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For Kalani Sitake, Kyle Whittingham, June is now as busy as any other month

BYU and Utah coaches spoke Monday about importance of mental health and the expanding demands on those in the coaching profession

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Utah Utes football head coach Kyle Whittingham and BYU football head coach Kalani Sitake react to a question.

Utah Utes football head coach Kyle Whittingham and BYU football head coach Kalani Sitake react to a question during a ceremony for the Coaches Legacy Golf Invitational at Hidden Valley Country Club in Sandy on Monday, June 6, 2022.

Mengshin Lin, Deseret News

Even though it is June and the BYU Cougars’ 2022 football season opener is a little more than three months away and the start of preseason training camp is about 50 days away, head coach Kalani Sitake has a lot going on this month.

After golfing in the Coaches Legacy Golf Invitational on Monday, an annual event that benefits the National Kidney Foundation of Utah and Idaho, Sitake raced off to join youth football players at one of his annual summer football camps in Provo.

Those will go on for the next couple of weeks, along with a lot of recruiting, Sitake said.

For instance, BYU hosted four high-profile recruits last week and expect more the next few weeks, many of whom participate in one of the camps. Rarely does BYU make scholarship offers to players who do not attend a summer football camp at BYU.

Recruits on campus last week included tight ends Walker Lyons and Jackson Bowers, offensive lineman Ethan Thomason and defensive end Hunter Clegg. The first three are consensus four-star recruits, while Clegg is a three-star on some recruiting websites, a four-star on others.

“I mean, they just opened up June and July where you can work with your players. There used to be dead periods where you could go on vacation. Now, with the new rules, it is essentially (working) 365 days a year, darn near, and I think it is crazy. I think something has to be done.” — Utah football coach Kyle Whittingham

Sitake couldn’t talk specifically about the recruits, per NCAA rules, but acknowledged it was a “big” weekend for the Cougars’ recruiting efforts and that everything went well. 

“A lot of people helped out,” he said, expressing thanks to everyone from BYU administrators to campus personnel to professors and faculty members for pitching in.

At the same event, Utah coach Kyle Whittingham noted that because of the early signing period in December, the increased emphasis on getting guys out of the transfer portal, and name, image and likeness issues, Utah is hosting more recruits than ever this month and assistant coaches are having to work harder than ever.  

Recent rule changes, such as NIL and free one-time transfer eligibility waivers, “have made a huge difference,” Whittingham said. “We have 42 official visits scheduled for June, and that is unheard of. Things are changing so dramatically, and with NIL and the transfer portal, it is a completely different job now than it was five years ago.”

Sitake said BYU’s number of visits this month is higher than usual as well.

And next month, the coach who is entering his seventh season will see his family grow. Sitake, 46, and his wife, Timberly, will welcome their fourth child to the family, a baby girl. The infant will join daughters Skye and Sadie and son Kelaokalani (KK).

Ever the humorist, Sitake said somewhat ruefully that he will be “an old man” — 64, technically — when the new baby graduates from high school.

The coach also took some time Monday in a chat with reporters to remind folks, including coaches, to pay attention to their mental health and not be afraid to seek help when it is needed.

“A lot of people need to remember that coaches are people, too. So we need to adjust, too. To anybody that has any issues with mental health: It is a normal thing. It is OK. I hope anyone who feels the need for help, that they can get it, and they don’t feel ashamed of it. And they know that there is strength in numbers.

“A lot of us in the community suffer from that, and it doesn’t have to be a long suffering,” Sitake continued. “It is something we can work on together. I hope they know that, and all of us know that they can rely on the resources that are available and get the love that people have for us.”

Whittingham seconded Sitake’s sentiments on mental health, saying he worries every day about his assistants and staff members suffering from burnout.

“I mean, they just opened up June and July where you can work with your players,” Whittingham said. “There used to be dead periods where you could go on vacation. Now, with the new rules, it is essentially (working) 365 days a year, darn near, and I think it is crazy. I think something has to be done.

“These guys are putting in 80-hour weeks all during the season, and then (with) summer recruiting times even more than that,” Whittingham continued. “Now, we get compensated really well. I am not crying the blues, and we are not crying the blues. But there is a potential for burnout when you never really get a real break from it.”

Cougars look to stay healthy

Sitake took some time Monday to provide an update on the state of his football team, and what feedback he’s been getting from workouts and player-run practices.

“Guys are looking good. I think the key for us is getting everyone healthy and getting therm ready,” he said. “We are a much better team when everyone is playing and we are a healthy team.”

Among the key players recovering from injuries last year or offseason surgeries are linebackers Payton Wilgar and Keenan Pili, defensive backs Micah Harper and Chaz Ah You, and tight end Isaac Rex, who was injured in the regular-season finale against USC.

“It shows a lot more on the scoreboard (when a team is healthy),” Sitake said. “So the goal is to get strong, but at the same time stay healthy and try to find ways to stay healthy as a team. That’s the goal.”

He said that the additions to the support staff, such as a full-time sports nutritionist, are already paying off, “especially in the ability to stay healthy as a team.”

Utah’s Kyle Whittingham and BYU’s Kalani Sitake will lead their football teams into a matchup on Sept. 11.

Utah Utes head coach Kyle Whittingham and Brigham Young Cougars head coach Kalani Sitake shake hands after the game in Salt Lake City on Saturday, Sept. 10, 2016. Utah won 20-19.

Jeffrey D. Allred, Deseret News