Mendenhall discusses 2011 class

Staying true to their existing recruiting philosophy, the Cougars of BYU hauled in 17 high school recruits and two junior college players on signing day in a diverse class that featured more defensive than offensive players. Coach Mendenhall fielded a wide range of questions on Wednesday dealing with independence, their recruiting philosophy, the height of their players and much, much more.

Starting things off, Coach Mendenhall spoke glowingly of the staff now in place at BYU.

"I've never been more excited for an upcoming spring practice and upcoming season and really the future," said Mendenhall. "That in of itself has invigorated me as a head coach. I'm maybe more excited than I've ever been to show up on a daily basis.

"I think I've surrounded myself with great coaches, great teachers and great people with an energy that is unlike anything that I've seen or experienced just in the past couple of weeks. So I'm very excited about that and so are our players."

Along with the change in staff leadership and potential, Mendenhall also addressed the future of BYU as an independent.

"I think it's just an exciting time for BYU football when you consider some of the changes in leadership, the increased exposure and the chance to play really anyone we want on an unlimited basis throughout the country. It's an unprecedented time and I'm fortunate to be the coach during this time of transition."

After BYU declared to the football world BYU that the football team was going independent, there were some initial scheduling challenges. Mendenhall said that whenever a decision of that magnitude is made, there are always certainly risks.

"The clockwork part of it wouldn't describe our scramble to get a 2011 schedule put together," he said.

Mendenhall talked about the difficult process of making sure the schedule met certain criteria. They had to worry about finding enough teams as well as playing quality teams, getting great exposure, and having good regional balance so that they didn't have to travel too many times back to back.

Nevertheless, he added that it became clear that they made the right decision, and said it has opened many doors for BYU.

"I would have never have imagined that it would have gone this well, and I think that's why everyone is so excited," said Mendenhall.

While Mendenhall said it's too early to fully understand the effect that BYU's partnership with ESPN will have on recruiting, he said they did get a sense of it during BYU's recent Junior Day.

"As soon as we put the independent slide up when I talked to them and they saw ESPN, everyone in the room went, 'Ooooh.' It was just one of those amazing moments. BYU alone is tremendously incredible and is a very, very strong football program, institution and brand so to speak. When you put ESPN with that, there is a reason why we have an exclusive contract with them.

"And again, other athletic directors and coaches around the country didn't understand it quite frankly that we also have our own TV network," Mendenhall continued. "The framework that we have to pull this off, I'm not sure anyone else other than maybe Texas – who doesn't have their own TV network except now that it's ESPN – who else has that? Those that have some business sense, those have vision and see opportunity, they thought it would be a great fit. In terms of the recruit outreach, it's a little too early to say in terms of that."

With the added program exposure now looming on the Cougar horizon, and with a new and energetic staff, Coach Mendenhall is pushing the boundaries even further in an attempt to make sure they use every advantage now in their grasp.

"That just means that we can be more effective and more detailed in every state that we go into," Mendenhall said. "There is a difference between recruiting a state and really milking it for every prospect and developing networks that are so extensive that we know about the players and they want to come to BYU, and their coaches want them to come here [more] than any other place.

Mendenhall said that the youth, enthusiasm and energy in the staff they put together will help them be very effective at recruiting.

The decision to promote the newly hired Coach DuPaix to recruiting coordinator, meanwhile, was a collective one according to Mendenhall.

He said it had a lot to do with "the use of technology, and our younger generation of coaches really have a greater grasp of that than some of us that have gone into coaching and are now trying to catch back up to that. Leveraging technology is a huge thing, especially now that we are now considering expanding our recruiting network. Joe has a great grasp of that in edition to being a super organizer and great administrator and personal recruiter. It just made sense. Coach Tidwell is the one that came to me and said, 'You know, we could really harness this," and so Joe and I and Coach T. sat down and thought this is exactly what we ought to do."

Regarding the 2011 recruiting class being made up primarily of defensive players, Coach Mendenhall joked that this was because he was the new defensive coordinator. However, in reality it was an issue of filling needs.

