Led by Texas freshman receiver McKay Jacobson, Brighton High H-back Mike Hague and a handful of freshmen defensive linemen, BYU will lean heavily on some rookies in Tucson in a week.
Some of it comes from stark necessity, but a piece of the puzzle may be talent.
BYU head coach Bronco Mendenhall said Friday he and his staff are pleased that evaluations of the 2006 recruiting class signed last February appear to be on target — although the real proof will surface late next Saturday night in Pac-10 territory.
But one recruiting area that did not deliver a starting impact player, at least not so far in fall camp, is the junior college players signed. Ditto for transfers previously affiliated with four-year programs before making their way to Provo. In this regard, the transfer route was marginally productive heading into the opener — if the idea was to find starters.
With BYU's program already receiving 23 oral commitments for 2007 — most of whom are incoming freshmen — perhaps it isn't too early to see a trend. Mendenhall's priority in recruiting appears to be four-year players, with LDS mission timeout as a consideration.
A year ago, JC transfer Chris Bolden ran onto BYU's practice field and within the hour was helped off on a stretcher with an oxygen mask bound to his face.
A less dramatic story developed during the Cougar fall camp with at least two other junior college players, defensive tackle Mosese Foketi (Laney Community College) and cornerback Andre Saulsberry (Riverside Community College).
Both Foketi and Saulsberry had a tough time adjusting to Provo's altitude and said the resulting physical battle slowed their physical progress during two-a-days. Fokeiti will redshirt this coming season. Saulsberry has battled his way to play with the second unit in BYU's secondary.
"It was my fault, I came in out of shape," Foketi said. "I've struggled."
Said Saulsberry, "I worked hard this summer, that hasn't been the problem. But when I got here, it must have been the altitude or something because I've had a hard time catching my breath during workouts."
Two recruits who had connections to four-year schools before LDS missions, and returned from church service this spring, will also stand on the sidelines following ACL knee surgeries. They are center Tom Sorensen (Vanderbilt) and corner Brandon Bradley (Louisville). A third transfer, safety Tico Pringle, is battling to find a place on BYU's three-deep chart.
"What our junior college recruiting did is give us immediate depth at a few positions in which we needed it, but yes, there was a little of what happened to Chris Bolden going on," said recruiting coordinator Paul Tidwell. "What these guys have done is fill a need we had, regardless of if they start right away."
"It takes a big adjustment for a junior college transfer to make the change to Division I. And for those guys from California, it is different from running at sea level."
Tidwell said Foketi will redshirt and has shown the potential they saw on film when they decided to sign him out of Oakland. "He'll play.
"Tico's proven he can be a good boundary corner and come up and tackle. He just needs to work on some things that JC players need to work on and correct. Andre has a lot of athletic skills, he's just in the same situation; it's hard to come in August, learn a system, get confident and comfortable with it and perform. He will help us down the road."
Tidwell said it took Bolden a month and a half to get used to this. "Fortunately, he had a red-shirt year and used it to prepare for this season."
Jaimie Hill, BYU's new secondary coach, who works with the safeties and corners, said the transfers are about where they should be. "It's tough for a junior college cornerback to come in and learn some of the zone concepts we're using right now, but they're learning and they'll be fine, I'm not concerned."
Rookies. They come in all shapes and sizes.
But keep an eye on the freshmen — Mendenhall and company are gambling they fit the bill. Now and in years to come.