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'Referrals' from LDS Church members pay big dividends for BYU during early signing period

PROVO — On the first day of college football's first early signing period, BYU added 13 players — and some of those signees came as a result of what coach Kalani Sitake calls “referrals.”

In the past, Sitake has asked members of the LDS Church around the world to let the coaching staff know about great athletes who would be a good fit at BYU.

“I’ve been calling out all the LDS members to help us recruit and we actually got a lot of referrals for these young men,” Sitake said. “A big shoutout to our ‘assistant recruiters’ out there. Keep it up. If you see a big, fast young man, first of all, try to get him to play football and then get a hold of us and we’ll take over from there.”

Among those referral recruits are quarterback Stacy Conner and defensive lineman Chinonso Opara. Conner is a member of the LDS faith while Opara is not.

BYU is Conner's "dream school,” according to Sitake. Conner plans to enroll in January and compete in spring ball.

Defensive coordinator Ilaisa Tuiaki said that Opara, who prepped at Juan Diego High and is originally from Nigeria, feels comfortable at BYU.

“He’s not LDS. He’s a religious, God-fearing man,” Tuiaki explained. “I was at his house last week and he said, ‘This is what I felt when I came there. It’s the reason I want to be there.’ He got an offer from the school up north a little bit after us. A lot of people in that area were pushing him in that direction. It’s really impressive to see a kid like that that sticks with what he feels and the feeling he got when he was here.”

Linebacker Oliver Nasilai, a native of Arkansas who is LDS, was also eager to sign early.

“The cool thing about him is he started to get recruited and he had a couple of offers. When he came here, we told him the truth, which is we’re not looking to string this thing along,” Tuiaki said. “We just want kids that want to be here that are BYU kids. He said, ‘All right, I’m in. This is where I want to be.’ He’s going on a mission first. For us to go outside (of Utah), especially far away from BYU, it’s got to be the right fit. Which is normally going to be an LDS kid.”

BYU expects to sign another dozen players or so on the next signing day on Feb. 7.

“We’ve got a great start to it and looking forward to finishing this up in February and solidifying our signing class,” Sitake said.

Sitake added that the early signing period has been good not only for BYU but also for the recruits.

“It being such a new thing we’re trying in college football, it went really smoothly for us,” Sitake said. “It’s been a benefit for us and beneficial for the young men and their families, having signing day done and focus on Christmas and have a great holiday break and not deal with recruiting calls and home visits … It’s been a huge positive for me individually.

"It’s been nice because a lot of the young men feel a huge weight lifted off. Before they had to wait until February. You know how relentless recruiters can be. Until it’s signed on the dotted line, there’s no let-up. This way it’s done and they can move on.”

“A lot of these players didn’t know about the early signing. These changes with the NCAA, we’re more familiar with it,” Tuiaki said. “These kids don’t think about it. Some of these players are still enamored a little bit about the February 7 signing day. Some have commitments with their (high school) teammates to do it together at their school. We want to respect that and let them go through their process of how they want to do that.”

Sitake is glad to have locked up recruits that are committed to the Cougars.

“It’s nice to have guys that we felt had been with us for a long time get them already taken care of and then we can focus on the other ones for February,” he said. “We can also get the other guys transitioned into applying for school and (those that are going on missions) get their mission papers started. I think it’s a huge benefit for us. It’s good for college football … Now we can move on to the next phase for them and then focus the other guys that we can try to sign in February.”