BYU football fans are highly optimistic entering Kalani Sitake’s first season as head coach. Seeing Sitake’s first recruiting class is sure to send expectations soaring for 2016 and beyond.
The Cougars hauled in one of their best classes in recent years. It features multiple players who are highly ranked in Scout’s West Top 150 and a few four-star recruits. If BYU head coach Kalani Sitake has his way, the Cougars will be a major player in recruiting for many seasons to come.
And his push to bring top talent into Provo is going to be a worldwide one.
“The scope of recruiting is going to cover the whole world,” Sitake said. “I don’t know if we’re going to be able to send every coach to different parts of the earth, but I’m willing to do that as a coaching staff if we have the resources to make it happen.”
What can BYU expect to see from the first recruiting class Sitake and his staff put together? We offer up our prognostications here at UtahValley360:
Immediate Impact Players
Troy Warner (DB, 6-foot-2, 185 lbs, Mission Hills HS (California)): If Warner fits the same mold as his older brother Fred, the Cougars can look forward to having another fearsome defensive playmaker in the fold. Warner is a versatile defensive back who chose the Cougars over USC. He boasts the right combination of speed and size to play cornerback or safety and is able to be disruptive in either role.
Keanu Saleapaga (DL, 6-foot-6, 265 lbs, La Mirada (California)): Landing the former USC commit turned out to be one of the biggest recruiting coups for BYU on signing day. He recorded seven sacks as a senior in 2015 and offered an imposing presence on La Mirada’s line. Saleapaga is capable of making an impact from day one.
Handsome Tanielu (DT, 6-foot-2, 300 lbs, Snow College (Utah)): The Cougars scored big with this former Utah commit. Tanielu is a stout and active interior lineman who is skilled at defending the run. He tallied 36 tackles, 22 solo tackles, three sacks and a fumble recovery for Snow College during his sophomore season.
Jonah Trinnaman (WR, 5-foot-11, 186 lbs, Snow College (Utah)): Trinnaman is the sort of big play receiver who can become a primary target for Tanner Mangum right away. He’s a natural in the slot or on the outside and has enough speed to get separation in the open field. Trinnaman totaled 795 yards and eight touchdowns on 46 receptions for Snow College in 2015.
Aleva Hifo (WR/DB, 5-foot-10, 180 lbs, Heritage HS (California)): Don’t be surprised to see Hifo get into the rotation quickly at cornerback. He is a smart player with good speed and better awareness. Hifo is a versatile player who is drawn to the ball like a magnet. He has tremendous potential the type of player BYU needs in the secondary.
Skyler Southam (K, 6-foot-1, 180 lbs, Wasatch HS (Utah)): BYU has a tradition of quality kickers and punters. Southam will likely add to that legacy when he returns from his mission in 2018. He set a Utah single season record as a senior, making 20 field goals. Southam also averaged 46.8 yards per punt with the Wasps — highlighted by a career-long 69-yard punt.
Max Tooley (S, 6-foot-1, 195 lbs, Bountiful HS (Utah)): Tooley made his mark on both sides of the ball for Bountiful last season. On defense, he totaled 93 tackles, 5.5 tackles for loss, a pair of sacks and an interception. He also piled up 1,128 yards and 12 touchdowns on 156 carries in the backfield. Tooley is a strong downhill runner and good at breaking up plays at the line of scrimmage.
Jackson Kaufusi (LB, 6-foot-2, 195 lbs, Brighton HS (Utah)): Kaufusi surprised many people when he chose the Cougars over Utah, California and Washington State. Former BYU coach Bronco Mendenhall had pulled an earlier scholarship offer to the Brighton standout before Sitake offered him again. Kaufusi has potential to be a dependable linebacker. He tallied 100 tackles during his senior season with the Bengals.
Jaren Hall (QB, 6-foot, 181 lbs, Maple Mountain HS (Utah)): Hall is a capable dual-threat quarterback who can make things happen running or throwing. He totaled 5,109 passing yards and 52 touchdowns during his career at Maple Mountain. Hall is definitely one who could be in the mix to take over from Tanner Mangum down the road.
Keenan Pili (LB, 6-foot-2, 198 lbs, Timpview HS (Utah)): Pili joins his older brother Trajan in committing to the Cougars and gives BYU an aggressive and talented defender. He is a beast in coverage. Pili disrupts passes, clogs up crossing routes and can deliver enough punishing blows to disrupt a receiver’s rhythm.
