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Veteran BYU football recruiter explains Sitake's LDS emphasis (+ weekend picks)

Brigham Young Cougars quarterback Taysom Hill (7) and quarterback Tanner Mangum (12) warm up before a game against the UMass Minutemen at LaVell Edwards Stadium in Provo on Saturday, Nov. 19, 2016.
Brigham Young Cougars quarterback Taysom Hill (7) and quarterback Tanner Mangum (12) warm up before a game against the UMass Minutemen at LaVell Edwards Stadium in Provo on Saturday, Nov. 19, 2016.
Spenser Heaps,

This is third in a series on BYU’s offense.

This is the final week of regular-season predictions and the preamble begins with a challenge Kalani Sitake hopes BYU can win.

It also begins with a far more important concern: The recovery of 3-year-old Elsie Mahe, daughter of BYU assistant coach Reno Mahe and his wife Sunny. This tragedy trumps weekend football in every way imaginable.

Elsie's situation has drawn attention from all corners of our college football community, from a visit by Utah coaches and players to a statement of support from Utah State head coach Matt Wells.

Elsie, who was life-flighted to Primary Children's Hospital after an accident involving mini blinds in Mahe’s Lehi home, reminds us of the priority of family alongside the games we play. Our prayers are with the Mahe family this Thanksgiving weekend.

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The best way for BYU to start winning more of those 50-50 games like the four losses this season is to recruit more effectively, increase talent in the trenches and increase overall team speed.

Offensive line coach Mike Empey, who was BYU’s recruiting coordinator at one time, likes several aspects of how Sitake’s staff plans to address some recruiting issues.

“Everything has been really positive and our approach is strong,” said Empey.

And it goes without saying that one priority is what it has always been: targeting LDS athletes.

In past years, both BYU and Utah have watched athletes with cultural backgrounds to the dominant faith in the state choose to go elsewhere. Empey believes if some of that was due to not doing due diligence and paying attention, well, shame on them.

“A priority is going after the LDS athlete. If there is a top-tier LDS high school player out there who can help us, our first priority is to not miss evaluating him. We don’t want him to go away feeling we did not contact him, recruit him or evaluate him. We don’t want to overlook any of those guys.”

As late as last week, Empey said Sitake’s staff got a call about a player who fit in this category whom they were not aware of and they immediately made the proper connection to investigate and get needed information.

“It doesn’t mean we can take every one of them, but we do not and will not overlook them.”

This emphasis, in my opinion, may be part of a fresh look from the outside from former Cougars, who have direct knowledge of a chink in BYU’s football recruiting armor over the years. And it's been used against them.

The second priority, said Empey, is to get the top local and regional players who are fits for BYU’s program. “Not everyone is going to fit, but our message and our approach is to go after and target those who will be a fit and give them every opportunity to learn and understand what we are about and who we are.”

Empey said for this first year of Sitake there still remains more recruiting work to do and it will continue on right up until signing day. “I think we’ll do pretty well this year. We’ve been received very well. We’ll have a really good base to get where we want to be, plus there is a very good class of players serving missions who will make significant contributions to the program when they return.”

Empey said BYU’s 2017 class will be typical of what others have been comprised of — immediate help and athletes who will immediately go on LDS missions. Time will tell what they turn out to be.

“But for time immemorial, people think BYU misses on LDS kids. Sometimes that has been true. But other times, that is not fair. We can’t take every single kid because he’s a Mormon and he plays football. We don’t want to have a kid feel like, ‘Hey, I love BYU, I wanted to go there, but they didn’t even talk to me.’”

Empey said Sitake is making a major effort to see that an athlete who signs elsewhere does not say that.

“I think kids appreciate that. I think their coaches and their families appreciate that we want to do a good job with that.”

Receivers coach Ben Cahoon likes where BYU is right now. “We recognize we have to have more speed and athleticism if we are going to compete with the teams we are playing,” he said.

“We have prospects we are making our targets and I think we’ll accomplish that to some extent. There are some guys yet to commit who are difference-makers who can tip the balance of the entire class. The ones we have committed and are on board, we like, and are great football players. But there are others out there who are big fish and we’re hoping to get.”

And now, on to this week’s picks:

Michigan 28, Ohio State 27: Harbaugh too much for Meyer.

Virginia Tech 24, Virginia 21: Cavs not showing enough in the fourth quarter.

Alabama 38, Auburn 24: Tide continues to roll over everybody.

Southern Cal 42, Notre Dame 21: USC best team in Pac-12 by far.

West Virginia 38, Iowa State 27: Mountaineers rebound nicely.

Oregon State 34, Oregon 31: Gary Andersen takes revenge.

California 38, UCLA 31: Bears have too much offense.

Wyoming 42, New Mexico 38: Cowboys flexing MWC muscle.

San Diego State 32, Colorado State 21: Aztecs protect home turf.

Colorado 27, Utah 24: Buffs complete rebuilding job in Boulder.

BYU 34, Utah State 17: Cougar seniors deliver for Sitake.

Last week 7-4; Overall 91-54 (.627)

EMAIL: dharmon@deseretnews.com.

TWITTER: Harmonwrites