football

Independence brings exposure to BYU

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Onthesurface,BYUhasn'treallychangeditsrecruitingstrategyintheyearsincemakingthemovetofootballindependence.
TheCougarscontinuetorecruitnationallywithanemphasisontheirhomestateandtherestoftheWest.Andthey'renaturallytargetingtopplayerswhoalsobelongtoTheChurchofJesusChristofLatter-daySaints.That'sthesameformulaBYUfollowedasamemberoftheMountainWestConference.
ButtheswitchcertainlyhaswidenedBYU'spoolofpotentialtargets,particularlyamongnon-LDSrecruits.That'sbecomingmoreandmorenoticeabletoBYU'scoachesastheypreparefortheirsecondseasonasanindependent.
"It'satleastdoubleintermsofthatamountofinterest,"BYUcoachBroncoMendenhallsaid."Andthat'sbeingdrivenbyexposure."
Thedifferenceisn'tapparentfromalookatBYU'srecentrecruitingclasses.
BYUsigned17players(includingtworeturningmissionaries)fromsixdifferentstatesin2012after68percentofits2011classcamefromUtah.Neithergroupwasasgeographicallydiverseasthe2010classthatsignedbeforeBYUannounceditsplanstogoindependent.That2010classincludedplayersfrom10differentstates.
ThefivejuniorscurrentlycommittedtoBYUallcomefromUtah,NevadaorOregon-threeofthetopeightstatesintermsofLDSpopulations.PlayersfromthatsectionofthecountrylikelywouldhavebeenattractedtoBYUwhethertheprogramwasindependentorpartofaconference.
"BeingindependentIthinkhelpsoutwithrecruiting,butitwouldn'tchangewhetherI'dwanttogothere,"saidAloha(Ore.)junioroffensivetackleBraydenKearsley,athree-starrecruitandLDSmemberwhocommittedtoBYUlastfall."Myrelationshipwiththe[BYU]coachesisextremelystrong,andIdon'tthinkIcouldgetabetterrelationshipwiththecoachesatanyotherschool."
Eveniftheeffectsofthemovearen'tobviousnow,theycouldbecomemoreapparentdowntheroad,thankstotheincreasedvisibilitythathascomewithindependence.
Afterannouncingitsplansinthesummerof2010,BYUsignedaneight-yearcontractwithESPNthatallowedeachofitshomegamestoairononeofESPN'splatformsoronBYUtv,whichreachesover60millionhouseholdsinNorthAmerica.ThecontractrequiresatleastthreehomegameseachyeartoaironABC,ESPNorESPN2.
ThatexposureraisedBYU'sprofileamongrecruitswhowouldn'tseemlikeobviousfits.
About90percentofBYU'scurrentplayersareLDSmembers,andthatfiguremightnotchangemuchinthefuture.ButnowthatBYUisappearingonmoretelevisionsets,theprogramatleastisbetterknowntonon-LDSprospectsoutsideitstypicalrecruitingbase.
"[Non-LDSprospects]won'teverbethemajorityofkidsthatwesign,"Mendenhallsaid."Butthenumber-andthediversityofplacesthey'recomingfrom-showinginterestnowisadirectbenefitofourindependence."
Providence(R.I.)LaSalleAcademyrunningback/defensivebackJoshMorrisrepresentsonepotentialexample.
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Morrisisn'tanLDSmember.He'sCatholic.
Andheplaysataschoolabout2,400milesfromBYU'scampuswhilerepresentingastatethathostedtheNFL'sfirstnightgamein1929-theProvidenceSteamRollerlost16-0totheChicagoCardinals-buthasn'tproducedmuchfootballhistorysince.AccordingtotheRivals.comdatabase,noplayerhassignedwithanFBSprogramdirectlyfromaRhodeIslandhighschoolsinceSouthKingstown'sJakeFlahertywenttoSyracusein2004.
Yetthathasn'tstoppedMorrisandBYUfromcommunicating.Morris,RhodeIsland's2011Gatoradestateplayeroftheyear,planstovisitBYUinJunewithhopesofsecuringhisfirstFBSoffer.
ThecontactbetweenMorrisandBYUisatestamenttotheCougars'desiretorecruitnationally.AnditalsospeaksvolumesforBYU'snationalexposureinthewakeofitsdecisiontogoindependent.
AllbutoneofBYU'shomegameslastyearappearedonESPN,ESPN2orESPNU.TheloneexceptionwasonBYUtv,whichalsorunsaone-hourpregameshowanda30-minutepostgameshowforeveryBYUfootballgame.NineofBYU'sgameslastseasonwereavailabletoatleast100millionhouseholdsinNorthAmerica,whileonlyonewasavailableinfewerthan60millionhomes.
FourofBYU'sfirstsixgamesthisfall(Aug.30vs.WashingtonState,Sept.20atBoiseState,Sept.28vs.HawaiiandOct.5vs.UtahState)willairinprimetimeonESPNorESPN2.ASept.8gamewithWeberStatewillrunonBYUtv,andNBCwillshowtheOct.20gameatNotreDame.Broadcastplanshaven'tbeenannouncedyetfortherestoftheschedule.
