BYU welcomed 20 new football players who signed letters of intent as part of National Signing Day last Wednesday. The class of 2014 includes players who promise greater depth and strength to the team’s offensive and defensive lineups.
Head coach Bronco Mendenhall noted the team’s growth and progress since last season and the coaching staff’s unity. “I love the direction of the program,” Mendenhall said. “I like the physical play, and I like the effort. Now it’s about efficiency and execution against the biggest teams on the stages.”
Mendenhall was pleased the class fills the team’s need for more depth and linebackers.
“We know we need more depth and more athleticism and play-making capabilities,” Mendenhall said. “That was the target of this class, and we hit it right on the head. We knew we needed outside linebackers. We recruited three of the best, I think, in all of high school football. Both immediate needs have been hit and targeted with really good players, and I like it.”
The high school signees come from all around the country. Most of them will serve LDS missions first, but a few will go straight into training for the 2014 season.
Trey Dye from Abilene, Texas, was originally going to serve a mission first but will now be coming to BYU. “We love him on fly sweeps, and we love him with the ball in his hands. He’s elusive as you watch him,” Mendenhall said of the 5’9” wide receiver. “We want defense to deepen and expand to take pressure off Taysom and Jamaal.”
Zac Dawe, a 6’4” defensive recruit, chose BYU football over Penn State wrestling. Mendenhall said he loves to coach wrestlers because they are “the toughest workers (he has) ever met.”
Another high school player who will stay for the 2014 season is Tyler Cook, from Murrietta, Calif. The 220-pound defensive recruit had 16 offers nationwide. Cook chose BYU in part because of the 3-4 defense Mendenhall runs.
Three transfer students will also join BYU for the 2014 season. One of them, Devon Blackmon, ran track in high school with Jamaal Williams. Williams, running back, told Mendenhall that Blackmon is the faster of the two.
“They both say that Devon is faster,” Mendenhall said. “I expected Jamaal to say that Jamaal is faster, but I asked him and he said, ‘No, Devon is a lot faster than me.’”
Another change in this year’s team is the quadrupled number of returned missionaries. Last year, only four RMs joined the team; this year, 18 will be returning home to play for the Cougars.
Ului Lapuaho, an offensive lineman, already returned from his mission in Australia and has begun training with the team. Lapuaho, son of former BYU defensive lineman Rob Lapuaho, plays like an NFL pro, according to Mendenhall.
“There is not a player in our program that I am more excited about right now,” Mendenhall said, “(Ului) looks exactly like an all-pro NFL player at defensive tackle. I like him a lot.”
One of the linebackers — Troy Hinds — was the second overall prospect in Utah. Hinds, who was recruited by Oklahoma, Michigan and Stanford, also received high hopes from Mendenhall.
“There isn’t a better player that has come out of the state than Troy,” Mendenhall said. “When you add him to an already strong defensive class, our line-backing core going into this upcoming year … in 3-4 defense, I’m not sure there will be anything close to it anywhere.”
The 18 returned missionaries bring “instant depth, instant maturity, instant leadership and instant chemistry” to the team, according to Mendenhall. He also said that defense is not only about how well the players can play the game but also about how badly they want to play.
“A lot of times when the guys have been on their missions, they can’t wait to get back to play, so it adds an excitement and an appreciation to be part of football again,” Mendenhall said.
The coaching staff traveled nationwide in search of players who would best fit the team’s needs. Mendenhall said they would do everything possible to find the right players for BYU.
“We will go anywhere to find players that fit at BYU and belong at BYU. We now have someone full-time to find who belongs here, who fits our needs, who qualifies, and who can help us.”