Kalani Sitake’s predicament: The unknown is his greatest enemy
Kalani Sitake entered spring with excitement, hope and the most experienced depth he’d had since taking the BYU job. How and when he deploys it and against who is a big guess this late.
PROVO — Kalani Sitake is in an awkward box.
He’s scheduled to start fall camp this week, yet he has no announced opponent to start the season.
All those cutouts and scouting breakdowns of Utah are filed away for another year to be updated and re-researched.
His Cougars may open up against, well, anybody, or nobody in September.
And there are cutouts to be done of that first mysterious team.
Or, there could be a delayed season. Or none at all.
Alema Teo, a close friend and founder of the annual All-Poly Camp, which he was able to pull off this summer during the pandemic, said of Sitake’s dilemma: “The unknown is his biggest enemy.”
Said Teo, “Right now, with no information or knowledge about your first opponent puts you kind of in a pinch because you have so many questions. He’s asking himself how much time is he going to have to prepare to give his kids the best opportunity to be ready to play their first game? It’s gotta be frustrating and my hat is off to Kalani. I mean, to be put in that situation, but I know he’ll handle it like a champion and do what is best for the program.”
Sitake would love to be like LSU coach Ed Orgeron and say, “You call us at midnight, we’ll play in a pasture.”
When you have LSU’s roster, you say that easily.
The year 2020 has been a sorry year for sports. What happened to all those athletes gearing up for spring championships or the NCAA’s Big Dance? All of it was just heartbreaking.
And now it’s fall. And in many ways, it remains a freeway driven cross-eyed.
You have to feel for Sitake. This season was supposed to be a kind of coming together for his roster with the right recruits coming in and returning from missionary service and a plethora of starters returning — including three quarterbacks, most of a talented offensive line, the return for senior seasons of honors candidates tight end Matt Bushman and defensive tackle Khyiris Tonga.
It was a front-loaded schedule with a super September of worthy opponents from the Pac-12 and Big Ten, the first-ever matchup with Minnesota and a crack at rival Utah, a team that holds a nine-game win streak against the Cougars, but also a team that is breaking in some defenders, a QB and a replacement for the monstrous Zack Moss.
All of that vaporized with the Big Ten and Pac-12 deciding earlier this summer on league play only amid coronavirus concerns. Then on Thursday, the SEC announced it too would play a league-only schedule in 2020. That means another Power Five opponent — Missouri — has been lost from BYU’s schedule.
As an independent, BYU misses that built-in schedule that simply throws out a lifeline of opponents and dates. But also, as an independent, there’s flexibility to be picked up as a free agent to fill in a date for others and with ESPN as a partner, anything can happen.
One of Sitake’s strengths is his optimism as a human being. Always has been.
He believes in people, has hope for good things, believes, and has faith that every tomorrow will be filled with optimism, confidence, buoyancy and solutions.
In his own realm, he comes from the same place as Orgeron: anytime, anyplace, anywhere.
At the same time, he’s currently captive.
He’s spent July waiting for athletic director Tom Holmoe to give a rock-solid confirmation of a known opponent to plan for.
Oh, he’s likely been given updates on possibilities for cutout work to proceed, potential foes, an ever-changing target of maybe games. But, in the mental game of guessing, he’s on a high wire, barefoot and hoping his big rimmed sun hat comes into play as a parachute.
The Holmoe Rolodex finger muscles don’t get a rest.
Sitake is perched on a wire. And it’s getting windy.
Hanging over all this is an NCAA governing body decision expected Tuesday to decide if it will cancel championships in 22 sports (not including football).
And there’s still the question of if there really will even be football in 2020 as all conferences and athletic directors are waiting intensely on this billion-dollar decision that will virtually fix or blow up their budgets.
“I really do feel sorry for Kalani,” said BYUtv analyst Blaine Fowler.
“Because I feel like they came into the season with a lot of excitement knowing that this would be his most experienced, deepest, most veteran team that he’s had since he got the job. It felt like they could really make a splash. They get into spring football and after a few sessions, it all gets shut down. Then he thinks, OK, we’ll be back in the fall and bam, there goes the Utah game and his September schedule.
“Kalani just has to grind it out and hope something comes of it, something good happens while you’re trying to prepare your guys and your staff. It’s really a tough task.”
In a sense, this will be the biggest challenge of Sitake’s career: getting ready, pulling the trigger and playing against what is now a ghost until the actual scheduled game with Utah State in early October.
It’ll be a 2020 kind of thing.