Last year, coach Bronco Mendenhall told media that independence wouldn’t be a factor in recruiting, and last week’s addition of two new commits proved it is business as usual for BYU football.
On July 5, Portland, Ore., safety Dallin Leavitt became the first to commit to the program in the new independent era, which officially began July 1, accepting an offer from Mendenhall to play for BYU when he graduates high school in 2013. The following day, Jamaal Williams of Fontana, Calif., gave his own verbal commitment for 2012.
“BYU was my favorite team growing up, and I’ve always wanted to play there,” Leavitt said. “I couldn’t always put everything into BYU because I didn’t know if I was going to get the offer, and sometimes it’s not the best place for everybody, but after the camp, I knew it was the right place for me. The atmosphere and the coaches … it felt right.”
Growing up in Oregon, BYU might not have been the obvious choice for Leavitt were it not for the influence of his father, Jared Leavitt. The elder Leavitt was a linebacker for the Cougars in the early ’90s, and even met his wife at BYU. That connection allowed Dallin to develop close personal relationships with the coaches, a factor that was important to both father and son.
“I feel like I could go to [the coaches] for bigger life issues other than football, and that makes me feel really comfortable and really loved,” Dallin Leavitt said. “It’s like being part of a larger family.”
Jared Leavitt said the relationship between a player and his coach is paramount, and his mind is at ease with his son’s choice.
“Your child is the most important thing you have,” he said. “When you put them in someone’s hands, you want to trust what they’re going to do with them. BYU provides a positive environment, academically and spiritually, and when it comes to football, I believe in Bronco Mendenhall, what he’s doing and his staff. They’ve really impressed me.”
And Jared Leavitt can see why his son has impressed them.
“He’s a really focused young man,” he said. “He works his tail off. When he walks on the field, he feels like he should be the best player there, regardless of who else is out there.”
During the summer months Dallin Leavitt is up at 6 a.m. and trains until noon most days, working on agility, lifting weights and doing football specific drills. He works with Anthony Newman, a 12-year NFL veteran, to fix the little details —better angles, looser hips, increased athleticism — that will help him improve.
The self-proclaimed perfectionist said he wants to be immaculate on the field by the time he gets to BYU.
“Walking into my freshman year, I want to start,” Dallin Leavitt said. “I want to play, and I want to perform well.”
He said the move from Westview High School, where he played last season, to private college prep school Central Catholic was all about being better primed for college, both on and off the field.
“I’m not going to lie, I don’t love to be in the classroom,” he admitted. “But I work hard and do my best. I know how hard it is academically at BYU, and I want to be prepared.”
For Dallin Leavitt, that preparation also includes gearing up for a mission after his freshman year.
“The Lord has given me so many blessings and opportunities,” Leavitt said. “As it is, the chance to get a free education is unbelievable so for me to give back two years of my life is not even a big deal.”
Dallin Leavitt joins his good friend, Braydon Kearsley, also from the Portland area, and offensive lineman Austin Hoyt of Jackson, Calif., among BYU’s committed 2013 prospects. Like Leavitt, Kearsley and Hoyt had eyes only for BYU, both opting to accept offers received on Junior Day in June.
However, the selection process was not so cut and dried for Williams, a non-LDS running back who had several other offers on the table. In the end, however, a strong gut instinct and a handful of strong supporting arguments brought him to the same undeniable conclusion as Leavitt, Kearsley and Hoyt.
“It just feels right,” Williams told the Deseret News. “I went out and compared them to different schools, and no one could compare to everything BYU had to offer.”
The facilities, the coaches, the chance to be a factor on the field as a freshman — since both JJ Di Luigi and Bryan Kariya will be graduating after next season — all measured up to a great opportunity for Williams. But, he said, it was the special atmosphere he felt when he visited that tipped the bucket.
“It’s a place where I can go and be surrounded by people that live right, like I do,” Williams said. “It’s a place where I can focus on what is most important in life. … I just haven’t had that feeling about any other school that has been recruiting me.”
Williams said he is excited about the opportunity and hopes to bring a valuable skill set to the backfield at LaVell Edwards Stadium.
“I feel that I can bring some good speed and athleticism to the running back position at BYU,” he said. “[BYU has] a great program that is going to do some great things coming up with independence and all that. I’m very excited to be a part of all that.”