Cade Fennegan and walk-on Nick Billoups.
BYU’s Class of 2023 Football Commits (As of Dec. 20, 2022)
• Jackson Bowers, tight end, 6-5, 225 Mesa, Arizona (Mountain View High School)
• Siale Esera, defensive end, 6-3, 250 Provo, Utah (Timpview High School)
• Ethan Thomason, offensive line, 6-8, 315 Fort Collins, Colorado (Rocky Mountain High School)
• Josiah Phillips, wide receiver, 6-4, 190 Chatsworth, California (Sierra Canyon High School)
• Miles Hall, athlete, 6-2, 195 Salt Lake City, Utah (Skyline High School)
• Saimone Davis, tight end, 6-5, 220 Colleyville, Texas (Colleyville Heritate High School)
• Andrew Heining, defensive line, 6-6, 255 Glenpool, Oklahoma (Glenpool High School)
• Ryder Burton, quarterback, 6-2, 180 Springville, Utah (Springville High School)
• Pokaiaua Haunga, athlete, 5-11, 200 Provo, Utah (Timpview High School)
• Owen Borg, linebacker, 6-2, 190 Draper, Utah (Corner Canyon High School)
• Talitu’i Pututau, defensive line, 6-5, 255 Salt Lake City, Utah (West High School)
• Matthew Fredrick, tight end, 6-5, 230 Salt Lake City, Utah (East High School)
• Pierson Watson, linebacker, 6-3, 210 Flagstaff, Arizona (Coconino High School)
• David Tangilanu, defensive line, 6-4, 255 Menlo Park, California (Menlo-Atherton High School)
• Jayden Dunlap, cornerback, 6-2, 180 Norwalk, California (Cerritos College)
Additions from Transfer Portal
• Aidan Robbins, running back, 6-2, 220 Louisville, Kentucky (Louisville/UNLV)
• Will Ferrin, kicker, 6-3, 180 Kaysville, Utah (Davis High/Boise State)