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If BYU hires Kalani Sitake, All-Poly camp coach says it could be a 'game changer'

What about Kalani Sitake as a replacement for BYU’s Bronco Mendenhall?

If BYU hires the former Cougar running back, the outcome could be a significant milestone for the program that will reap immediate rewards, according to an expert in Polynesian football player development.

Alta High football coach Alema Te'o, the founder and director of the All-Poly Camp, which hosts more than a thousand high school and junior high school prospects from around the country each summer, claims a Sitake hire by BYU would be “a game changer” in recruiting native sons of Samoan, Tongan and South Pacific island descent.

Sitake is currently the defensive coordinator for Oregon State, a job he held at Utah in 2014. Sitake’s final season in a BYU uniform was 2000.

“If this happens, it would be a huge advantage for BYU going forward because of the trust he has as a mentor and leader in Polynesian communities across the globe,” said Te'o.

Having a Polynesian as a head coach would be widely welcomed by parents and grandparents who would want their sons mentored by someone who understands and connects with them, said Te'o.

“With Ken Niumatalolo at Navy, you have a tremendous leader who knows his X’s and O’s and a mentor who Polynesian parents would love their sons to play for. But at the Academy, with its restrictions in admissions and recruiting, his impact is limited,” said Te'o. "But that wouldn’t be the case at BYU if Niumatalolo had been hired and it is not the case with Sitake if he is hired.”

Te'o places Sitake at the same level as Niumatalolo in the Polynesian community.

Former Cougar and Philadelphia Eagles running back Reno Mahe, a Tongan, agreed with Te’o, a Samoan. “When Utah got Kalani and other Polynesian coaches and went in the Pac-12, the Poly pipeline tipped from BYU to Utah. You look at Utah and a key in what they do is with the defensive line and Polynesian athletes,” said Mahe.

“It would totally shift it back to BYU, this Polynesian pipeline,” said Mahe. “He is the perfect guy for the job.”

Said Te’o: “Kalani, because he’s such an icon among Polynesians and because he has such a great reputation as a man who is trusted and will mentor young men, his history alone and where he sits right now would really help BYU because parents would want to send their kids to Kalani. It’s kind of the Polynesian way.”

What Sitake does better than others in that realm is that he’s a community guy who people relate to and can talk to. “It’s a trust factor, whether it is the Salt Lake City community, the Hawaiian community or the community back in Samoa or Tonga, they relate to Kalani.

“In my opinion, if BYU hired Kalani, it would be a game changer in all these communities across the country. I just feel like, man, it is wide open for what Kalani could do.”

Te'o claims Sitake’s impact on football players and in the high school and college coaching profession that he's developed over the years has made him an influential force. Sitake was on the original board of directors of the Polynesian Coaches Association, which has championed hires of Tongans and Samoans nationally. Sitake was instrumental in helping Te'o create the All-Poly Camp, which now draws college recruiters from throughout the country.

“Kalani Sitake has been more instrumental than anyone in the country in elevating and helping Polynesian coaches get into the profession than anybody out there. He’s pulled people in and helped them. He is highly respected among his peers.”

Te'o’s All-Poly camp pulls in athletes from all over the country and he claims Sitake is one of a handful of college coaches who has never missed it since its inception 14 years ago.

“He helped start it. If it weren’t for guys like Kalani, we wouldn’t be where we are today.”

Sitake, a BYU hire?

“It makes all the sense in the world,” said Te'o.

“If BYU wants to compete with the Pac-12 and with Utah, they have to stop treating that job like a church calling and treat it like a football job. If they don’t, it will be hard to compete. I hope if they bring him in they give them the resources to allow him to get serious about competing on a national level. I say give him the tools he needs and get out of the way and let him do the job. He will deliver.”

EMAIL: dharmon@deseretnews.com.

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