Alema Pilimai (LB, 6-foot-4, 205 lbs, Tustin HS (California)): Pilimai flipped from Utah to BYU and gave the Cougars get a defender with speed and intelligence. He does need to get a little stronger, but could be a special teams contributor with his ability to cover ground quickly.
Freddy Livai (DL, 6-foot-4, 256 lbs, A.B. Miller HS (California)): One thing that stands out about Livai is his defensive IQ. He can read plays and rush off the edge with great success. He has the speed and mobility needed to be a strong pass rusher.
Hank Tuipulotu (TE, 6-foot-3, 225 lbs, Nation Ford HS (South Carolina)): Tight ends are making a comeback in Ty Detmer’s new offense and Tuipulotu could benefit from the renaissance. He had back-to-back 1,000 yard receiving seasons his final two years at Nation Ford and scored 27 touchdowns over that span.
J. T. Gentry (OL, 6-foot-5, 285 lbs, Columbine HS (Colorado)): On paper, Gentry has qualities in his favor for being an impact lineman. He uses his size and strength to dominate opponents and drive them out of the way. Gentry will bolster the team’s depth up front down the road.
Diamonds in the Rough
Sione Finau (RB, 5-foot-11, 170 lbs, Kearns HS (Utah)): Finau flipped to BYU from Oregon State on signing day and gives the Cougars a dynamic and speedy runner in the backfield. Finau rushed for 946 yards and 16 touchdowns as a senior at Kearns, averaging 8.3 yards per carry. He also won a Class 4A title in the 110 meter hurdles. He may not see much time in 2016, though, with a crowded backfield.
Drew Jensen (S, 6-foot-2, 195 lbs, Brighton HS (Utah)): Jensen is a gifted athlete with enough speed and mobility to be a factor in a defensive backfield. His durability is a question mark. Injuries plagued Jensen throughout his four years at Brighton, limiting his playing time and progression.
Caden Haws (OL, 6-foot-2, 275 lbs. Pulaski Academy HS (Arkansas)): Haws is a bit undersized for a lineman, but he does have a ton of physicality that makes up for it. Still, Haws may have to add some bulk to get serious time at the FBS level.
Darius McFarland (DE, 6-foot-2, 250 lbs, Box Elder HS (Utah)): McFarland could be a steal for BYU down the road with some development. He is a strong defender and quite mobile even with his large frame. He was a capable runner and receiver for Box Elder on offense as a senior.
Chris Wilcox (DB, 6-foot-2, 175 lbs, Eleanor Roosevelt HS (California)): Wilcox could turn out to be another steal for BYU. He has a combination of good speed and good instincts for a defensive back. His upside is big enough that assistant head coach Ed Lamb thinks Wilcox could end up in the NFL when he’s done at BYU.
Hirkey Latu (LB, 6-foot-3, 200 lbs, Kahuku HS (Hawaii)): Latu did not seem destined to sign with BYU after considering Oregon State for a time. He has some basic skills to be a contributor in the Cougar secondary. Latu has good speed and an ability to disrupt routes across the middle.
Atunaisa Mahe (DT, 6-foot-1, 258 lbs, West Jordan HS (Utah)): Mahe has raw skills to be a fearsome defensive tackle. He is mobile and energetic, although lacks some of the bulk needed for the FBS level. His experience in rugby also means he isn’t afraid to dish out punishing blows.
Solofa Funa (DE, 6-foot-1, 225 lbs, Spanish Fork HS (Utah)): Funa was a jack of all trades on both sides of the ball for Spanish Fork. His most natural fit at BYU is linebacker where his speed and physicality could make him a solid tackler.
Lisala Tai (OL, 6-foot-7, 310 lbs. Hawthorne HS (California)): With only two years of football under his belt, Tai is still a raw prospect. His natural mix of size, speed and mobility gives him tremendous upside as a lineman. With more experience, he could be a factor up front for the Cougars.
Clark Barrington (OL, 6-foot-6, 275 lbs, University HS (Washington)): Barrington has a naturally strong frame that makes him a worthwhile prospect. He needs to work on adding bulk and refining technique to have an impact at the FBS level.
Mack Richards (WR, 6-foot-1, 190 lbs, Alta HS (Utah)): Richards originally signed with Hawaii before his mission. He totaled 3,268 all-purpose yards as a receiver and returner at Alta. Richards may find a niche on special teams for the Cougars at some point.