Head Coach Kalani Sitake speaks to the media after the BYU Cougars football team practice in Provo on Friday, March 17, 2023. As the Cougars prepare for their first season in the Big 12, Sitake likes where his roster stands. | Scott G. Winterton, Deseret News
In the age of the transfer portal, is it hard for you to keep up with the comings and goings of BYU football players?
“I think this group (of transfers) is probably bigger than what we’ve had in the past. I think we know what we want. We knew from the start what we needed to bring depth and competition to each positional group and I think we went out there and understood that.” — BYU Coach Kalani Sitake
Imagine you are head coach Kalani Sitake, who is expected to know the names and backgrounds of all 123 players in his annual roster.
The latest addition is former Corner Canyon linebacker Harrison Taggart, the four-star recruit who came on in three games for Oregon. Taggart signed last Saturday — BYU had not officially announced his signing as of 3 p.m. Wednesday — and has four years of eligibility left by playing in four games or fewer for the Ducks.
At 6’2″, 222 pounds, Taggart is BYU’s 20th signing on the transfer portal, by far the highest in any season since the portal became a big deal when the NCAA began accepting student-athletes on its first Transfer to grant immediate permission.
According to CougarStats.com, BYU added 38 new players (high school recruits and transfers) in the past six months. But Sitake said it was “easy” to memorize the newcomers’ names as he and his staff had already done extensive work in the recruitment and vetting process.
After his team edged Utah coach Kyle Whittingham’s team by a shot at Monday’s Coaches Legacy Invitational at Hidden Valley Country Club in Sandy, Sitake said the focus recently has shifted from scouring the transfer portal for players who can help Team 2023 have shifted to recruiting members of the senior high school class of 2024.
“I think this group (of transfers) is probably bigger than what we’ve had in the past,” Sitake underscored. “I think we know what we want. We knew from the start what we needed to bring depth and competition to each position group and I think we got it.
The story goes on
“We thought about what we want to achieve in recruiting, also via the portal. I think we’ve done most of it,” he said.
While Sitake acknowledged that BYU coaches “never finish” when they look at the portal, “because you always take a great player,” Sitake said he’s confident the conditions are there — in the roster and on the coaching staff – to lead the Cougars to success. The first season in the Big 12 this fall was successful.
“I don’t know if we’re really banging the pavement for that now, because we did that in the spring,” he said. “I have the feeling that we are in a really good position right now. We’re going to focus on the high school recruits. But you never know The way things are going, they can change at any moment.”
Colorado running back Deion Smith is among 20 new signings to join Provo via the transfer portal. | David Zalubowski, Associated Press
BYU’s other recent Transfer Portal acquisitions include Colorado running back Deion Smith, UConn receiver Keelan Marion, Eastern Michigan receiver Darius Lassiter and Weber State cornerback Kamden Garrett.
The Cougars also signed tight end Ray Paulo, but he isn’t considered a new signing on the transfer portal as he comes from the junior college ranks and played for Allan Hancock College in Santa Maria, California last season.
Coincidentally, BYU has lost 20 players to the transfer portal since the start of last season, most recently linebacker Logan Pili to Utah State and offensive lineman Vae Soifua to Weber State. The biggest loss since spring camp ended is likely defenseman George Udo, who has signed with future Big 12 rivals Cincinnati.
Now that the dust has largely settled, the question is: was the 2022-23 transfer portal a net loss or a net gain for the Cougars?
“Yeah, we’ll be fine,” Sitake said, dodging the question a bit. “(I think we’re going to have to rely on some youngsters moving up at different spots, but I think at the moment I’m overall feeling good about the whole group. Offensively and defensively, we (Aaron Roderick) and Jay (Hill ) would (know) how they were going to get better as a unit and then also (Kelly Poppinga) got his stuff done with special teams.
“I think it just comes down to us making it and having a great off-season from now until camp starts in August,” he concluded.
Sitake said June will be filled with camps, official visits from high school recruits, and evening phone calls to cement commitments and persuade others to consider BYU.
Cougar Sports Insider reported Wednesday that BYU is welcoming “a senior quarterback” this weekend, three-star contender (247sports.com) Maealiuaki Smith from Junipero Serra High in San Mateo, Calif. The six-foot-1, 195-pound Smith has bids from more than a dozen power-five programs, including rival Utah.
According to 247sports.com, BYU has also made an offer to Granger High QB Carson Su’esu’e and expects an official visit from the 6-5, 200-pounder on June 23. Su’esu’e played at De La Salle High in Concord, California last season, throwing for 766 yards and seven touchdowns.
BYU football head coach Kalani Sitake and his teammates celebrate Monday, June 5, 2023 during the 2023 Coaches Legacy Invitational at Hidden Valley Country Club in Sandy. | Ryan Sun, Deseret News