PROVO — BYU’s triple T — The Transfer Trend — is real.
BYU Football Media Day took center stage Friday and festivities included some hard news stories like retiring numbers, ESPN’s contract, bowl games and a LaVell Edwards jersey patch. But perhaps the biggest actual football news overshadowing Kalani Sitake’s program is in the recruiting realm.
Be it through the coconut wireless, chats among friends, cousins telling cousins or whatever, Sitake is fielding so many requests from signees at other colleges inquiring about transferring to BYU that his staff has had to redesign their scholarship board.
More than 13 athletes who had signed letters of intent at Oregon State, Utah, Oregon, Wisconsin, Southern Utah, Nevada, Weber State, Hawaii and Notre Dame have announced transfer plans, already transferred or may yet transfer to BYU in the past 16 months. More may be on the way.
“We’ll always find scholarships for the big boys,” smiled BYU recruiting coordinator Tevita Ofahengaue.
Most recently, former East High star linebacker Christian Folau, who signed with Oregon State after having more interest in Stanford and Utah than BYU, announced Tuesday, just a week off an LDS mission to Northern California, that he's now a Cougar.
Folau’s transfer came so quick that before a lot of formalities and paperwork could be nailed down and as Sitake was discussing a list of Folau things to get done, he was already paying rent with friends in Provo, a surprise to the head coach.
Call it what you want, but this “transfer” deal is officially a trend in BYU recruiting. In particular, the majority have been Polynesian athletes, attracted to the NCAA’s first native Tongan head coach and the energy he’s created.
“We are a very small community,” said BYU linebackers coach Steve Kaufusi.
“I’m sure some of these guys talk among themselves. News travels fast among families and everybody is related to somebody,” he said.
“I think some of it is the excitement around the program and with Kalani, I think they feel the love. He is a great person to feel comfortable with and it’s the same with his staff. They love being around the players. Thing is, they all know each other. Guys who are already here are calling guys telling them they want them here. It’s a little bit of everything.”
In fact, today more than ever before, high school and college athletes are connected digitally through social media so recruits are hearing that Sitake is making it fun to be a BYU football player, according to tight end Moroni Laulu-Pututau.
“One thing he’s done is bring diversity to the program, and that’s opened up a lot of areas and interest from across the country,” added Laulu-Putatau.
Then there’s the staff. “They’re like a bunch of little kids, joking around. They’re crazy. And I love it.”
Where BYU’s football office used to be like a bank, it’s now like it was in the LaVell Edwards era, a gathering place where anything can happen.
“It’s a rowdy place,” said Kaufusi. “You can hear it down the hallways, guys like coach Jack Damuni, and (running back coach) Reno Mahe doing something. They’ve even got an old guy like me laughing and smiling more.”
Right now, there’s a run on transfers. BYU’s staff has to be careful. Sitake told reporters Friday that he wished he had a thousand scholarships to offer, but he doesn’t.
This transfers trend has involved players like safety Austin Lee (Utah), quarterback Austin Kafentzis (Wisconsin), defensive lineman AJ Lolohea (Weber State), tight end Joe Tukuafu (Utah State) and Wisconsin signee Ula Tolutau.
More than a week ago stories cropped up about Notre Dame offensive lineman Tristen Hoge and former Utah signee offensive lineman James Empey. Prior to that the list included Khyiris Tonga, a defensive lineman once committed to Utah, and Hawaii-bound receiver Mack Richards from Alta High. SUU linemen Andrew Eide and Keyan Norman both followed assistant head coach Ed Lamb from SUU to Provo. Wayne Kirby, a defensive tackle at Oregon is now at BYU, as will be one-time Thunderbird QB signee Joe Critchlow.
Kaufusi said another factor is that some LDS athletes who made a decision when they were 17 years old and then went on an LDS Chuch mission, have changed priorities two years later and are seeking a more conservative campus like BYU.
“I know this happened to me when I was recruited and came off a mission. It happened to my son Bronson. Things change inside of you and after a mission, the atmosphere where there is drinking and partying on some campuses just doesn’t appeal to you (and) in fact you begin to seek out people who feel the same way you do and you want to surround yourself with those ideals.”
So there's more than one part to the engine that’s running this. Empey loved Utah’s staff and the Utes did everything perfectly to recruit him, far better than BYU. But a coaching change, his father Mike being named BYU’s offensive line coach, played a big part in his choice to transfer.
It isn’t unusual to see transfers on the move following coaching changes and Sitake is taking advantage of that, especially with those he built relationships with when at Utah and Oregon State, years before taking the BYU job.
The past few days the internet has been flooded with photos of Sitake posing with high school prospects. Smiles abound all around; it’s a Twitter thing.
Some of this transfer stuff might be as simple as guys thinking it might be more fun to play under Sitake than the previous BYU coaching staff, thus a change in thinking the past 16 months after signing somewhere else.
Sitake told reporters it isn’t about him, but his staff and their hard work recruiting while crediting his assistants' families for being understanding and supporting them while they travel and hit the recruiting trails for work.
Not so, explained offensive coordinator Ty Detmer, “It’s Kalani.”
Sitake is front and center. He sets the tone. Edwards was his mentor. If there is one thing Sitake loves most about college coaching, it is recruiting, pumping hands, giving hugs, meeting people. It is his passion.
Genuine as a 7-11 Slurpee. Just like LaVell.
Edwards always put a premium on relationships. He did it with humor and kept it low key. He had an advanced degree in remembering names.
Sitake seems cut from the same cloth. Witnesses abound.
And this year's symbolic Edwards jersey patch for this year’s team is a classy way for Kalani to honor his idol.