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BYU football: Cougars continue their 'delayed gratification approach' to recruiting

PROVO — While BYU's football program is poised to sign one of its best recruiting classes in history on Wednesday, it will, as always, be years before many of those players step onto the field, let alone make an impact.

Because a high volume of recruits who sign with BYU go on missions, the Cougars know patience is required. It's the delayed gratification approach to recruiting.

Every year players leave on missions. Meanwhile, others return home every year from missionary service.

"I'm excited about the next couple of years, because the kids who are coming back from missions now are very good players," said athletic director Tom Holmoe. "We've seen them before their missions and some of them didn't play because they went right out on missions. A lot of these kids, we're really high on. You put that together with the class that we're going to sign (on Wednesday) and I think it bodes well for the future."

Over the years, fans, and the media, tend to forget about those players on missions. Out of sight, out of mind.

"We don't forget," said BYU recruiting coordinator and linebackers coach Paul Tidwell. "We don't forget that there are four linebackers on missions right now who all played as true freshmen. When they come back, it's going to add strength to our team. I'm saying that because I coach on the defensive side of the ball. There are players like that on the offensive side as well. They came in and contributed early. We saw promise in them. Players from past classes will be getting back from missions and they'll really add to the talent of this team."

Those four freshmen linebackers Tidwell referred to played one season — in 2008 — before departing on missions: Michael Alisa, Spencer Hadley, Iona Pritchard and Daniel Sorensen. They're scheduled to return home in time for the 2011 season.

What about those who are expected to make an impact this fall?

Quarterback James Lark, from the class of 2006, returned home from a mission in December and is participating in off-season workouts. Three players from the class of 2007 are back from missions and enrolled in school — offensive lineman Famika Anae, tight end Devin Mahina and wide receiver Marcus Mathews.

Those names ring a bell?

Anae, the son of BYU offensive coordinator Robert Anae, helped lead Timpview High to a state championship in 2006. Mahina averaged 19.6 yards per catch at Upland (Calif.) High School, where he also played defensive end. Mathews was an all-state second-team selection at Southridge (Ore.) High.

Other members of that 2007 class who have returned from missions and are expected to be back for fall camp include linebackers Austin Jorgensen and Tyler Beck, tight end Devin Mahina, quarterback Jason Munns, wide receiver Jordan Smith and offensive lineman Manaaki Vaitai.

Offensive lineman Houston Reynolds, also part of that class, returned from a mission and was set to play in 2009 before suffering a season-ending knee injury during fall camp.

There's one player from that '07 class who made a big impact before his mission — defensive lineman Eathyn Manumaleuna. On the final play of the 2007 season, Manumaleuna, then a true freshman, blocked the field goal attempt by UCLA's Kai Forbath, preserving a Cougar victory in the Las Vegas Bowl.

The class of 2008 includes a number of players who are on missions or are returning — tight end Austin Holt, linebacker Kevan Bills, defensive lineman Solomone Kafu, wide receiver Jake Murphy, and offensive linemen Brock Stringham and Michael Yeck.

"I'm always going to say that good teams come from good players and coaches," said Holmoe. "Our recruiting classes, I think, have gotten better and better. It's hard to have consistent teams when you have to do it with smoke and mirrors with personnel. Each year that I've been here, I think we've gotten better. What I've witnessed with Bronco (Mendenhall), each one of the years, we're getting stronger with the personnel."