Coach Kalani Sitake’s BYU football program is finally winning its share of big-time recruiting battles as the Cougars gear up for their second season in the Big 12.
“These guys are ready to play right away. I think there’s going to be quite a bit of young freshmen and underclassmen that are fighting for opportunities to play and have significant reps for us this fall.” — BYU coach Kalani Sitake
That’s my primary takeaway, after BYU wrapped up its 2024 recruiting class on signing day with the additions of linebackers Sefo Akuila and Naki Tuakoi from Northern California’s Fremont High. BYU also announced Wednesday that former Baylor and USF quarterback Gerry Bohanon is joining the program as a graduate transfer from the transfer portal.
I’ve been mildly critical of Sitake’s past few football recruiting classes, postulating that they didn’t seem talented enough to get BYU to the upper half of a Power Five league. So give credit where credit is due: The 2024 class is a big step in the right direction.
This is easily the best class Sitake has signed in his nine years in Provo. Sure, there were some misses — such as Corner Canyon quarterback Isaac Wilson, Zach’s brother, who signed with Utah. But there were also some huge gets, like the teammates who signed Wednesday after having previously committed to Arizona and Stanford, and four-star Bountiful safety Faletau Satuala, the top prospect in the state of Utah, per 247sports.com.
Other highly recruited guys who picked BYU over Power Five competitors are California tight end Ryner Swanson, Georgia cornerback Tre Alexander III and Timpview receiver Tei Nacua, younger brother of Los Angeles Rams rookie sensation Puka Nacua, a BYU alum.
The list of BYU’s wins in this recruiting cycle goes on and on, unlike in previous years when the Cougars were far less aggressive, didn’t cast as wide of a net, and were beaten by rival Utah and others.
“You have to be ready to get into some battles in recruiting,” Sitake said in a Zoom meeting with reporters Wednesday. “We want guys who want to be here. But sometimes you have to fight for those guys, too. You have to get into (recruiting) battles and you have to show them how this place can really help them and how they can become their best self when they’re here at BYU.”
As of Thursday morning, BYU’s class was ranked No. 45 overall, and fifth in the Big 12 behind No. 24 Texas Tech, No. 34 TCU, No. 35 UCF and No. 44 Kansas.
One solid way to measure a recruiting class is to consider the number of competing offers from other Football Bowl Subdivision schools and Power Five schools that a particular recruit received. According to Casey Lundquist of Cougs Daily, 84% of BYU’s recruits this cycle had Power Five offers, up from 50% in 2023 and 32% in 2022, some six months after BYU received its Big 12 invitation.
It is BYU’s highest-ranked class since 2016 — Sitake’s first season, but a lot of former coach Bronco Mendenhall’s recruits — when the Cougars checked in at No. 49 and landed the likes of cornerbacks Troy Warner and Chris Wilcox, defensive tackle Handsome Tanielu, linebackers Max Tooley and Keenan Pili, quarterback Jaren Hall, and linemen Caden Haws and Atunaisa Mahe.
Several new recruits, such as Bountiful’s Satuala — who Sitake said will play safety starting out at BYU, although he could play a myriad of positions — have noted that the recruiting of second-year defensive coordinator Hill clinched the deal for the Cougars.
“Not being intimidated by other recruiters (is key),” Sitake said of the 2024 strategy. “And Jay Hill has been awesome on that. It’s been infectious to everybody else on the staff.”
Approximately 22 of the 31 players BYU signed Wednesday will be available to compete for the Cougars this coming season. Nine or so will go on two-year missions for The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints before enrolling.
“I am excited about our signing class and also about the returned missionaries that are joining us,” Sitake said. “I am also excited about the talent that we have here and the ability for us to bring in young men that we can develop.
“These guys are ready to play right away,” he continued. “I think there’s going to be quite a bit of young freshmen and underclassmen that are fighting for opportunities to play and have significant reps for us this fall.”
Obviously, the coaches felt like they needed immediate help on defense, after that injury-depleted unit struggled in 2023 to stop some of the average offenses in the Big 12, West Virginia, Iowa State and TCU. No fewer than 20 of the 31 players signed in this cycle will start out playing on that side of the ball.
“One thing that was super important for us is we needed more size, and we needed a little bit more length in our defensive lines,” Hill said. “As you look down the sheet, you can see that we did just that. We added a lot of length and size, and much more speed, in my opinion. And then we added three safeties, four linebackers, six defensive ends, and three D tackles. That group is going to be really good. … Super excited about where we are headed.”
If there’s a knock from here on this class, transfers included, it is that BYU has yet to add an offensive skill player who could seemingly step in and contribute right away, with the possible exception of Bohanon.
Speaking at the same gathering as Hill, offensive coordinator Aaron Roderick addressed those fears by expressing confidence in the returning offensive players.
“Retaining all these guys is the key, (and) developing them. And then we expect if each one of those players makes progress and gets a little bit better next year, we have a chance to have a really good offense. And I believe that we will,” Roderick said. “This year we got everybody returning, a lot of good players returning. Super excited to get to spring ball, get to work with these guys, which is coming very soon.”
Landing some high-caliber preferred walk-ons continues to be a big priority for Sitake and company, and this year is no different. Schools are not allowed to announce their PWOs, but through social media posts and the like it appears that BYU will bring in 11, including some who will enroll this summer and others who will first serve church missions.
The 2024 list of PWOs includes Kansas QB Dylan Dunn, Crimson Cliffs receiver Tyler West, Orem QB/athlete Lance Reynolds III, Weber State transfer cornerback Marque Collins and West Michigan transfer QB Treyson Bourguet, among others.
The eight returning missionaries slated to join the roster in 2024 are running back Jovesa Damuni, receiver Cody Hagen, running back Pokaiaua Haunga, defensive lineman Dallin Havea, offensive lineman Sione Hingano, linebacker Nathan Hoke, receiver Dom McKenzie and tight end Noah Moeaki.
Spring ball begins Feb. 29 and runs through March. Because new grass is being installed at LaVell Edwards Stadium, the facility won’t be available for a spring game or scrimmage.