BYU football: Sitake's influence plays big in securing top defensive line recruit's commitment

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PROVO — BYU coach Kalani Sitake's strengths as a recruiter are obvious to anyone who has engaged with him for even a small amount of time.

The Cougars head coach comes across as good-natured, interested, transparent, but perhaps most importantly genuine during his social interactions, which has proven a tremendous asset in recruiting.

All of this became apparent to BYU's latest defensive line commit Kelepi Vete during his visit to BYU and stands as a primary factor of his stated intent to sign with the Cougars as part of the 2025 recruiting class. Add in Sitake's shared Tongan heritage and Christian faith, and Vete's connection to BYU grew even stronger upon his initial visit back in 2023.

"As a person — being believers in Christ — that's one thing that connects me to them in a way I can grow better than being connected with (other) coaches," Vete said. "Kalani (Sitake) knows what it's like to be a young Tongan kid, especially growing up in a family with a lot of siblings in a single parent household. He understood and connected with me."

Vete is a 6-foot-5, 260 pound three-star prospect from Oakland, California. BYU first reached out to him in January 2022 when then Cougars offensive line coach Darrell Funk began the recruiting process, along with BYU linebackers coach Justin Ena.

While the interest was there initially, Vete stated that it really began to pick up following BYU's hiring of Sione Po'uha as its defensive line coach in December 2022.

All of the contact culminated into Vete taking a visit to BYU during the summer of 2023, where he met Sitake for the first time, but also the rest of the Cougars' coaching staff — all of whom made a strong impression on him.

"I'm close with all the coaches," Vete said. "They're great people and I love them so much."

While Vete didn't commit to BYU officially for several months after, pledging to the Cougars was always a strong possibility following his initial visit to the campus. Sure, he claimed other offers from the likes of Arizona, Arizona State, Stanford and Baylor, among others, but felt that none of them offered everything that BYU did.

"I knew automatically after I visited in the summer of 2023 that it was the place for me; it fit," Vete said. "I found that the coaches were helping me understand the game more, because I was kind of new to the game. … So they've helped me gain a lot of knowledge on the field."

Relatively new

Vete began his athletic endeavors playing both basketball and rugby, before turning to focus on football at the start of his high school career. He's played at several different positions along the offensive and defensive fronts, but is considered a defensive tackle prospect by the Cougars coaching staff.

Coaches, along with Vete himself, believe that his potential has only begun to be realized as he works to improve his form considerably for his final prep season.

"You're going to see more sacks," Vete said of the progressions he hopes to make during his senior season. "My sophomore year … I wasn't able to showcase all my defensive line skills. I have a lot more run-stopping technique, for sure, and then run stops and tackles for losses — anything to help myself make the play or to help others make plays."

Vete understands that weighing in at just 260 likely won't cut it at the collegiate level, and aims to increase his strength, and subsequent weight significantly before arriving in Provo.

"My goal, overall, is to weigh in at 285 pounds," Vete said. "Right now I'm about 262, so I'm slowly getting there. I also want to boost my 40 (yard dash) time to 4.8. I just want to get bigger and faster."

Faith and family based

Vete comes from a strong religious background, which has aided him tremendously in avoiding the pitfalls that too often encircle youth growing up in the Oakland area. While not a member of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, Vete has acquired like-minded ideals that he feels makes him a great fit for BYU's unique culture.

As is the case with a lot of people in and around BYU's environment, Vete's family is a chief focus.

"I mostly just go to church and take care of my siblings," Vete said when asked about how he spends his free time. "I go to a Tongan Pentecostal Church, and I'm the drummer in my church, and I'm also part of a youth group. … My main goal before I go up there to BYU is that I spend enough time with (my siblings) and just be the best older brother and father-figure that I know how. I want to teach them things, but also to have fun with them."

Vete notes that hard work is and will be the key to any success he's had or will have in the future, putting him in line with others who have overcome Oakland's tough environment.

"There's so many kids who work hard because they know that football and education is all they got," Vete said. "Because other than that, there's nothing. There's violence, there's tragedy and there's no home for them sometimes. And so this is the only way they know that they can get out of this situation."

Keeping Vete centered through all of his pursuits is his mother, Lusia Finauhu'ia

"She's the strongest person in my life," Vete said. "She's been through thick and thin. She knew how to stand strong, take care of us, and show me how to persevere and go through all hard problems. She's just the strongest person I know."

Vete is excited for both the football and academic opportunities at BYU where he looks to pursue a relatively tough degree.

"I love math. I love to utilize numbers and I definitely look forward to (majoring) in something like mechanical engineering," Vete said. "I just like some of the challenges that school will give me."

Vete's visit to BYU will occur this coming June, a date which he has circled on his calendar — not only for himself, but for someone that will be accompanying him on the trip. Vete has a twin brother, Siosiua Vete, who is currently committed to sign with Stanford — although Kelepi Vete aims to help sway him away from that commitment.

Siosiua Vete is a 6-foot-6, 280 pound offensive tackle prospect who also claims offers from BYU, Arizona, Arizona State, and Baylor among others.

"I've been waiting for this for a long time. I've been counting down the months," Kelepi Vete said of his upcoming BYU visit.

With regards to his own commitment to BYU, Vete is thankful to have the recruiting process in his rearview mirror with all of his gaze toward the opportunities ahead.

"I feel stress free," Vete said. "It's a commitment I made a while back, but haven't announced it until now. I'm glad to be part of the BYU family just because of how special it is both on and off the field. I feel it's a place where I can develop as both a person and as a player, and those are two things I value very much."

Criddle's conclusion

In the modern era, the reasons why many collegiate recruits choose their respective destination rests on two primary factors.

  • How much playing time will I get?
  • How much NIL money will I receive?

Sitake in his conversations with recruits rarely, if ever, broaches those two topics.

Under Sitake, the football program's vision has been to provide an experience based in faith, family, and high level academics combined with a goal of being capable of playing at the highest level of collegiate football.

The fact is, if your primary reason is limited to the pursuit of an athletic experience, then BYU is not the right place for you.

There is one quote that indicates to me that Vete is aligned with BYU's unique culture and opportunities: "As a person — being believers in Christ — that's one thing that connects me to them in a way I can grow better than being connected with (other) coaches."

Sitake's core common belief in Christ and similar upbringing were critical pieces in building a relationship of trust with Kelepi.

Having been recruited and coached personally by Sitake myself while at Eastern Arizona Junior College, I can tell you first hand that he embodies through word and action the christian values that became apparent to Vete during the recruiting process.

When you come to BYU, it should be more than just about wanting to play football, and Vete assuredly wants more than just a football experience at his next destination; he wants a holistic experience centered in faith, family, and education, while also playing football at the highest of levels.

It's why I believe he's likely to see a lot of success at BYU, both on and off the field of play.

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Ben Criddle


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