There might not be a busier man in the BYU football program these days than Justin Anderson, the former Cougar receiver who was hired last May to succeed Jasen Ah You as director of player personnel when head coach Kalani Sitake significantly added to his support staff.

“There is always room to continue to improve your roster. We will always look at that. But I feel like the guys we have added so far that have signed are really solid players and are going to make our team better.” — Justin Anderson, BYU director of player personnel

Anderson, an Orem native, was Virginia’s personnel director for six years under former BYU coach Bronco Mendenhall and brought plenty of Power Five recruiting and personnel experience with him from the ACC. He was at BYU in 2015 in a similar role before leaving for the East Coast with Mendenhall, and was an on-field assistant coach at Nicholls from 2010-15.

According to Jeff Hansen of Cougar Sports Insider on the 247sports.com network, BYU is losing at least 37 players off its 2022 roster, including players who have graduated and/or moved on to the NFL or entered the transfer portal. Obviously, all those players will need to be replaced by a combination of returned missionaries, play-first signees from the high school and junior college ranks who signed last December or signed Wednesday when another signing period began with National Signing Day, and additions from the transfer portal.

That’s where Anderson comes in.

It’s his job to coordinate and manage it all, keep track of all the comings and goings, and make sure there are 123 quality players on the roster when the season begins Sept. 2 against the Sam Houston Bearkats. Oh, and the stakes are higher than they have ever been to field a top-flight team that can compete favorably in the Big 12.

This guy, along with new recruiting coordinator Patrick Hickman, are under more pressure in Provo than anyone not named Kalani Sitake or Kedon Slovis — the graduate transfer quarterback from Pitt and USC.

Obviously, the rebuild of BYU’s roster is well underway, and has been for months, if not years. The Cougars added 13 high school players during the December early signing period and two junior college products — quarterback Jake Retzlaff (Riverside CC) and cornerback Jayden Dunlap (Cerritos College).

BYU director of player personnel Justin Anderson. | BYU Photo

As of Monday, they had signed eight guys from the transfer portal, most notably Utah offensive lineman Paul Maile, Slovis and running back Aidan Robbins of Louisville/UNLV.

Speaking to the Deseret News on Monday, Anderson anticipated that BYU would announce an inking of “a few more” high school prospects on Wednesday’s Signing Day and a “good number” of returned missionaries who have returned or will be returning before fall camp begins in early August and will be joining the program this fall, if they haven’t already.

Indeed, the Cougars signed three more players Wednesday, including four-star Texas running back LJ Martin.

Bottom line: Anderson believes the roster has been upgraded and the program is “on track” to be ready for Power Five football.

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“I feel like based on what we had leaving, and the guys that are coming in, I think we did a good job, all things considered,” he said Monday. “That’s especially true considering the huge coaching change on one side of the ball.”

Weber State coach Jay Hill was hired to replace Ilaisa Tuiaki as defensive coordinator and Kelly Poppinga, Justin Ena and Sione Po’uha were added to the defensive staff, replacing Ed Lamb, Kevin Clune and Preston Hadley.

Anderson said the new coaches have hit the ground running on the recruiting front, evidenced by some of the highly touted players they lured out of the portal, including Maile, Weber State defensive back Eddie Heckard, Boise State defenders Jackson Cravens and Isaiah “Zay” Bagnah and Ian Fitzgerald, an offensive lineman from Missouri State.

“We had a lot of turnover with guys leaving and graduation, so there was a lot of opportunity to make some changes,” Anderson said. “I really do feel like we are in a good location. There is always room to continue to improve your roster. We will always look at that. But I feel like the guys we have added so far that have signed are really solid players and are going to make our team better.”

Anderson said the Cougars will be “right where we need to be” in terms of scholarships available after Signing Day and that there won’t be a lot of room to add more scholarship players moving forward.

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“But I think there are always opportunities,” he said, leaving the door open for a Puka Nacua-like pickup when the transfer portal opens again on May 1. “I think you are always looking. If there is a difference-maker that fits the culture and what we want here, then absolutely we will find a way to make adjustments. I think we will have the ability to do that.”

Here’s more from the Deseret News’ Q&A with Anderson. Some responses have been edited for clarity and brevity:

On whether any transfer portal losses came as surprises to coaches:

“I think we kinda had a feeling (on most of them), for the most part. I think there were one or two that caught us off guard. But when you are recruiting, you are always planning that there could be some people that you don’t expect to leave, that leave. So when you do that, you always have the ability to make adjustments quickly, if that makes sense.

