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How the Cougars bucked the trends in signing 44th-ranked class in 2024 cycle

Kalani Sitake and his staff signed stars late and went after ready-made players. It signals a change in BYU’s philosophy and approach

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BYU head coach Kalani Sitake speaks to the Cougar Club on National Signing Day in Provo on Feb. 7, 2024.

BYU head coach Kalani Sitake speaks to the Cougar Club on National Signing Day in Provo on Feb. 7, 2024.

BYU Photo

There’s little question Kalani Sitake just finished signing the highest-rated recruiting class of his tenure.

To accomplish this, by his own admission, he refocused his efforts from a “developmental” approach to going after a “play as soon as possible” pool of prospects.

Also, there’s little question that he received a huge lift from the efforts of new defensive coordinator Jay Hill and his staff, working with a sense of urgency and this new focus. Sitake told the Cougar Club this past week he’d used more money than usual to get the job done and his personal involvement and time had also increased.

Just a couple of observations:

• BYU bucked the trend when late signees four-star Naki Tuakoi and three-star Sefo Akuila, edge rushers and teammates at Oakland’s Fremont High in northern California, signed in February.

• While rival Utah took more of the state’s top-10-ranked talent, BYU made major inroads by the numbers and in the view of some, got the state’s top player in Faletau Satuala.

• This signing haul became a top-45 class, a major step up in Big 12 recruiting standings as the smoke cleared.

While Hill explained Tuakoi was one of the first prospects he focused on when he came on board at BYU just more than a year ago, signing Tuakoi late went against tradition. 

BYU generally offers recruits early, hoping they get an early commitment. Players like Tuakoi and even Akuila, who do not commit in the summer or fall, generally do not end up signing with the Cougars. In fact, Tuakoi had committed to Stanford and Akuila had plans to go to Arizona.

Signing this pair late is a key watermark of this class and perhaps a sign BYU is doing something different. It also marks the successful tact by Hill and his relentless pursuit of players — regardless of initial interest or lack thereof. In past years, when some BYU recruiters met a lot of pushback, they backed off and went for an easier-hanging harvest.

Another key is Sitake now has Sione Po’uha on staff. When Sitake took the BYU job back in 2015, he wanted to hire Po’uha but the timing was not right. Both Sitake and Po’uha were born in Tonga and as a tandem, with Po’uha’s NFL experience and roots both in Polynesia and Salt Lake City as a high school player, provide a unique voice in the Polynesian community.  

This Tongan pride was front and center in Tuakoi’s announcement on X when he held up a flag from the Kingdom of Tonga. 

The BYU versus Utah recruiting comparison?

It’s apples and oranges.

Utah has and continues to sign highly ranked classes and has invested greatly in the effort.  The Utah transfer portal effort is productive. 

BYU’s success and ranking come from signing a huge 2024 class and an uptick in Big 12-bound quality recruits. Moving from the high 50s, 60s and 80s to No. 44 in 247’s composite rankings is a significant achievement.

Brandon Huffman, national recruiting editor for 247Sports, put it this way:

“BYU will gladly take the higher-rated class than Utah based on quantity; BYU finishes seven spots ahead of the Utes. The Utes, of course, have a higher-quality class, though, averaging nearly two points better per player than the Cougars,” said Huffman.

“BYU will gladly take the higher-rated class than Utah based on quantity; BYU finishes seven spots ahead of the Utes. The Utes, of course, have a higher-quality class, though, averaging nearly two points better per player than the Cougars.” — Brandon Huffman, national recruiting editor for 247Sports

“But in an era where roster management is more important than ever, the Cougars will absolutely make the tradeoff by having more depth in this class, Huffman continued. “The Utes landed five of the top 10 players in the state to just three for the Cougars, but BYU got the ultimate bragging right in beating the Utes straight up for Faletau Satuala, the No. 1 player in the state in 2024, who announced for the Cougars, over the Utes, on national television during the All-American Bowl. That is the kind of recruiting win the Cougars need to have happen more frequently against the Utes.”

The 247Sports Big 12 rankings of the recruiting class of 2024 has Texas Tech No. 1. This ranking does not include Texas and Oklahoma, which will be in the SEC this summer. No. 2 is TCU followed by No. 3 UCF,  No. 4 Kansas, No. 5 BYU, No. 6 West Virginia, No. 7 Arizona State, No. 8 Cincinnati, No. 9 Iowa State and No. 10 Oklahoma State. 

Of course, recruiting rankings are primarily opinion-based analysis whose weight cannot be effectively measured until talent is developed, coached and put in systems where you can actually see production on the field of play and the value of added depth.

When all that happens, it becomes wins and losses.

And that’s when it really counts.

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BYU defensive coordinator Jay Hill speaks to the Cougar Club on National Signing Day in Provo on Feb. 7, 2024.

BYU Photo