There were a few raised eyebrows a couple days after Christmas when University of Utah football coach Kyle Whittingham’s nephew announced he was transferring from Boise State to the Utes’ longtime rival, BYU.

“My mom is a Whittingham, and, I mean, I kinda knew I was going to Utah (growing up). Maybe they kinda thought that too. But it was always good vibes (regarding BYU). I have known coach Kalani (Sitake) my whole life. He has always been someone that me and my family have been close to.” — new BYU defensive tackle Jackson Cravens

But defensive tackle Jackson Cravens’ move didn’t surprise his uncle, the former Timpview High all-stater said Wednesday after the Cougars wrapped up their second-to-last spring practice in Provo. Nor did Cravens’ signing with BYU anger or disappoint the Pac-12’s longest-tenured coach.

In fact, the 6-foot-2, 305-pound graduate transfer said his mother Julie’s brother applauded the move.

“It has all been good,” Cravens told reporters after being asked about Whittingham’s reaction when the news broke a few days before the Utes met Penn State in the Rose Bowl. “Just, good vibes. He had nothing but encouragement for me. He was just happy that I could be home again and be around family and all that.”

Cravens actually began his college career as a Ute, committing to his uncle after his junior season at Timpview, turning down an offer from Oklahoma in the process.

He played in one game as a Utah freshman in 2018, against Colorado, and eventually redshirted. Then he decided to move on, and transferred to Boise State, where he spent four seasons and helped the Broncos win a couple of Mountain West championships.

Cravens appeared in 26 games for BSU, starting in 13 of them, and finished with 69 tackles and three sacks. He also graduated, meaning he could transfer a second time without having to sit out a year.

“I played up there for four years, graduated, and I wanted to come home, I wanted to play for BYU,” he said. “The opportunity came up, so I took it and it has been the best decision I have made.”

Cravens said BYU’s move to the Big 12 played a part in his decision, but wasn’t the only reason.

“I wanted to come to BYU anyway, but that was just a plus,” he said. “To play in a conference like that, (against) those kinds of opponents, that will be huge.”

Cravens said he harbored no ill will toward BYU, “the team in my backyard,” while growing up in Provo, it is just that his uncles coached at Utah and cousins Jason, Tyler and Alex Whittingham played for the Utes and his family had long ago switched allegiances to Utah from BYU — where Kyle and Freddie Whittingham played and his grandfather, Fred Whittingham, coached.

The Whittinghams “are my family, at the end of the day, so it has been good (and accepted),” he said, describing how the clan knows the difference between family and rivalry. “Family is this, and football is that.”

Of course, other members of the family have played at places other than Utah. Cousins Su’a Cravens and Jordan Cameron played football for USC (Cameron started his college career as a member of BYU’s basketball team) and in the NFL. 

Jackson’s grandfather, Jack Cravens, played basketball for BYU from 1956-58; his father is Ryan Cravens.

“My mom is a Whittingham, and, I mean, I kinda knew I was going to Utah (growing up),” Jackson Cravens said. “Maybe they kinda thought that too. But it was always good vibes (regarding BYU). I have known coach Kalani (Sitake) my whole life. He has always been someone that me and my family have been close to.”

Of course, Sitake is part of Kyle Whittingham’s ever-growing coaching tree. So is Sione Po’uha, who played for the Utes and was a member of Utah’s Fiesta Bowl team before an eight-year career in the NFL. Po’uha returned to Utah in 2015 as a grad assistant and was Utah’s director of player personnel in 2017 when he helped recruit Cravens to the U.

After a year at Navy (2018), Po’uha was Utah’s defensive tackles coach from 2018-21.

“I was the one who recruited him. I coached him as a freshman and he felt like he needed to venture off a little bit, and kinda fate brought us back together here,” Po’uha said Wednesday. “So there is a lot of great history (between us) already, and we are looking forward to making more history.”

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Po’uha said Cravens has improved and gotten bigger and stronger on the field, but is the same person off it.

“He is everything that I knew he would be,” Po’uha said. “And he has done that on his own accord. He has been able to take his journey. That is the kind of kid Jackson is. I am fortunate to be his coach and be at this crossroads toward the end of his playing career in college.”

Cravens isn’t the only member of Boise State’s 2022 team to migrate south. Defensive end Isaiah Bagnah was also in Bronco blue last fall, as was new BYU special teams coach Kelly Poppinga.

Cravens said the former Cougar linebacker known as K Pop also played a role in getting him to BYU.

“He taught me a lot of special teams,” Cravens said. “I played shield (blocker), and we bonded. It was a really good relationship and it carried over to here, too, in my recruitment.”

Mostly, though, Cravens was eager to play for Sitake, who has often said that Kyle Whittingham is one of his best friends.

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“He is just a players’ coach. Like, if there is someone that is a players’ coach in the country, I feel like it is Kalani,” Cravens said. “You can tell everybody loves playing for him. He’s just such a genuine guy, too, off the field.”

Bottom line, Cravens said, is that he’s happy to be back at the place he calls home.

“It has been what I expected, and I expected it to be a lot of fun,” he said. “It was a high expectation, and it has been met, yeah.”

Even if there were a few looks of surprise.

Boise State defensive tackle Jackson Cravens runs on the field during game against Central Florida on Thursday, Sept. 2, 2021, in Orlando, Fla. Cravens, who is Utah coach Kyle Whittingham’s nephew, will be playing for BYU this fall. | Phelan M. Ebenhack, Associated Press
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