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BYU’s 2020 football signing class could be its best in the Kalani Sitake era — or not

Saturday, four-star offensive lineman Andrew Gentry of Colorado, a mission-bound member of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, picked Virginia over BYU and Michigan, a serious blow to Sitake’s recruiting efforts

Corner Canyon linebacker Josh Wilson, center, fills a gap during football game against Lone Peak at Corner Canyon High School in Draper on Friday, Sept. 27, 2019.
Corner Canyon linebacker Josh Wilson, center, fills a gap during football game against Lone Peak at Corner Canyon High School in Draper on Friday, Sept. 27, 2019.
Steve Griffin, Deseret News

PROVO — Members of BYU’s 2020 football recruiting class, who will start putting pen to paper on Wednesday when the early signing period begins across the country, form a class a lot like the previous four classes head coach Kalani Sitake has signed.

That is to say it is a rather average group by BYU standards, but with the chance of being a good one, several recruiting experts told the Deseret News.

Some say it could be the best since Sitake replaced Bronco Mendenhall in December of 2015 and signed a class in February of 2016 that was ranked 49th in the country by 247sports.com and included the likes of Troy Warner, Jaren Hall, Aleva Hifo and Chris Wilcox.

The 247sports network currently has BYU’s 2020 class ranked 71st in the country, with 21 players having committed as of Friday afternoon. It was 81st last year, 78th in 2018 and 66th in 2017 after Sitake’s first full year of recruiting.

None of those committed players are considered four- or five-star recruits, meaning it has little, if any, star power. But that could change, said Jeff Hansen, publisher of Cougar Sports Insider on the 247sports.com network. He believes the Cougars won’t drop in the rankings but could rise if a couple things go their way the next five days.

First, the Cougars should be able to hold onto all 21 who have pledged — even if some might not actually sign until the traditional signing period begins the first Wednesday in February.

Second, BYU is still in the running for several top recruits, including three-star Arizona linebacker Tate Romney (brother of current BYU players Gunner and Baylor Romney), three-star California (Santa Ana) receiver Kody Epps, fast-rising Arizona (Chandler) cornerback Micah Harper and Arizona (Gilbert) tight end Alex Lines, who also has an offer from Utah.

BYU’s recruiting efforts sustained a major blow Saturday when four-star Colorado offensive lineman Andrew Gentry announced his commitment to Virginia. The brother of current BYU OL JT Gentry had narrowed his choices to BYU, Michigan and Virginia before picking Mendenhall’s club.

The 6-foot-8, 310-pound behemoth with offers from almost every major program in the country, is a mission-bound member of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints and has been considered BYU’s top recruiting target for more than a year. It is just another reminder that BYU has missed out on the top LDS talent in the country for most of the past decade.

“BYU’s class right now has a really solid foundation,” said Hansen, the foremost authority in the state on BYU football recruiting. “If BYU misses on some important targets over the next couple of weeks, it will be hard not to be disappointed with this recruiting class. But if they close strong and add to the pieces already committed, it has the potential to be Kalani Sitake’s best recruiting class since coming to BYU.”

That last-minute work has already begun. Up to 24 prospects were expected to make campus visits this weekend. Most have already committed, but the group of uncommitted prospects includes Harper, Epps, Olympus defensive back Scotty Edwards, Orem cornerback Jakob Robinson and Dallas Branch, a cornerback from Long Beach (California) City College.

“This is a very big weekend for the future of BYU football,” Hansen wrote on his website. “It’s crucial that this weekend go well for BYU.”

A couple prospects BYU has targeted for awhile, Lone Peak athlete Nate Ritchie and Hawaii OL Solatoa Moea’i, are visiting Utah this weekend.

Tate Romney “is still weighing his options and could got to a lot of places, a lot of big places,” Baylor Romney told the Deseret News last week in noting that his brother probably won’t be making official visits until January.

Sitake has hinted several times in the past few weeks that Wednesday won’t be nearly the spectacle at BYU as it was two years ago when the early signing period for football was added in 2017. So don’t be surprised, he suggested, if prized recruits such as American Fork linebacker Bodie Schoonover and receiver Devin Downing, Texas running back Bruce Garrett, Corner Canyon linebacker Josh Wilson and dual-threat quarterback Sol-Jay Maiava of Washington, D.C., don’t sign until next year.

“It almost seems like February is the right time to announce them, whether they sign in December or not,” Sitake said. “I think we are probably going to just focus on the missionaries coming in and the midyear guys who are going to be signing with us and then release the rest (of the signings) later, in February.”

One of those midyear signings could be Christopher Jackson, a receiver from Mt. San Jacinto (California) College who committed last month. All of BYU’s other commits are high school players. Another JUCO player who committed to BYU last June, Rocky Aitogi of Fort Scott (Kansas) College, has reopened his recruitment.

Offensive coordinator Jeff Grimes said Wednesday that receiver and running back “are critical spots for us in this (recruiting) class” with the loss of senior receivers Aleva Hifo, Talon Shumway and Micah Simon to graduation. It isn’t clear yet if fifth-year graduate transfer running back Ty’Son Williams will be granted another year of eligibility, or if the former South Carolina product will even try to return to BYU after sustaining a season-ending knee injury in the fourth game, against Washington.

BYU in 247sports.com’s national team recruiting rankings since 2010

Coach: Bronco Mendenhall

2010 — 33rd

2011 — 69th

2012 — 71st

2013 — 66th

2014 — 64th

2015 — 65th

Coach: Kalani Sitake

2016 — 49th

2017 — 66th

2018 — 78th

2019 — 81st

2020 — 71st (as of Dec. 13)