CHANDLER, Ariz. — Jacob Conover is a man on a mission. Soon, he’ll be serving one, too.
All that comes before he’ll suit up for BYU in three years. All in due time.
Right now, the four-star quarterback recruit from Chandler High is trying to bring home a third straight state title for the Wolves, who play in Arizona’s highest level of high school competition, Class 6A.
“It’s kind of surreal. I’m graduating in four months. This team, we’ve been together for a long time and it’s exciting this being our senior year,” said the 6-foot-1, 196-pound Conover, who committed to BYU in May.
Coach Kalani had a vision, and he continued that vision by hiring the offensive staff that he did. What they are going to do is going to set up the program for the future. – Jacob Conover
That commitment came even after BYU went 4-9 in 2017, the school’s worst season in 50 years.
“I’d ask him if he had a full-ride to Utah and Ohio State, but a walk-on offer to BYU, who would you choose?” said his father, Jeff Conover. “He’d always say, ‘I’m going to walk on to BYU and prove everyone wrong.’ That was just a kid’s answer.”
Jacob Conover liked what he saw from BYU head coach Kalani Sitake and the changes he made to the offensive staff during the offseason, which included bringing in longtime college assistant Jeff Grimes as offensive coordinator and Aaron Roderick as the team’s quarterbacks coach and passing game coordinator.
“Coach Kalani had a vision, and he continued that vision by hiring the offensive staff that he did,” Conover said. “What they are going to do is going to set up the program for the future.”
Conover attended BYU’s game on Saturday, as the Cougars opened the 2018 season with a 28-23 win at Arizona, about an hour and a half away from his hometown of Chandler. BYU's offense showed a resurgence under Grimes after a horrible 2017, as the Cougars put up 392 yards of total offense and scored three touchdowns in the third quarter to take control of the game.
Conover, a member of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, said he does not have his mission call yet, but he will figure that out in a few months. He’s on track to graduate high school early, and the plan is for him to join the BYU program in 2021.
“BYU is getting a gem. They won him over from a lot of big schools, but he was very faithful to his faith and he wanted to go on a mission. The story is that he’s always held a BYU football in BYU pajamas,” Chandler High coach Shaun Aguano said about his latest star quarterback.
Conover — rated a four-star quarterback recruit by 247Sports, ESPN and Rivals in the 2019 recruiting class — has been highly sought after for his services. He’s gotten scholarship offers from the likes of Alabama, Arizona State, Arizona, Ole Miss, Northwestern and Washington State, among others, but he announced his commitment to BYU on May 13.
Conover already has an impressive high school resume. He helped lead Chandler to state championships the past two seasons, and the Wolves have won three state titles in the past four years. He stands as the school’s all-time leading passer, with 7,162 career passing yards through the first three games of his senior season.
On Friday, Conover tied the school record for career touchdown passes with his 70th coming on a 30-yard scoring play. He had three touchdown passes in the 62-0 win over Mesa High in just a quarter and a half before sitting. On the year, Conover has completed 61.1 percent of his passes for 641 yards, six touchdowns and one interception.
Six of the top 50 recruits from the state of Arizona in the 2019 class are from Chandler High, according to 247Sports. Conover is No. 6 on that list, while teammates Brayden Liebrock (a receiver) and Matthew Pola-Mao (a defensive tackle), are third and fifth, respectively. Liebrock is committed to play at Texas.
“This will be my 10th year playing football, and that’s pretty much my life,” Conover said. “It’s like a full-time job. Family is a huge thing for me, as well, but I’ve gathered huge relationships through football, and it’s kind of been my whole life.”
Conover has had several offensive teammates who also possessed Division-I talent at Chandler. In addition to his current teammates, he also played with current BYU freshman wide receiver Gunner Romney and Utah redshirt freshman running back TJ Green.
“He’s obviously a really, really accurate quarterback. He can put the ball on the money whenever he wants to. I think his mental side of the game is where he’s strongest at. I don’t think he’ll have a problem jumping to the college level wherever he goes,” Romney said of Conover.
The Chandler players attribute their success and readiness for college play to the program that Aguano has established.
The Wolves are currently ranked No. 23 nationally by MaxPreps. Already this season, Chandler played Centennial-Corona of California, a 35-13 loss. This Friday, Chandler will play Faith Lutheran of Nevada in Las Vegas.
“It lets us know where we’re at as a team. That’s why Coach Aguano schedules them at the beginning of the year. Especially this year when we played Centennial, it was humbling for us,” Conover said. "Obviously we have things to work on and every year there are always things to improve. The biggest thing was we were able to respond back and win. That’s a key part of what we do.”
In recent years, the Wolves have played teams like IMG Academy (Florida), Bishop Gorman (Nevada) and Valor Christian (Colorado) early in the season as well as Miami Northwestern (Florida) and Valdosta (Georgia) in postseason bowl games.
“At Chandler, we play national competition. We play some of the best teams in the country,” Romney said. “Here (at BYU), I felt I jumped in pretty quick and learned it pretty easily.”
It starts at the top with Aguano, who took over the Chandler program in 2011 after serving as an offensive assistant for seven years and has delivered three of the school’s four state titles, with the other coming in 1949.
“Coach Aguano does a really good job in instilling in us that we just win. It doesn’t matter who we play against — it could be against the IMGs of the world or like Mesa tonight — we try to go out and play as hard as we can and win. Coach Aguano does a really good job of making this a family,” Conover said.
Aguano called Sitake a good friend of his — “I think he’ll turn that program around and put his stamp on it” — and the Chandler coach said he runs his football team like a college program, with year-round practices, a strength and conditioning program and an emphasis on academics.
“We’ve set that expectation in the classroom and with our football team; we have the talent to do that. Year after year, we’re playing against the best individuals in the country,” Aguano said.
How will Conover fit in at BYU when he makes the jump?
“They’ll get a leader, a leader who’s willing to put down his head and work. He’s coachable. They’re going to get a special player,” the Utes’ Green said of Conover.
We talked about if he hangs up his cleats tomorrow, to go to school for the right reasons. Football is part of the reasons — but also where he wants to live, what he wants to study, etc. – Jeff Conover, Jacob’s father
Aguano said it’s like having another coach on the field.
“His leadership is not by doing things vocally; he’s probably one of the hardest workers in the classroom,” the coach said. “He has a 4.0 GPA and he’s one of the hardest workers in the weight room.”
Jeff Conover is confident his son found a place where he can excel beyond football.
“Most of the schools that it came down to weren’t the ones I thought he would choose,” the father said. “I just wanted him to go somewhere he didn’t want to ever transfer away (from). We talked about if he hangs up his cleats tomorrow, to go to school for the right reasons. Football is part of the reasons — but also where he wants to live, what he wants to study, etc.”
Jacob Conover, likewise, is confident he’s found a new home in Provo.
“My dad went to BYU and I’ve been surrounded by that campus my whole life. Coach Kalani is one of the most amazing head coaches I’ve ever met, and the whole atmosphere about it — I love it,” he said. “I have a lot of family in Utah, and getting like Gunner and Cash (Peterman, another Chandler player) to go to BYU with some other Arizona kids helps build that family.
“Growing up, I loved watching BYU football.”