This early signing day brought plenty of pre-Christmas cheer to Utah, Utah State, and BYU — depending on what they were looking for.
For the Aggies and Cougars, it was numbers and size in this first-ever early signing day experience.
The biggie for Utah was the expected signing of long-time loyal quarterback recruit Jack Tuttle from Mission Hills High in San Marcos, California. Tuttle, an Elite 11 quarterback with big-time offers and hype is simply the most recognized athlete at that position Utah has ever encountered. It would be safe to say the attention paid to Tuttle and his résumé, film, record, offers and general interest is 50 times more than Alex Smith ever got. And Smith was a No. 1 NFL draft pick.
BYU and USU went heavy after the big beef product by signing a complete, someday-starting lineup of five offensive linemen.
That Tuttle signed early and did not wait until February’s signing date was a huge win for Whittingham, who saw this highly touted prospect officially end all speculation that he would waver.
“This is a new thing with the early signing date,” said BYU defensive coordinator Ilaisa Tuiaki. “And I like it. I like it a lot.
“It shows a true commitment. That is the thing with this early signing date. I hope they push it even earlier, as early as August, so you can know who is on board and who is not.”
Chinonso Opara is a 6-foot-8, 270-pound defensive lineman at Juan Diego Catholic High School in Draper who signed with the Cougars. Opara came to the U.S. from Nigeria in 2014 and committed to BYU in August, with offers from the Cougars and the Utes.
Considered a raw athletic talent, Opara has played basketball and is just scratching the surface of his football career. BYU hopes it may, in some fashion or another, have discovered another Ziggy Ansah, who didn’t know how to put on shoulder pads but ended up as a first-round pick by the Detroit Lions.
“He was at our offensive/defensive line camp and we had a ton of coaches here from USC and other places. He impressed everybody because he stood out because of his size, but he was raw. We loved how he projected. We’re going to work him out first on the defensive line but he could work out to be an offensive lineman if that is where he can make the biggest impact. We’ll see.
“He had interest from Utah and others but, in the end, this is where he felt most comfortable."
Tuiaki said a lot of recruiting is about projections, making decisions on giving scholarships based on what you envision in athletes and how they can develop over time when they’ve received coaching and attention in the weight room and practice drills.
“What you look for is speed and size and athletic ability and then project what they will become.”
In Provo on Wednesday, it was an unusual situation with Kalani Sitake’s recruiters because all the coaches on the offensive side are under contract until July but have yet to receive firm word from new offensive coordinator Jeff Grimes and Sitake if they will be retained.
Some say there could be as many as 400 college assistant football coaches looking for jobs in coming weeks with so many changes taking place.
In speaking to several of those BYU coaches, they are putting in the time to polish off this class but doing so with uncertainty. Offensive line coach Mike Empey, who worked hard to help land the five offensive linemen, hesitated to be interviewed about signing-day prospects because of the unique situation at hand.
BYU’s offensive staff will be defined later this month or after Grimes completes his work in LSU’s Citrus Bowl on New Year’s Day against Notre Dame. Some could be retained, others could be let go.
“It’s hard. Obviously we chose this as our profession knowing losing our jobs is part of the job,” said Tuiaki. “It is difficult, especially with how Kalani was here and how I thought our staff was very close. Our wives and kids know each other, are very close and all that.
“It’s always hard to see a friend look for a job or opportunity; it’s really tough. But at the end of the day Coach Sitake has a responsibility to do what he thinks is best for the team moving forward. I haven’t been in the seat that Kalani is in right now, but I can empathize. It is tough.”