Kalani Sitake has been working the transfer portal since BYU left the New Mexico Bowl with a win over SMU, and his efforts are producing.

According to 247Sports rankings, BYU is No. 19 in portal recruiting this cycle. As many as nine transfers could start when the Cougars open the 2023 season as a Big 12 Power Five program.

The transfers have come in bunches.

The immediate and obvious were QB Kedon Slovis from Pittsburgh and running back Aidan Robbins from UNLV before the winter semester began. Another wave came through connections made when Sitake hired Weber State head coach Jay Hill, who brought in coaches Justin Ena from San Diego State, Kelly Poppinga (Boise State) and Sione Po’uha, formerly at Utah.

Following Hill to Provo was All-America corner Eddie Heckard, who is expected to start at corner opposite Jakob Robinson, and offensive lineman Jake Eichorn. It looks like Ena’s high school connection in recruiting Utah State linebacker AJ Vongphachanh led to the top Aggies defender choosing to finish his career as a Cougar.

The highest-rated transfers came when Oklahoma State offensive tackle Caleb Etienne and Utah’s O lineman Paul Maile enrolled. Both were starters in the Big 12 and Pac-12 and are expected to make an immediate impact. 

USU transfer offensive lineman Weylin Lapuaho, who started every game as a freshman for the Aggies, adds needed depth.

Boise State defensive end transfers Isaiah Bagnah and Jackson Cravens are expected to make an impact, as are SUU transfers Dylan Flowers (cornerback) and Wyatt Dawe (defensive lineman).

It appears BYU is far from finished picking up transfers, with a myriad of offers still on the table. A search for more receiver depth is ongoing. To make room, at least 19 players from last year’s roster have entered the transfer portal, the latest being offensive guard Mac Aloisio and defensive end Brooks Maile.

Why all the shuffling?

It’s evident. Going into the Big 12, Sitake and his coordinators Aaron Roderick and Jay Hill know they need depth.  

When Utah’s Kyle Whittingham prepared his program for the Pac-12, Sitake and Hill were both on his staff and they have all declared teams like Utah and BYU did just fine competing with their starters against P5 foes. The difference was the second- and third-stringers.  When injuries occur or there are performance issues, it is mandatory you fill the gap with a quality replacement or else you’re in trouble.

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Examining the Cougars’ 2023 post-spring defensive and special teams depth charts

You need look no further than the Cougars a year ago when the defense was decimated by injuries and questionable replacements were thrown into the mix. Injuries sidelined every key starting receiver, including Puka Nacua, Gunner Romney, Kody Epps and Chase Roberts. All missed games, and the most experienced tight end, Isaac Rex, continues to recover from an injury he suffered two years ago during a win at USC. Running back Chris Brooks also missed significant time due to injury.

Thus, all the transfer chase.

There are some who question why BYU would go after transfers from G5 programs like Boise State, Utah State or even Weber State or SUU.

Same answer. Depth.

Don’t forget, it’s not where you play, it’s how you play and how much talent you have.

Who can forget that Chicago Bear great Walter Payton played at Jackson State and one of the greatest NFL receivers of all time, Jerry Rice, played at little-known Mississippi Valley State.

Both Weber State and SUU have put players in the NFL. Most recently, in 2022, Weber State NFL players on rosters included Taron Johnson (Bills), Iosua Opeta (Eagles), Jonah Williams (Rams) and Rashid Shaheed (Saints).

And … where did Portland’s NBA star, Damian Lillard, play?

In Ogden.

Sitake and company are not going to get transfer players from Ohio State, Florida or LSU, but they will get an occasional P5 player looking for greener pastures, primarily playing time, a change of scenery or coaching, or NIL money. Utah’s Maile and Oklahoma State’s Etienne are examples.

But make no mistake about this transfer calculation. Sitake is hunting depth, trying to fill out his depth chart with quality competition and talent that can step in during tough times.

If you look at his offensive line as constituted right now, you get the picture of one position group that has greatly benefited this offseason from the portal.

Folks say, in football, it all begins with the offensive line.

BYU offensive line lines up at Autzen Stadium in Eugene on Saturday, Sept. 17, 2022. The transfer portal has helped BYU add depth to its offensive line heading into its first season in the Big 12. | Jeffrey D. Allred, Deseret News

Correction: The original version of this story stated that Jake Eichorn is a linebacker. He is actually an offensive lineman.