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BYU adds ‘difference-makers and game-breakers’ to its 2020 football team, including prolific receiver Kody Epps

Coach Kalani Sitake announced 13 new signees from the high school and junior college ranks as the early signing period began Wednesday, and also named nine others who will join the program in January, mostly returned missionaries

SHARE BYU adds ‘difference-makers and game-breakers’ to its 2020 football team, including prolific receiver Kody Epps
BYU coach Kalani Sitake yells instructions during game against Boise State on Saturday, Nov. 3, 2018.

Ravell Call, Deseret News

PROVO — Anyone who watched BYU’s offense the past few seasons knows the Cougars lacked speed and explosiveness on the football field. Game-breakers have been few and far between on that side of the ball.

Head coach Kalani Sitake says he took a big step toward correcting that problem on Wednesday as he began announcing his program’s 2020 recruiting class on the first day of the early signing period. The Cougars signed 13 players to National Letters of Intent, and will add another dozen or so when the traditional signing period begins in February, Sitake said.

BYU also used the occasion to announce nine “January midyear additions” — mostly returning missionaries who will start school in January.

Highlighting Wednesday’s signees are a pair of receivers that Sitake said can come in and make an immediate impact, Mater Dei (California) speedster Kody Epps and Christopher Jackson, a transfer from Mt. San Antonio (California) College.

“We needed to get some speed, find some difference makers who can catch the ball and make a big gain,” Sitake said. “Whether it is an underneath throw or whatever it is, someone who can be a gamebreaker. We have some of those guys, but the more the merrier for us.”

In addition to Epps and Jackson, the Cougars signed a third receiver in Terence Fall, a 6-foot-2, 185-pounder from France who prepped at Aquinas High in San Bernardino, California. They are trying to replace three senior standout receivers — Micah Simon, Talon Shumway and Aleva Hifo — who will make their final appearances in BYU uniforms Tuesday in the SoFi Hawaii Bowl in Honolulu.

“We need some guys who are game-ready,” Sitake said. “We talk about development quite a bit, but these are guys who can get on the field as freshmen and play right away.”

The crown jewel of a class that will eventually rank around 70th in the 247sports.com composite team rankings when February’s signees are added is Epps, a 3-star recruit who picked BYU over Oregon and several Mountain West schools.

Epps was under-recruited, according to most recruiting analysts, and waited until Wednesday to make his announcement after having visited BYU’s campus last weekend with more than 20 other recruits.

It was a welcome surprise for BYU, which saw another top recruiting target, Colorado offensive lineman Andrew Gentry, commit to Virginia last week. Sitake said the “connection we had with (Epps) and his family” helped BYU seal the deal.

Receivers coach Fesi Sitake “did a great job recruiting to the receiver position,” Kalani Sitake said. “And players told us (Epps) was a BYU guy and would be a great fit for us.”

Epps, from Santa Ana, California, caught 93 passes for 1,735 yards and 28 touchdowns as senior in 2019 at Mater Dei, one of the premier prep programs in California.

Adam Gorney, a recruiting analyst for Rivals.com, said Epps is a “very big pickup for BYU and a major steal” for the Cougars. Gorney said Epps has Pac-12 talent.

Sitake has said he wants to sign one quarterback a year, and this year’s signee is Sol-Jay Maiava, rated as the No. 23 dual-threat QB nationally by 247sports.

“Yeah, he will play quarterback,” Sitake said, dispelling rumors that the former Kahuku, Hawaii standout would play a different position. “He is going to be a quarterback for us. I never want to be in a position where we are without a quarterback. It is better to have a bunch that even just have one good one.”

Injuries decimated the running back position in 2019, and coaches have acknowledged that they will again look to the transfer portal to find help for returners Lopini Katoa, Jackson McChesney, Tyler Allgeier and Sione Finau, who will have surgery on a torn ACL in January.

Wednesday, they signed a couple project-type RBs in Tooele’s Nukuluve Helu and Bruce Garrett of Texarkana, Texas.

Isaiah Tupou of Sacramento, California, was the only offensive lineman BYU signed Wednesday; Several more will sign in February, Sitake said.

Defensively, the Cougars bolstered their secondary by signing Micah Harper of Chandler, Arizona, and Jacques Wilson, a playmaker from West Los Angeles (California) College.

They also added Corner Canyon tackling machine Josh Wilson (brother of current BYU QB Zach Wilson) and defensive linemen Tuipulotu Lai (Hawaii), Josh Larsen (Woods Cross) and Alex Muti (Hawaii).

“His instincts are awesome,” Sitake said of the younger Wilson. “That’s why he has so many tackles (130) and that’s why he has tons of pick-sixes. The guy has a great feel for the game. He can’t wait to get on the (practice) field and compete against his brother.”

Seven of the nine midyear additions are returned missionaries: DL Tyler Batty, DB Caleb Christensen, LB Preston Lewis, TE Bentley Hanshaw, OL Seth Willis, K/P Ryan Rehkow and Mason Fakahua, who was a quarterback at Cedar High in Cedar City but can play multiple positions.

Andrew Slack, an offensive lineman from Springville who originally signed with Weber State, and Herriman athlete Fisher Jackson will also join the team winter semester.