By Skyler Bell
Now that signing day has come and gone everyone gets to share their opinion on whether Bronco Mendenhall and the Cougar football team did well enough in signing recruits to compete for the conference title and do well nationally. The wonderful thing about being a sports editor is my opinion gets published.
My question going into Wednesday”s press conference, Feb. 1, 2006, was whether it appeared Mendenhall was taking the Cougars in the right direction. After the press conference, my answer is a resounding yes-even though I”m not entirely sure why. It”s kind of like when you meet your mission president for the first time and you just know he”s the right guy for the job.
Mendenhall has put an emphasis on recruiting talented players who want to play for BYU. They have already bought into the system, which is half the battle. They are not just willing to sign a paper saying they will comply with the honor code, they don”t want to go to a school that doesn”t have one. Mendenhall”s recruiting philosophy is he should not have to sell potential players on the Cougar program, but the potential players should be selling him on how well they will fit in. After hearing him speak for 20 minutes, I was ready to sustain him in General Conference.
The Cougars had holes to fill, especially on the defensive side of the ball, even with many of last year”s starters returning. Mendenhall brought in five defensive linemen, five defensive backs and two linebackers to augment the returning roster.
One of Mendenhall”s goals was to improve the play in the defensive backfield and to reestablish the pass rush that earned national attention during Mendenhall”s first years as BYU”s defensive coordinator. Although only one of the recruits has experience at the Division I level, Mendenhall seems to have at least begun to rebuild the legacy of Cougar football.
The Defensive line boasts five recruits, headlined by Juco transfer Mosese Foketi from Laney Community College and Matangi Tonga, a true freshman from Aragon High in San Mateo, Calif. Foketi and Tonga, along with the other three signees, have the size and speed to stop the run and pressure the quarterback.
In an attempt to shore up last season”s porous secondary and create depth at cornerback and safety, Mendenhall signed five athletes who could see time in the defensive backfield. Tico Pringle and Andre Saulsberry are both Juco transfers who will be fighting for an immediate spot in the starting lineup, but Mike Hague leads a freshman crew who hope to make the choice difficult for Mendenhall.
The Cougars recruited Hague as a running back and continue to plan on using his skills in the offensive backfield, but as a nationally ranked DB, it”s likely he”ll see time on the other side of the ball as well.
With the departure of one-hit-wonder Todd Watkins, the Cougars are in need of a deep threat. When I first saw the film on 5A Texas Football Wide Receiver of the Year McKay Jacobson, I wanted to switch my press pass for end zone seats. The kid was not only one catch shy of triple digits his senior year, but he led his team to three state titles, two national titles and a 63-1 record during his four years with the team. It doesn”t end there. He was a state finalist sprinter in the 200 meters, and won the district title in the 100 and 200 meters as a sophomore. He also has Cougar blood-his mom was a BYU cheerleader. Get ready to buy the guy”s jersey-it will sell out after the first home game.
With quarterback John Beck heading into his senior season, Mendenhall is already thinking about Beck”s replacement. The 2006 recruiting class includes three quarterbacks and there is one more returning from a mission in the next few months. The competition starts now for a job opening posted for January 2007. My vote is for Jacob Bower, but only because he”s from my hometown. It will be interesting to see the quarterbacks develop, but it”s a strong possibility Mendenhall just signed the next great BYU quarterback.
Although there is still room for a few more players, it seems Mendenhall has covered his bases. The only area I see as lacking comes at wide receiver, but with all but two of BYU”s receivers from last season”s potent air attack returning, it”s likely it won”t be a problem.
What I like most about Mendenhall and the job he has done is his no-nonsense, I-won”t-be-pleased-until-we-get-it-right attitude. He has faith in the players, in his assistant coaches and in the program. He realizes he is up against extremely high expectations, but is willing to do what it takes to meet them. He realizes 2nd place is not 1st, and won”t rest until BYU is the best team in the conference. That”s exactly what the Cougars need.
All in favor, raise your right hand.