PROVO — Kalani Sitake knows if BYU is to compete with its independent schedule that includes games with SEC, Big 12, Big Ten, Pac-12 and ACC opponents, the Cougars will need to find bigger monsters for deployment in the trenches.
The previous offensive coordinator under Bronco Mendenhall, Robert Anae, knew this. He made it a priority when he returned to BYU from the University of Arizona. But it was a work in progress, far short of satisfactory, when he followed Mendenhall to the University of Virginia.
The old Chicago Bears Monsters of the Midway they are not. But if you don’t dream and scheme and make a plan, it’s tough to be monsters of anything. Sitake dreamed and schemed. His squad needs talent and depth with big, strong guys.
Over the weekend, Sitake pulled the trigger on one aspect of this emphasis when he invited busloads of offensive and defensive linemen to campus.
BYU’s football staff combined a high school 7-on-7 competition with an offensive and defensive lineman camp over the weekend. BYU’s football staff hoped to achieve myriad goals, and it appears to have done just that, according to Cougar offensive line coach Mike Empey.
Sixteen years ago, Empey worked for then-head coach Gary Crowton, and they brainstormed on how to launch a 7-on-7 camp on campus. It would feature high school teams comprised of just the skill positions.
More than a year into Sitake’s turn at the Cougar reins, his staff kicked around the idea of combining a 7-on-7 camp and adding a parallel camp for offensive and defensive linemen. “That way, high schools could make it a team event, bus here as a team, then split out for 7-on-7 passing while the linemen go to a camp specifically designed for them,” Empey said.
Those coaches tossed their ideas to director of football athletic relations Jasen Ah You, and he cooked up a plan. “He did an awesome job pulling it off. He designed it, marketed it, did the social media and organized the format. He did a fantastic job."
Approximately 350 high school athletes attended the camp with their respective teams. “I think that made it a big success. We had a few hiccups not knowing how many would come, but we now know how to make it better, how to grow it, how to make it beneficial to all parties,” BYU's offensive line coach said.
Why do it?
Well, the NCAA allows prospective recruits to attend college campuses where they can be more fully evaluated by college recruiters. Once on campus, a school like BYU can more extensively evaluate the talent, put pads on the prospects, confirm what they know about some recruits and identify younger players who are just making varsity squads looking to improve. All the prep guys are looking for exposure.
It also provides the athlete a chance to receive coaching, skill development, get tested for measurables and meet college coaches from not only BYU but other schools. BYU invited coaches from USC, Vanderbilt, Weber State, Utah State, Southern Utah and Idaho State to be part of the camp staff and presentations.
“It helped those coaches to do some evaluating of their own; it helped the kids to get looked at, and it helped the high school coaches to receive some experienced coaching of their players,” Empey said.
BYU’s staff has already spent the offseason evaluating tapes of prospects. They then did spring recruiting, making visits to schools, making offers, staging a junior day and will do the annual BYU football camp.
“We know the guys we are going after. But this gives us an opportunity to further put eyeballs on these guys, see them in pads," Empey said. "And there are younger guys who came who we want to get to know, get up to speed with. It’s all perfectly legal with NCAA rules as it pertains to campus camps, and you have to take advantage of it.”
This past week, Empey welcomed his son James, who will enroll at BYU after signing with Utah out of American Fork High, home from an LDS mission. This was announced the same day the coach took to Twitter to welcome Notre Dame transfer Tristen Hoge, who is from Mike Empey’s hometown of Pocatello, Idaho.
He has to hope the work by Ah You over the weekend gets Sitake closer to what he needs at the point of attack on defense and offense.
You can never take blockers and tacklers for granted — or have enough good ones to take lumps for the pretty boys in the backfield.