There’s little denying it. BYU head coach Kalani Sitake and his staff have found some recruiting mojo the past year and it is now paying dividends.

It could be due to a lot of things and winning is a big ingredient. The invitation to the Big 12 has also given Sitake something to sell that opponents have used against him in the past, being an independent program and a non-Power Five team. 

But it may be that his family unity culture is taking hold and the word is spreading — he’s fun to play for. 

After four-star defensive end Aisea Moa from Weber High, one of the top pass rushers in the state, committed to Sitake over the weekend, it brought into focus what kind of recruiting momentum BYU is getting out of its complicated matrix that involves an honor code, strict admissions standards and limited scholarships due to missionary service.

Moa, who de-committed from Utah, is the second four-star recruit in Utah to commit to signing with the Cougars in the past three weeks. Earlier, Corner Canyon receiver Cody Hagen, a 6-foot-1, a 175-pound sprinter who had been rumored to be leaning to Stanford, committed to the Cougars on Sept. 30.

Corner Canyon’s Cody Hagen drives past American Fork’s Fisher Ingersoll at American Fork High School on Friday, Sept. 17, 2021. | Laura Seitz, Deseret News

“I think it’s a combination of beating Utah, they finally have some momentum over the Utes and the invitation to the Big 12,” said Seattle-based Brandon Huffman, national recruiting editor for 247Sports.

“But more importantly, the consistency in winning — showing last year wasn’t a flash in the pan, but the result of what Kalani Sitake has been building toward since he took the job.  You combine all three happening at right about the same time, and now you see the recruiting bump,” said Huffman.  

“I’ve always felt the biggest bump in recruiting comes in the class right after the big season, not the one during the season, because you have a whole offseason to ride that success and now you’re seeing that, plus the Big 12 invite and win over Utah, and boom, recruiting accelerates.”

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The Cougars are 16-2 the past two seasons after putting five players in the NFL draft in 2021 led by its highest picked player ever, quarterback Zach Wilson, who went No. 2 to the New York Jets.

In 2017, BYU posted the 66th best recruiting class (247Sports) and is just now seeing those players filter through the program. The following year BYU’s recruiting class by that same service ranked 78th, followed by 81st (2019), 76th (2020) and 72nd in 2021.

Also on a visit this past weekend was a big offensive lineman from Fort Collins, Colorado, Ethan Thompson from Rocky Mountain High. This is an area very familiar to BYU’s new offensive line coach, Fort Collins native Darrell Funk, who played his high school years there before playing and coaching at Colorado State.  

Thompson told Blair Angulo of 247Sports over the weekend, “The BYU visit was awesome. BYU is definitely a special and unique place to play college football. What stood out to me most was that so many people had the same thing to say. Talking to former players, current players, coaches and fans — they all said that the culture of love that coach Kalani Sitake is creating there is unlike any place they have seen or heard of and I definitely felt it.”

After committing this past weekend, Moa, whose father Ben played for Utah and uncle Carlos Nuno played for BYU, began recruiting prospects on BYU’s recruiting board, including four-star defensive lineman Spencer Fano (Timpview High), who is rated the No. 1 tackle in the West.  

“Aisea is my nephew, his father Ben married my sister Christina,” said Nuno. “He’s been awesome for a long time and his speed on the edge will be a great asset to that BYU defense.”

Moa tweeted publicly to Fano to “Make the move, brother,” in a post declaring his commitment to Sitake. Fano’s reaction to Moa’s news on Twitter was “Woahhhhhh!”

This follows the same social media campaign by Westlake Village (California) 350-pound defensive tackle Victory Vaka, who de-committed from Colorado last January and committed to BYU in April. Vaka consistently tweets to BYU recruits, inviting them to “join the family.”

“BYU commits are excited about BYU,” said 247Sports editor of Cougar Sports Insider Jeff Hansen. “They’ve seen the headlines and the national rankings and want to keep that going. In order to do that, they need as much talent as they can get. So the current commits have taken an active role in getting others to come.”

Hansen said Cannon DeVries (Pleasant View) recruited Parker Kingston (Roy) and Aisea Moa. “They all reached out to Cody Hagen. Jaren Kalama (Wasatch High) is reaching out to 2023 targets like Spencer Fano. It’s cool to see.” Kingston de-committed from Air Force the same day he committed to BYU on Sept. 6.

How the (future) Big 12 and Pac-12 did over the weekend

According to the Deseret News, Moa is currently rated the No. 4 recruit in the state behind Devin Brown (USC commit), Lander Barton (Utah lean), and Carsen Ryan (UCLA commit). “Moa initially committed to Utah over offers from BYU and Utah State, not to mention a host of Power Five schools,” according to sportswriter Trent Wood. 

Hagen, according to research by Wood, is the No. sixth-ranked prospect in the state, which is producing much-sought-after prep talent. “One of the premier playmakers on the top-ranked high school team in Utah, Hagen chose the Cougars over offers from more than 20 teams, including Power Five schools like Utah, Oregon, Michigan, USC and Stanford, to say nothing of Ivy League schools like Harvard, Yale, Princeton, Brown and Dartmouth,” Wood reported.

“This season, Hagen has hauled in 52 catches for 1,055 yards and 11 touchdowns. In his prep career, Hagen has recorded 164 receptions for 3,177 yards and 39 touchdowns.”

This recruiting stuff is interesting but vital. The saying goes, that 80% of college football is recruiting.

If indeed Sitake is reaping an uptick in recruiting interest, regardless of the reason, it is a big deal in what gets done away from the field and game day Saturdays.