In a state full of football talent, BYU and Utah have competition

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SALT LAKE CITY — In a recently conducted analysis of more than 90 top-ranked football recruits across a five-year span, statistics show that in the state of Utah, talent is abundant, and big schools are starting to take notice.

Of the top-ranked high school football players from the state of Utah since 2012, 46 percent chose the Pac-12, while 22 percent chose BYU and conference independence. The Mountain West, previously the home of both Utah and BYU, and the current home of Utah State, followed closely with 16 percent of athletes, the rest being split among the remaining conferences.

Andrew Gorringe, managing editor of, an affiliate website for national recruiting service, says that Utah is an undervalued talent pool nationally.

"Regionally, schools are starting to understand how good the state of Utah is, but nationally, it's absolutely an underrated state," Gorringe said. "It's still middle of the pack in terms of overall talent, but regionally, I would put it just behind California and Arizona."

Other recruiting analysts and insiders concur. Alex Markham, covering the Utes for, and Mitch Harper, also of and a BYU reporter and insider, said the state is growing rich talent.

"I think as far as how the state compares nationally, it's one of the top states in the West," Harper said. "You look at California, and I think that right next in line is Utah."

"A lot more kids have gotten noticed the last five years or so," Markham said. "For quality defensive linemen and linebackers, you come to Utah; the next big breakthrough for the state is going to be seen more and more with skill positions. More and more high-caliber programs are starting to take notice.

Indeed, powerful schools in powerful conferences are beginning to take notice. David Shaw and Stanford have been active in their recruitment of Utah athletes, nabbing six of the top talents from the state in the past five years, in addition to a strong verbal commitment from current Brighton High product Sione Lund, the top running back in the state's class of 2017. Stanford senior safety and team captain Dallas Lloyd is a Pleasant Grove alum.

"Stanford has recruited the state heavily in the past few years, as has Oklahoma; although they haven't committed as many kids," Gorringe said. "Just like with Utah and the Pac-12, if BYU can get into the Big 12, we'll see an explosion and more schools will start to come in and recruit more heavily. Playing in a big conference means a lot to these kids who grow up watching football."

Finding a way into a Power-5 conference has been a gigantic point of interest for BYU brass and fans alike. Athletic director Tom Holmoe has been open about BYU's interest in a move to the Big 12, acknowledging the windfall such a move would be to the athletic prospects of the university.

"I know how important it is for our fans, to be asked that so much,” he said. “I would really love to see our football team play at that level of a P5 conference."

As for independence, Gorringe and Markham both say it's not helping BYU locally or nationally.

"Independence absolutely hurts BYU's recruiting," Gorringe said. "There are a lot of recruits that have a negative perception of BYU because of independence. It can turn some kids off. That's why the Big 12 matters so much."

"Yeah, it's been a huge detriment," adds Markham. "All of a sudden you've got kids who would normally take a harder look between Utah and BYU, who now maybe just give BYU a courtesy look. You saw it last year with Britain Covey."

While Harper believes that BYU is still fairly competitive recruiting-wise, he believes that getting into the Big 12 would drastically improve BYU's chances of recruiting at a higher level.

"If BYU gets into the Big 12, I look at (head coach) Kalani Sitake and his staff, and they'll make BYU a consistent top-30 recruiter nationally," he said. "It hits home more coming from this coaching staff, where many of the coaches are former BYU players, so they have a relatable talking point that the previous staff didn't have. In that regard, I think they can do big things."

Pushback from LGBT advocacy groups and other establishments exists and hurts BYU's chances of being included in Big 12 expansion, but BYU is an attractive option nonetheless. The Cougars' national fan base and prestigious history are assets the team has very likely included in its pitch to the Big 12 and Commissioner Bob Bowlsby.

In the meantime, Sitake will have to rely on his own already remarkable capacity to recruit, an area in which all agree Sitake is a tremendous improvement from the previous regime.

"Compared to (former BYU head coach) Bronco (Mendenhall), Kalani is 100 percent a recruiting upgrade for BYU," Gorringe said. "He's a huge mentor in the Polynesian community and in the entire state of Utah. He's able to get to these kids and connect with them on a personal level."

"No question, in terms of recruiting," Harper added. "Bronco had his strengths, but at the same time, I think Kalani is unique in that recruiting is his bread and butter. What made him an attractive head coaching candidate in the first place was his recruiting."

In direct contrasts to BYU's tenuous conference situation are the Utes, who have seen a huge boon in recruiting since their official induction into the Pac-12 in 2011. They command the state's overall recruiting competition, having signed almost as many top in-state talents as BYU and Utah State combined.

"It (the Pac-12) made them a more recognizable brand," Gorringe said. "It gives Utah a sense of accomplishment and legitimacy. People may think that's silly, but it's still the case. Being able to go into a recruit's house and tell them that if you win 10, 11, 12 games you're going to be able to compete for a conference and national championship is something that you can't say to a kid if you're not in that P5 conference."

As the talent pool grows, the big schools will keep calling. Defections to other programs and national powers will be inevitable, but with coaching staffs well served to mitigate the influence of national powers, Utah, BYU and even Utah State are ready to compete.

And when outside powers do come in and raid the cupboards?

In the words of Utah head coach Kyle Whittingham, "steal them back!"Stephen Lindsey is a student at the University of Utah currently working as an intern with in Salt Lake City. Contact him at or interact via his Twitter handle, @th3sl3

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