“You are constantly recruiting kids, and so if there is an adjustment that needs to be made, there is a list of kids that you have been recruiting that you could fill that spot with. And I think we did that.”

On why BYU brings in so many preferred walk-ons:

“I feel like here at BYU, the way we see those guys, those are top-level guys for us, especially with our Built Bar program that is here, our NIL program for our walk-ons.

“And those are as important as anything. The better quality of those kids that you bring in, the better quality of the overall roster that you have, the better the competition.”

On which returned missionaries could make an impact this fall:

“There are some really good ones. I hate to say they are going to jump in right away. Having been a returned missionary myself (I know it is hard).

“Are there some quality kids? Yes. But everyone’s body is different. It depends on how quickly they can adjust to being home. With the additions that the fans will see, you will see that there are some really good players the fans were really excited about before their missions.

“They should be equally excited about them returning home from their missions. Now whether they play this year or not, I don’t like to put pressure on kids, making them feel like they have to play this year or it is not what I expect.”

Timpview players celebrate after Timpview cornerback Raider Damuni returns a fumble for a touchdown during a 5A football state semifinal game at Cedar Valley High in Eagle Mountain on Friday, Nov. 13, 2020. Damuni is back home from his mission and enrolled at BYU. | Yukai Peng, Deseret News

On former Timpview High star Raider Damuni, a defensive back, being one of those returned missionaries who is already home and enrolled in school:

“You know, the later you get home in the summer, probably the harder it is. … One kid who is back and in school is Raider Damuni. I am sure a lot of fans know who he is. It will be interesting to see him progress, and he is a really good talent and player, and a great kid. I think he is progressing well.”

On saying last May when he was hired that BYU has a Power Five-ready roster, and if he still believes that after a rocky 8-5 season in 2022:

“Do I feel that confident now? Yeah, I think if you look at the guys that we added from this last group, the transfers that came in, I would say yeah. I think we lost some quality players. We are going to lose three guys that will play in the Senior Bowl (Jaren Hall, Blake Freeland, Nacua). Those always hurt. They are great kids, great leaders. But I think they have done a good job prior to me getting here, and I feel like we will continue to do a good job of finding the right kinds and then with returned missionaries coming home I think we are in a good position.

“I think we will have a really good roster. I don’t know if that always means you are going to win every game. … But I think the quality of the player we have here is good, and Power Five (level), and I think it can only get better. That’s the exciting part to me.”

On if there are any specific positions where they still need immediate help or depth:

“No, not specifically. I think you will always look for positions where they can make big differences. One position is obviously receiver. I think our quarterback position looks really good right now, and healthy. I think (with) receivers, you will always look for another (playmaker), if there are opportunities to find the right guy who is a really big-time playmaker, then obviously you take them. You don’t just take guys to take them.

“With defensive backs, you would always take a guy there because the quality of those kids, if you find a good one, you always want to take those guys if you can. I think those positions are really good right now (for BYU), but if you found the right guy, I think you would always find a role for them, if that makes sense.”

On whether NIL opportunities available in Provo are a big part of BYU football’s recruiting pitch:

“It is not. I think we have a different philosophy on that. I like what we are doing. NIL is part of college football. Moving forward it will be a part of college football. But I think if that is what you base everything on, then you can lose sight of the culture of the program, and what BYU is specifically about. Are there NIL opportunities for kids here? Absolutely. But I wouldn’t say that is our primary focus.”

On whether they are on track to be competitive in the Big 12 in their first year in that league:

“Yes. I think we filled some pieces that we needed to fill with some of the guys that left. But I think the best way to answer that question is every year you want to get better. So our goal is next year to get better than we got this year, and I feel like we will do that. I think as long as you are continually doing that, and know what you are searching for and what your guiding principles are, and the measurables that you are looking for, I think we will be right on track with where we want to be.”

And end zone marker is seen with the Big 12 Conference log and Texas logo during game between the Texas and the Louisiana-Lafayette, Tuesday, Sept. 7, 2021, in Austin, Texas. Next fall the Cougars will travel to Austin to face the Longhorns as fellow Big 12 members. | Eric Gay, Associated Press