BYU’s debut season in the Big 12 taught Kalani Sitake that he needed to change his ways. The Cougars defense gave up too many yards and too many points, and as a result, they suffered too many defeats.
Still smoldering over BYU’s 5-7 season, which ended with five straight losses, the head coach and his right-hand man, defensive coordinator Jay Hill, embarked on a new way to build a roster.
“These are versatile, big-time players. They can get after the quarterback, and I like that they are big enough and ready to play right now.” — Kalani Sitake on the addition of linebackers Sefo Akuila and Naki Tuakoi
“In the past, we have taken guys with a focus on development, but we need to take players who are close to being game-ready,” Sitake said Wednesday on National Signing Day. “Sometimes you can get into the situation of projecting out too much as opposed to taking guys that can make plays right away.”
The former defensive coordinator at Utah and Oregon State isn’t kidding. Of his 31-member recruiting class, 19 will play defense and most expect to challenge the returning starters for playing time on Aug. 31 in the season opener against Southern Illinois.
Sefo Akuila and Naki Tuakoi fit Sitake’s new approach. The pair of 6-foot-3, 230-pound, linebackers from Fremont High in Oakland, California, headlined BYU’s National Signing Day additions.
“These are versatile, big-time players,” Sitake said. “They can get after the quarterback, and I like that they are big enough and ready to play right now.”
At one point during the process, Akuila was headed to Arizona and Tuakoi had committed to Stanford, but Sitake and Hill (and his defensive staff) diverted them to Provo.
Tuakoi is the No. 32 prospect in California. His four-star status from 247sports.com attracted a sea of suitors, including USC, Michigan, Oregon, Utah, and Notre Dame.
Akuila is ranked No. 86 among California players. The three-star performer was utilized in six ways at Fremont. In addition to linebacker, Akuila spent time at quarterback, receiver, defensive end, defensive back and punter. He also played basketball.
“We are a much better team, especially after today,” Sitake said. “I’m excited to see what happens when we put the pads on in March.”
BYU also announced the signing of South Florida/Baylor transfer quarterback Gerry Bohanon. He, too, is game ready.
At 6-foot-3 and 226 pounds, Bohanon brings size and experience to a quarterback room that is void of a predetermined starter.
“I don’t know who is going to be the starting quarterback right now,” Sitake said. “You don’t just hand the keys over. You have to earn it.”
Bohanon, who has one year of eligibility, is already familiar with the BYU offense. He played for former Cougars offensive coordinator Jeff Grimes during Baylor’s 2021 Big 12 championship season. He transferred to South Florida in 2022 and suffered a torn labrum in his throwing shoulder, which sidelined him in 2023.
“I feel good with the guys that are there (in the quarterbacks room),” Sitake said. “The competition is going to be fierce and exciting.”
Twenty-eight of the 31 members of BYU’s recruiting class were announced during December’s early signing period. In addition, eight returned missionaries are back in the program, including a pair of Utah receivers in Cody Hagen (Corner Canyon) and Dominique McKenzie (Pine View).
The first day of spring practice is Feb. 29.