ARLINGTON, Texas — It was 176 years ago this month when Brigham Young declared “This is the right place” as the pioneers rolled into the untamed Salt Lake Valley. Had he been at Wednesday’s Big 12 media days in Dallas and listened to BYU coach Kalani Sitake, he might have said it again.

Fielding a question about recruiting as a new member of the Big 12, Sitake sat boldly in front of a throng of national, regional, and local media and acknowledged an uptick in interest — and then he said so much more.

“(The Big 12) has created a little curiosity for people who have never thought of BYU as a destination to play,” he said. “What they do is, they look into it, and start to find out that ‘Hey, they are aligned with what I’m aligned with.’”

Then the former missionary started to preach.

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“We are a faith-based institution. We are affiliated with The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints,” Sitake said. “A lot of people don’t know much about the church or about our mission, but our football program is right in alignment with the mission of our church. We claim our belief in Jesus Christ as our Savior and there are a lot of people who fall in line with that, whether they are members of the church or not.”

Some reporters hastily wrote down Sitake’s comments while others just sat and listened. There was no snickering, belittling or condescending. This isn’t that kind of crowd. This isn’t that kind of conference.

The coach continued.

“(The Big 12) has just opened the doors and widened our net in recruiting. We’ve seen it happen in the transfer portal and with the recruits we have brought in and talked to,” he said. “For us, our job is to make sure the product on the field matches what kids want to play in, and the culture that I run in our program matches what they want to be a part of.”

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A regional reporter turned to me afterwards and said, “I’d play for that guy.”

Sitake’s comfort in baring the soul of his program to media he has never met before is indicative of his convictions and of the culture that permeates throughout the Big 12. BYU is a fit here — academically, athletically and even spiritually.

The Texas-sized lovefest of media days will be short-lived and succumb to survival-of-the-fittest competition. Sitake can’t predict wins, but he can keep his program in alignment with its core values — a constitution supported by a conference of foes and fans that travel in a similar direction.

The Cougars are their own pioneers, marching into an untamed land the likes of which they have never seen before. It’s gonna be tough. A first timer rarely has it easy, but they can take heart in Brigham Young’s declaration, when it comes to BYU and the Big 12, no matter the level of difficulty, “This is the right place.”

BYU coach Kalani Sitake speaks at the Big 12 college football media days in Arlington, Texas, Wednesday, July 12, 2023. | LM Otero, Associated Press

Dave McCann is a contributor to the Deseret News and is the studio host for “BYU Sports Nation Game Day,” “The Post Game Show,” “After Further Review,” and play-by-play announcer for BYUtv. He is also co-host of “Y’s Guys” at ysguys.com.