Jernaro Gilford is quietly, almost stealthily, refitting one aspect of BYU football that’s been a challenge for decades.
He’s recruiting, signing, teaching and developing cornerbacks.
Gilford’s chore isn’t easy, but he’s succeeding.
One may not boast he’s hitting it out of the ballpark, but he isn’t recruiting for Ohio State or Georgia, schools that have five-star recruits drop in their laps.
No, Gilford is on the seek and find program. Only at BYU, the mission is more like prospecting for a flake of gold in oceans of sand.
He doesn’t swoop down from a private jet. He flies coach, rents a car and fights his way down ribbons of steel on freeways and exit ramps.
His hunt is tough but satisfying because he doesn’t chase star rankings as much as he looks for the hungry.
That’s how you do it when you look for the overlooked, the Tyler Allgeier.
You saw it pay off early in the 2021 season before, during and after injuries whittled down what BYU’s defense could do.
You saw it in the wins over Arizona, Arizona State, Utah, South Florida and Utah State.
If you don’t have corners with the speed to flash man coverage, it limits what a defense can do, and Gilford has done a remarkable job working with a group of athletes that the Cougars are not known for recruiting easily — the African American junior college transfer and high school recruits who are not members of the sponsoring The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.
In this regard, Gilford has been one of the most valuable members of Kalani Sitake’s staff. As a former BYU player, his understanding of the community, the school and culture, along with an astute eye for talent that’s relatively under the radar, have been impressive.
Raised in the inner city of Los Angeles, Gilford has a unique background for both recruiting and teaching.
When most all of the football assistant coaches’ contracts were redone last month, you’ve got to hope Gilford got a big bump.
In this latest recruiting cycle just signed, BYU added four defensive backs among the six athletes announced on signing day.
All include the one ingredient Gilford has an eye for: speed.
The four high school prospects signed will be added to a group of veterans who can tutor and bring them along, Gilford explained on signing day.
He has a plan for not only mentoring but also detailed development of deploying greater speed to BYU’s secondary.
Another trait these recruits possess is some height and big frames to fill out, the so-called “measurables.”
The four players include three from his home state of California: Zion Allen (6-1, 150, Manteca High), Nathaniel Gillis (6-1, 174, Steele Canyon) and Evan Johnson (6-1, 175, Stevenson High).
The fourth is Korbyn Green (6-0, 175, Owasso High) from Tulsa who has been timed at 10.7 in the 100 meters and 4.41 in the 40.
These are added to a group that signed early in December. That group includes one of the Utah’s best athletes, 6-0 Cannon DeVries (6-0, 165, Weber High), and one of the state’s top sprinters, Marcus McKenzie from Pine View High.
Marcus and his twin brother Dominique (a receiver) are both sub-10.6 100-meter track stars.
Gilford is eager to get back Micah Harper, who missed last year after injuring his knee in spring practice 2021.
Keenan Ellis, the starting left corner in the season opener against Arizona in Las Vegas, is back after missing the entire season after sustaining a concussion in that game.
Gilford will get back D’Angelo Mandell and Shamon Willis at that left corner spot with Ellis, and on the other side, Kaleb Hayes and Isaiah Herron return.
It remains to be seen how good this group will be, but with Ellis and Harper back as choices, Gilford appears to be in the perfect position to follow the developmental plan that fielded Chris Wilcox a few years ago.
When asked on signing day which of the newcomers could contribute right away, Gilford didn’t hesitate. He wasn’t going to deflate anyone. It may have just been coachspeak when he answered, “All of them.”