"We didn't feel the need [for receivers and running backs] was quite as high and, again, our recruiting formula is always based on need and we were really comfortable at the depth that we have at running back and receiver," Mendenhall said. "They'll both be targeted areas for this next year, and we already have players that are already committed for this next season, but for this particular season there were other positions and other emphases that clearly outweighed those two. You'll see that emphasis pick back up and we'll probably sign two running backs in 2012 and probably three receivers, so that will balance us out."

In order to determine who they would try and bring in for this recruiting class, the Cougar staff utilized several methods.

"What we also do is in our recruiting structure we have a list of the best NFL players that have come from BYU, and we measure these kids that we get against those players," Mendenhall said. "Then we decide are they one of those, which is an NFL star-caliber player, or are they basically an infantry player that is a BYU fit that will help us win a ton of games. Last year's class had a ton of so-called superstars in terms of potential and exposure and rankings, and that was exceptional. What we decided we needed more in this class was just another great BYU class with tremendous fit and stability. In terms of position needs, the class worked out. We were clearly heavier on offense than we were on defense [last year], and so the numbers reflected that. Rather than go by position by position, we needed to create more depth and youth on the defensive side of the ball, and that's what we targeted."

Of course, coaches never know how all their recruits will pan out.

"I've never proclaimed that I had the answer on how these kids will play," said Mendenhall. "I love who they are, I love the fit, I love their passion for BYU and I love their potential … I know they'll be taught well and I know they'll be inspired well. I know that they're going to be educated well and they're going to be coached like crazy to reach their potential. Five years from now I think we'll have a better idea on how this class panned out. I think right now this class is right on track."

Mendenhall mentioned that returned missionaries and current recruits will be switched around from time to time. One such example is Michael Alisa, who played linebacker at BYU as a freshman but will make the move to running back. He's now home from serving his mission and, according to Mendenhall, is tops among his group.

"Our missionaries train on a different regimen than our returning players. They're all beginning to be integrated now after four weeks, and Michael Alisa is already in front of the pack in running and he's big. I know he served well on his mission but he must have been running from door to door or jumping over fences or something because he looks really, really good. Going back to this idea of why weren't there so many running backs and receivers, you always predict missionaries coming home and what role they might play. Mike is a running back that basically has returned off his mission, which is basically like a recruit."

Meanwhile, BYU's football team is now venturing into the realm of basketball-height proportions. Coach Mendenhall addressed why there are so many tall prospects in this class. He said those athletes could fill various needs, including defensive end, outside linebacker, tight end and offensive tackle.

"I don't know how many in this class are 6'6", 6'7", 6'8" or 6'5", and in that range they could be an outside linebacker, which is what I thought Colby Jorgensen might be. They could be a defensive end if they're a little bit bigger. If they run really well they could be a tight end, and if they keep getting bigger they could be an offensive tackle.

"Four years of eligibility over a five-year span plus two years of serving a mission … who's to say how big any of those guys might get? They might go through – like Vic So'oto – three position changes and he might become an all-conference type performer his senior year. That could happen with all of them, and I love the upside. Again, what we're recruiting now and what we're projecting in competing for a national championship in the ultimate level of college football, this isn't about what's going to happen just this year. This is about setting the foundation on who these kids are going to be in five, four or seven years from now. When you have guys with a 6'6", 6'7" or 6'8" frame, to put that on with this athleticism, that can be exciting."

During the press conference, Mendenhall also addressed the status of defensive back Joe Sampson.

"Joe Sampson has one class, he's taking two, but he has one class," said Mendenhall. "We were hoping he would make it by midyear, but he did not. He will be here this summer and has to pass two classes and he's very close. Again, he's cousins with Brian Logan, and Coach Howell is his recruiter and has done a fantastic job. He can play corner or safety just like Preston Hadley can play corner or safety. So, with the combination of both of those, Joe will have a much more difficult time without being through spring, this offseason and surviving the workouts. Preston will have a better chance because he's surviving all that right now."

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