AspotentialrecruitsfromtheEastCoast,SoutheastorMidwesttuneintothosenationallytelevisedgamesthisfall,theyundoubtedlyhearatsomepointthatBYUwonatleast10gamesfiveofthelastsixyears.
"Theylearnallthiswhentheywatchusplay,"Mendenhallsaid."Allofasudden,BYUbecomesaviableoptionforthem,especiallyifthey'reasociallyconservativekidandthey'renotintoallthepartyingand[being]thetypicalwildcollegekid.Theythenthink,'Man,thatcouldbeagreatplaceforme.'"
Ofcourse,that'stheissue.
BYUisn'tthetypeofschoolthat'sgoingtoappealtoeveryrecruit.TheBYUhonorcodepreventsstudentsfromengaginginpremaritalsexorusingalcoholortobacco.Eventeaandcoffeeareforbidden.Malestudentsareprohibitedfromwearingearringsandaren'tallowedtowearbeardsorgoateeswithoutpermission.
IndependencemayhavehelpedmakeBYU'sprogrammorevisibletonon-LDSprospects.ButhowmanyofthoseguyswouldbeabletohandleBYU'srestrictions?
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BYU'sstrictdisciplinarypolicygarneredplentyofattentionafterstarrunningbackHarveyUngavoluntarilyleftschoolinthespringof2010andbasketballplayerBrandonDavieswassuspendedinthespringof2011forhonorcodeviolations.Ineachcase,premaritalsexreportedlywasthecause.
Evenafterthenationalpublicitythatsurroundedthosetwocases,manynon-LDSprospectsunfamiliarwithBYUmightnotknowtheextentoftheschool'shonorcode.NowonderBYUlikestouse"FitFirst"asitsrecruitingphilosophy.
Mendenhallsayshemakessuretoeducateprospectsontheuniversity'sstandardsandrequirements.HeemphasizesthatevenmorethefartherawayhegoesfromtheWest,wherethemajorityofLDSmemberslive.
"Whenindoubt,ifwe'renotpositivethey'dhaveafantasticexperiencehere,weactuallyencouragethemtogoelsewhere,"Mendenhallsaid."Wehavetobeconvincedthey'lllovethisplaceandreallywanttobehereandwantthesevaluesandwantthisexperience."
Althoughheisn'tanLDSmember,MorrissaidBYU'shonorcodewouldn'tpreventhimfromconsideringiftheCougarsofferedhimascholarship.
"Ifyouwanttosucceedinfootball,youdon'twanttobepartyingordrinkingalcoholorsomethinglikethat,"Morrissaid."It'salmostastructuretobenefitthestudent-athleteandhelpthemsucceed.Bykeepingyouawayfromalltheexcessandstuffotherthanfootball,it'salmostlikekeepingyoutoyourschoolworkandkeepingyouontherightpath....It'sdefinitelynotsomethingI'mworriedaboutatall.I'madisciplinedkid."
WhileMendenhallhastoutedhowthemovetoindependencehasraisedBYU'snationalvisibility,theswitchalsomayhavebeennecessarytoappealtoin-staterecruits.
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ClickHeretoviewthisLink.BYUandUtahClickHeretoviewthisLink.previouslyhadcompetedonequalfootingforlocalprospectsasMountainWestConferencefoes.AfterUtahjoinedthePac-12,BYUwasleftwithachoice:Remaininaninferiorleagueorforgeitsownpath.
Thechoiceisevenclearerinretrospect,nowthatTCUhaslefttheMountainWestfortheBig12whileBoiseStateandSanDiegoStatepreparetoheadtotheBigEast.ThecurrentversionoftheMountainWestisashelloftheconferenceBYUleftbehind.
Thisisn'tmuchofasurprisetoMendenhall.HesaidheproposedtryingtolureFresnoState,BoiseStateandHawaiifromtheWesternAthleticConferenceafewyearsago,backwhenUtahstillbelongedtotheMountainWest.Thatwasbeforeconferencerealignmentshookupcollegefootball.
BoiseStateeventuallyjoinedtheMountainWestasareplacementforBYU,thoughit'snowonitswayoutthedooraswell.TheMountainWestalsoisindeedaddingFresnoStateandHawaii,butaleaguethatoncecouldhavemadeadecentcaseforBCSautomatic-qualifyingstatusnowissimplytryingtosurvive.
"I'mnotgoingtosayIwasrightorpatmyselfonmyback,butyoucouldjustsense[realignment]wascoming,"Mendenhallsaid."IwashopingtostayaheadofitbecauseIcouldsenseit."
Nowhesensesthathisschoolmadetherightmove.
HehopesBYU'srecruitingtargetsfeelthesame.
SteveMegargeeisthenationalcollegecolumnistforRivals.com.Hecanbereachedatsmegargee@rivals.com,andyoucanclickheretofollowhimonTwitter.
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