BYU’s latest addition to the offensive line is a 6-foot-7 high school basketball player who hadn’t played football since the eighth grade.
Tyler Little fits the bill for how head coach Kalani Sitake approaches recruiting, going for measurables and developmental players in a world where four- and five-star recruits are targeted by the nation’s top football programs.
Little, who already served a two-year Latter-day Saint mission to Chile and Houston, Texas, worked out with a junior college football team and turned heads of recruiters at Boise State, Utah, BYU and Baylor.
Unranked in the star system, he is an impressive athlete coming in with no football experience.
When you see that four of the five Cougar players drafted in the 2021 draft were either walk-ons or just 2-star players, and Zach Wilson, who has never rated higher than three stars out of Corner Canyon yet became the highest player drafted in school history, maybe the approach is working.
Right now BYU has more quality experienced depth at cornerback than at any time in two decades. Maybe ever.
And that’s by design, according to assistant head coach Ed Lamb, who is tasked with being the point man for evaluating personnel. He has a big say in who will receive scholarships and exactly where players will be targeted to play on the field.
In a mid-May interview with Ben Criddle on ESPN 960 radio, Lamb elaborated on how Sitake’s staff targets tangibles and the upside of prospects rather than the star system ranking in recruiting.
“It really is the standard,” said Lamb. “I mean that’s the term I use. I’ve got a standard at certain positions that I won’t budge on. There’s a length standard and there’s a speed standard. There’s a little bit of a cross between that. If the guy’s not quite as long, not quite as tall, then I’d like to see him be more dynamic and faster, particularly with corners for me and Coach Jernaro Gilford.”
Lamb said BYU recruiting for corners since he’s been there is patterned after the story of Chris Wilcox, who was overlooked as a football player but was a track athlete and was drafted by Tampa Bay in the seventh round, the first BYU corner taken since Derwin Gray in 1993.
“We’re looking for demonstrated speed on the track. It is very difficult for us to pull the trigger on a guy if they are close but we’ve got a demonstrated and long-term track time on one player and another one seems the same on video. We’re gonna go with the guy that’s got that demonstrated verifiable speed,” said Lamb.
Lamb said he credits Sitake because both he and the head coach believe the standards are the most important thing in a program that emphasizes development, particularly in defensive players that can impact a game.
“Football is a developmental sport. It’s a skilled sport. We aren’t playing baseball, we’re not playing golf. You don’t have to start when you are 3 years old. Some of our best players don’t even start playing football until they’re sophomores or juniors in high school. That being said, I think there’re probably some schools that can go out and have a high standard of height, weight, and speed, and the talent is there, the development has already occurred. I think with the schedule we are trying to play, particularly in the secondary, we have to take guys with upside.” That means potential with measurables.
Lamb said he and Gilford have worked together a very long time, way before they came to coach at BYU (SUU), and they normally don’t win recruiting battles out of state.
“Non-LDS defensive backs who are getting attention from Pac 12 schools are not easily committable to BYU, but we are not going to do it with the second-rate recruit. We have to have a standard of speed, size, competitiveness and character, so we just go out and keep beating the bushes.”
Lamb said his name gets thrown around because of his success at SUU getting corners drafted and the Wilcox story is always linked to his efforts.
“It is a complete team effort in fact-finding them. There is a lot of work in it but the magic really occurs when Jernaro takes over, encourages them, chases them around campus and, you know, plays the game you have to as a position coach. He has a strong relationship with the players as a position coach. It’s a long answer but I’m passionate about it. We take a lot of developmental players.”
A few days before BYU’s media day June 17, Gilford told the Deseret News he believed the cornerback position would be the strength of BYU’s defense in 2021.
“Sometimes we have to take our bumps and bruises with them because they don’t know the position for the first few years. And that’s the hard part, you know,” Gilford said. “We do recruit natural corners now just to help those guys. When you have a pure corner, a guy like Micah Harper, those guys can come in and teach the (less experienced) guys so much, because they already know the right way to do it.”
Cornerback D’Angelo Mandell described the process of developing as a cornerback group over the years.
“There were a lot of ups and downs in the beginning when we were freshmen. That’s just what it’s like coming in straight out of high school. Over the years we’ve built trust and we’ve obviously gotten better each year,” said Mandell on media day June 17.
Lamb said size and speed trump every measurable in a recruit that fits the BYU admittance. He’ll take that over everything.
It’ll be fun to see if they can mold these players into stars.