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Why BYU football hunts for under-the-radar prospects — and how it’s paid off

Cornerback Chris Wilcox is a prime example of what the Cougars are looking for when they hit the recruiting trail

Defensive nacl Chris Wilcox runs the 40-yard dash during BYU pro day in Provo on Friday, March 26, 2021.
Defensive back Chris Wilcox runs the 40-yard dash during BYU pro day in Provo on Friday, March 26, 2021.
Jeffrey D. Allred, Deseret News

Call it the Ed Lamb strategy.

At Southern Utah University and now at BYU, the assistant head coach Lamb believes in recruiting prospects who might be overlooked, but have the “measurables.”

Measurables mean size, speed and potential. By taking those ingredients and developing them, you could end up with a star.

BYU coaches must recruit a little differently because they do not go after several hundred players to get their 18 to 25 a year. They have to be selective, and prospects must be a multifaceted fit.

“We have to go after recruits, especially at corner and safety, that might be a little under the radar,” said Lamb.

This is exactly the case of BYU’s best cover corner in 2020, Chris Wilcox, who turned a lot of heads at his pro day two weeks ago in Provo. There, at 6-foot-2, with the length NFL scouts like in corners, he tied the best 40 time ever recorded for a BYU athlete with a sizzling 4.31 time (unofficial). Wilcox was a “hidden” gem two-star recruit out of Corona, California’s Roosevelt High.

Lamb did the same thing when he “found” 2015 SUU NFL draftees Miles Killebrew (strong safety) and corner LeShaun Sims. His quarterback, Brad Sorensen, who set all kinds of SUU passing records, was drafted by the San Diego Chargers.

Now, Lamb is on the hunt again.

But there is only so much that recruiters can do during the COVID-19 restrictions, and doing Zoom call interviews is one of them.

The day BYU spring football ended, Lamb said, was the time for BYU’s staff to do its research and contact recruits. “You can only do so much on Zoom,” he admitted.

The NCAA has extended its no in-person-contact-with-recruits rule until May 31. But juniors and their families can be called or texted from now until then.

“We have a lot of front-seven guys, offensive linemen, fullbacks and tight ends, who grow up BYU fans. We don’t have a lot of corners that grow up BYU fans,” said Lamb.

“So we’ve got to go out there and find some guys that are a little bit under the radar that have the requisite speed to cover in Division I, and we like them to be long here as well. We like guys who are a little taller.”

Wilcox is the first to reach graduation at BYU since Lamb arrived after his stint as head coach at SUU. Lamb loved the show Wilcox put on in front of scouts on pro day. It had a lot of impact.

“I’m so proud of him, and that 4.31 is just a blazing time for a 6-3 corner who is over 200 pounds,” said Lamb.

“I think it’s an inspiration for that class right behind him. You know, Keenan Ellis and D’Angelo Mandell, Isaiah Herron and Malik Moore, those guys are right there,” Lamb continued. “And I think it’s an inspiration for all of them to see what Chris did on pro day. They all came in together. They’ve all trained together, and for them to see Chris do that and all the excitement around what’s in store for him, I think it’ll pay dividends for the use in the program as well.”

BYU has four commits for the class of 2022 who have been publicized or announced on Twitter. They include linebacker/tight end Noah Moeaki (American Fork); Cannon DeVries, an athlete out of Weber High in Ogden; Jarinn Kalama, another athlete out of Wasatch High in Heber City; and Maika Kaufusi, a safety at Alta High in Sandy.

The Lamb strategy has shown plenty of success since he arrived in Provo.

BYU isn’t known for producing NFL-type corners, but five former Cougars are earning money playing in secondaries, including safeties Daniel Sorensen, Kai Nacua and Dallin Leavitt, and corners Mike Davis and Robertson Daniel (CFL).

If you go by the star rankings, BYU’s recruiting classes don’t impress, averaging somewhere in the 70s or 80s. But that’s why Lamb believes in his strategy and why it got him Wilcox.

In 2018, the Cougars signed Zach Wilson, who had committed to Boise State and was ranked about No. 50-something in that class of QBs with Trevor Lawrence (Clemson) No. 1. He could now end up the No. 2 player taken in the 2020 draft.

While highly recruited receiver Gunner Romney and tight end Dallin Holker were signed, some under-the-radar prospects in that same class were receiver and former walk-on Dax Milne and running back Tyler Allgeier.

“We’re really looking for the under-the-radar kids. It’s hard to do that just with internet recruiting,” said Lamb.

“It’s easy to find players all over the country but, you know, we generally find guys who don’t have a lot of other options. And Chris was one of those guys. He had one offer and that was BYU, and several of those other guys I mentioned were in the same situation. I think they’ll be in a similar situation next year going to NFL camps and on draft boards. We need to find that next crop.”