BYU football: First weekend in June is ‘huge’ for Cougars’ recruiting

How important is this weekend to Big 12-bound BYU’s football recruiting efforts?

A couple of experts contacted by the Deseret News recently are using words such as “huge” and “monumental” and “historic” to describe it.

It’s that big.

No fewer than four four-star recruits are making their official campus visits to BYU on Friday, a couple days before head coach Kalani Sitake begins his annual summer high school football camps.

“It is a huge weekend for BYU, because they are kind of swinging for the fences on the first pitch. They are basically going for it all right off the bat.” — recruiting analyst Blair Angulo

Here’s the guest list:

• Tight end Walker Lyons, a four-star prospect from Folsom, California, ranked by 247 Sports Composite as the No. 4 tight end in the country and the 79th-best recruit overall.

• Tight end Jackson Bowers, a four-star prospect from Mesa, Arizona, ranked the No. 13 tight end in the country and the fourth-best recruit in Arizona.

• Offensive lineman Ethan Thomason, a massive 6-foot-8, 315-pound man-child from Fort Collins, Colorado, who has more than a dozen offers from Power Five schools.

• Defensive end Hunter Clegg, a fast-rising pass rusher from American Fork High who is ranked as the No. 3 prospect in Utah, has no fewer than 18 offers and could produce one of those classic BYU vs. Utah recruiting battles. 

All four prospects are members of the faith that sponsors BYU, The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. 

Said Blair Angulo, West Region College Football Recruiting Analyst: “It is a huge weekend for BYU, because they are kind of swinging for the fences on the first pitch. They are basically going for it all right off the bat. It is really critical for them to make a huge first impression because all these guys are supposed to take official visits to a lot of other big-time places after this.”

Casey Lundquist, who writes extensively on BYU football for Cougs Daily on the Sports Illustrated online network, said he can’t remember the last time BYU had four four-star recruits on its campus at one time who were all seriously considering BYU.

“A lot of these guys are taking their official visits in June because they hope to make their college decision before their senior high school football season,” Lundquist told ESPN 960 radio. “So it is a really important two or three months here for BYU. They have been recruiting these four-star recruits for, in some cases, two, three and even four years.

“I think when it is all said and done, BYU will land its fair share of four-star recruits in this class,” Lundquist concluded.

BYU currently does not have a full-time recruiting coordinator, because Jasen Ah You left the position last month to become assistant athletic director for football academics. But the Cougars will have plenty of staffers and players on hand this weekend to show the recruits around campus and Provo, although all four have been to BYU multiple times, according to Lundquist and Jeff Hansen of Cougar Sports Insider.

“All four of the players who will be on official visits are high priority targets for BYU,” Hansen wrote recently. “Though Clegg is the only defensive player on the list, he is friends with those (other) recruits and that makes this visit even more important for BYU. … This week will be critical for BYU as they try to secure their foundation of the recruiting class that will lead them into the Big 12.”

The Cougars currently have four commitments from members of the 2023 class: Springville quarterback Ryder Burton; Skyridge defensive lineman Stanley Raass; Timpview athlete Pokaiaua Haunga; and Emmanuel Waller, a defensive lineman from Chelsea, Alabama. All three are considered three-star prospects by 247 Sports.

Angulo said having a bunch of four-star recruits visit at the same time is not commonplace for BYU, but has been for a lot of top teams around the country since the December early signing period was instituted a few years ago.

“I think it is super important now for schools to get out in front of things, and this is a clear approach by BYU to try and get some of their top targets on campus right away and make that initial impression,” Angulo said. “And sometimes, that is really important.”

It is also a bit risky, Angulo said, because conventional wisdom is that you want to be the last school a player visits before he sits down with his family and advisers and makes a decision. 

“Maybe they see the benefits outweighing the risks,” he said. “For them to all be there together, it is not a coincidence. It is a very calculated move by Kalani (Sitake) and that staff.”

Angulo believes the visits would have been made without BYU going to the Big 12, because “the program has already exceeded that stigma of not being a Power Five program.”

However, the analyst for the leading recruiting website in the country doesn’t see any of the four committing to BYU this weekend.

“I wouldn’t anticipate any public commitments coming out of this,” said Angulo, who can also be heard on the “West of the Rest” recruiting podcast. “I just read the tea leaves, and I see too many of them looking at other visits down the road. I know Walker Lyons has a few other officials scheduled. Jackson Bowers wants to take four or five official visits before he makes a decision. Ethan Thomason has also said he’s headed to a few other places. The same with Hunter Clegg.

“Honestly, I think it would be very surprising if any of them made a commitment and completely just shut down their recruitment after this weekend. I think they are all being methodical and very thorough with looking at their options.”

That said, Angulo believes BYU “is in a good spot for all four of them. … If we were talking about this being the final visit weekend of June, I would feel better about their chances of getting a commitment out of this group.”

Lundquist said official visits are important because they symbolize that a school is among the prospect’s top five because recruits are allowed only five official campus visits by the NCAA. On official visits, the schools pick up the tab for all expenses, including travel, food, entertainment and lodging.

“Next, you have the opportunity to be the very first official visit on that prospect’s list,” Lundquist said. “That is probably another indicator that they think pretty highly of you, although that is not the end-all, be-all.”

BYU coach Kalani Sitake watches the action as BYU and UAB play in Independence Bowl in Shreveport, Louisiana, Dec. 18, 2021.

BYU coach Kalani Sitake watches the action as BYU and UAB play in the Radiance Technologies Independence Bowl Saturday, Dec. 18, 2021. This weekend in Provo, Sitake and his staff will be entertaining a batch of high-profile recruits on campus.

Scott G Winterton, Deseret News

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