BYU’s 2016 football signing class still ranks as the best in the Kalani Sitake era, garnering a No. 49 overall ranking from

Having been on the job less than two months, Sitake signed the likes of Jaren Hall, Aleva Hifo, Chris Wilcox, Clark Barrington, Max Tooley, Keenan Pili and Troy Warner. 

But Sitake wasn’t the chief architect of that class. Most of the players were recruited by his predecessor, Bronco Mendenhall, and managed by Mendenhall’s director of player personnel at the time, former Cougars receiver Justin Anderson — who followed Mendenhall to Virginia to take a similar role with the Cavaliers.

Well, Anderson is back.

Monday, he was named BYU’s new director of player personnel, part of the wave of new hirings announced by Sitake as the Cougars’ football support staff grows in an attempt to get the program more ready for Big 12 entrance in 2023. Sitake said Anderson not only brings Power Five experience as Virginia’s personnel director the past six years, the Orem native was also an on-field assistant coach at FCS member Nicholls State from 2010-15 before he returned to BYU to work for Mendenhall for a season, replacing Geoff Martzen.

“You are evaluating players, you are managing roster numbers, and all those types of things. So there is a lot that goes into it. I love it. To me it is like a puzzle. You try to put the best pieces together, and support the coaches and help them find the guys that they want to recruit.” — New BYU director of personnel Justin Anderson

“For Justin specifically, he’s been a coach before. So he’s done it. He was a teammate of mine. He played here. He knows what the BYU experience is all about,” Sitake said. “But he also has the experience of seeing what it is like from a P5 level and more recently when the change was made at Virginia to be hired at East Carolina quickly.”

After Mendenhall abruptly resigned at Virginia last December, Anderson found a job at East Carolina in the same role. But he said Wednesday in a Zoom meeting with reporters that when the opportunity to return to Utah County came up, he couldn’t pass on it.

“This is home. My family is here,” Anderson said. “I am really grateful to coach (Mike) Houston at ECU. When things went down at Virginia and we were all looking for jobs, he gave me an opportunity. … When this opportunity came up, he gave me great advice and was really supportive of me accepting this role — which is really nice to have in the college football world.”

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Sitake said when the new position was created — Jasen Ah You was the executive coordinator of recruiting and player personnel and also BYU’s Pro/NFL liaison before the changes — he immediately thought of Anderson and called East Carolina and asked for permission to talk to his former teammate about the opening. It was granted.

“We knew right away that he would be a great fit here, and in this program, and support staff,” said Sitake, who clearly isn’t finished adding to his support staff. “There are still a lot of individuals out there that I think would fit, and their personalities and identities and the people they are could really enhance the program and what we are trying to get done.”

Anderson said the best way to explain his new job at BYU is to liken it to what a general manager does for an NFL team.

LaVell Edwards Stadium sits empty prior to the 2022 spring alumni game in Provo. In 2023, the stadium will be the venue for Big 12 games when the Cougars join that league. | Jaren Wilkey, BYU Photo

“You are evaluating players, you are managing roster numbers, and all those types of things,” he said. “So there is a lot that goes into it. I love it. To me it is like a puzzle. You try to put the best pieces together, and support the coaches and help them find the guys that they want to recruit.”

In the news release announcing the changes, Sitake said a director of player personnel is responsible for managing the football roster for all prospective and current players, including the onboarding and offboarding process of members of the official football roster, and ensuring each position group is filled.

At Virginia, Anderson helped produce the two highest-ranked signing classes in program history. He helped do the same in 2015 at BYU — Keanu Saleapaga, J.T. Gentry, Jackson Kaufusi, Drew Jensen, Atunaisa Mahe and Handsome Tanielu were also part of that 2016 signing class.

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Naturally, Anderson fielded questions about BYU’s readiness to play in the Big 12 — after he had mentioned that he has followed the program from afar when he was an assistant coach at Nicholls State and on Mendenhall’s staff at Virginia.

“I will tell you that last year when we played them I thought they looked great. I think they have done a great job here,” he said. “They have had success beating Power Five programs. To (do that) you need a Power Five roster, right? You can’t beat those teams if you are not competing, talent-wise.

“I hope that I can help build, and grow, and improve and (do) whatever else needs to be done here,” Anderson continued. “Honestly, I think they have a Power Five roster. I don’t think you can beat Power Five teams consistently without having a Power Five roster.”

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Anderson will report to Jon Swift, BYU’s newly appointed chief of staff. Swift was director of football operations the past four years for Sitake. Billy Nixon, former director of player experience and equipment, will move into Swift’s former position.

Justin Anderson is pictured in 2022. | Joey Garrison/BYU Photo

“Things have changed, and it is exciting to see the growth of BYU the past six years,” Anderson said. “I played with Kalani, and I played with coach (Aaron) Roderick and coach (Jernaro) Gilford. I am really excited to come back and be around some amazing men, and an amazing university that gave me a lot of opportunities. It is a place I believe in strongly. It continues to grow, and I am excited to be a part of that growth.”

Because he has on-field coaching in his blood and on his resume, Anderson is often asked if he wants to get back on the sidelines one day.

“You know, I coached and I loved it. I had an amazing experience coaching, and it provided me some insight for this role that is unique, having coached and recruited and been on the road,” he said. “I love what I am doing, and I made a conscious decision to do that, and it was hard. … I love evaluating and recruiting, so for me, I am happy with where I am at.”

BYU football players get in some work during 2022 spring camp at the BYU in Provo. | BYU Photo
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