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Recruiting: It's the lifeblood of any college program. While every program differs on how they evaluate, value and then pursue future players for their programs, it is paramount in any coach's mind to attract the right players to their respective football team and then to develop that talent.
For the past eight years, I have intently covered BYU recruiting. I continually delve into how each recruit has fared from the day they enter the program until the day they move on for life after their BYU experience. Over time, I've gained a unique perspective into how BYU currently recruits, how their recruiting has changed, and what it takes to find success within BYU's unique football program.
Along with staying on top of the local prep recruiting scene, which has hit an all-time boom due to its overall talent in recent years, BYU has always attracted some of the best LDS talent nationally. While BYU used to win every in-state battle when I first started covering their recruiting, Utah has been able to make some inroads due to the tremendous progress they've made with their football program over the past decade.
Many Cougar fans worried about how BYU could possibly compete with Utah on the recruiting scene after the Utes received their PAC-10 invitation. The full impact is yet to play out, but recently BYU received some indication that they're still in good shape in regards to attracting the top local talent. Amid all the commotion this past week over BYU attempting to go independent, Cougar coaches received some big news in securing the commit of Ryker Mathews of American Fork high school.
Mathews is a 6-6, 270 lb. offensive lineman who was being recruited heavily by both BYU and Utah, among other programs. Utah was on Mathews very early,-providing him with his first scholarship offer. In spite of the Utah pressure on Matthews, he decided to commit to BYU. Matthews described his decision as a "horrible process" where he stewed over his decision as much as any recruit I've covered. One week it was Utah, the next week it was BYU. He was torn due to the superior aspects of both teams.
Mathews is no ordinary prospect. This coming January, the Army All-American bowl showcases the top prep talent nationally. Matthews, American Fork's starting left tackle, will be part of that showcase.
Subsequently, his services were as hotly contested over by both BYU and Utah. Both schools engaged in multiple phone calls, visits to Matthew's school, and basically emptying their respective holsters in securing his commitment.
Then, as if to seemingly tip the scales in Utah's favor, Utah was invited to join the PAC-10 during the month of June. Cougar fans everywhere fretted over the prospect of Utah winning most, if not all, of the subsequent in-state recruiting wars due to their alignment with a BCS conference. How would the PAC -10 invitation affect the recruit's perspective?
During this time, I ventured some phone calls to Mathews and other uncommitted athletes to gain their thoughts on Utah's PAC-10 affiliation to see how it would affect their recruitment decision. While it was a big thing in some minds, the pervading thought from the athletes was, "not much."
"It's not a big thing in my mind and not something that would sway me entirely", said Mathews at the time. "I mean, it's nice and it's a plus for them, but it's not one of the top things that I'll consider when making my decision between Utah and BYU."
What was important to Mathews was all the other things each program had to offer of which BYU came out on top. "I just couldn't think of any really good reasons not to go to BYU", he said following his commit. "I love the coaches there, I love how they work with you and I love the academics, the atmosphere and everything else. It's the best place for me and the best place where I can grow as a football player and as a person."
The day after Mathews' commit, news broke on ESPN regarding BYU's intentions to go independent in football. Like every other person, the news took Mathews completely by surprise with no indication provided by the Cougar coaching staff that such a move was impending at the time of his commit.
It's been well-documented since then how BYU's intentions have been derailed due to some backroom dealings between MWC commissioner Craig Thompson, Nevada-Reno, Fresno State and quite possibly more programs to come. It's put fans in a frenzy, wondering about the future of their team, when they'd do well to listen to one recruit's perspective on the matter.
"I guess that's why it's important to focus on the things you know", related Mathews about reports of BYU attempting to go independent the day after his commit. "I can't control where BYU plays, but what's important to me is what I do know about them. I just know BYU is where I can reach all my goals the best and that‘s why I committed to them. It‘s really that simple."
Mathews is just one example, but his experience goes to show fretting fans and vial critics, that the strength of BYU's football program is still there in their ability to attract top talent such as Ryker Mathews. Amid all the uncertainty, his experience should work to indicate that no matter what happens in the near future, BYU is going to be okay.
I am both excited and privileged to have the opportunity to share my insights on not just the BYU recruiting front, but on other LDS and local prospects for the Deseret News. Look for my updates at least once a week to gain better insight on what is happening on not only the recruiting front, but with how recruits have continued their development while at BYU and at other programs.