Last weekend Tustin (CA) linebacker Alema Pilimai took an official visit to BYU, where he had within his mind a few things he wanted to see differently than what was there before Kalani Sitake took charge.
“Honestly, my visit to BYU went great and it was awesome,” said Pilimai. “Everything that happened on my visit I’m happy with. I got a new feel for the new coaching staff, the environment, and what the new BYU football is all about. I know what I would be getting into if I were to go to BYU.
While on campus, Pilimai noticed a different vibe. The atmosphere was less charged and more relaxed with a more personal feel to it.
“I felt like Coach Mendenhall was a little bit more intimidating in the way he ran his program was a bit different than how Coach Kalani (Sitake) is running his,” said Pilimai. “Kalani is like, ‘Hey, just think of me as one of the boys.’ Players come first in Kalani’s program, and I think that is what a lot of the guys like and it’s what I like in a program.”
Bronco Mendenhall had a difficult time cozying up with high profile recruits, feeling there was a sense of entitlement. He preferred to place an emphasis on having prospects recruit BYU or favored those who sought to earn scholarships having been a walk-on himself at Oregon State. Coach Sitake takes a different approach.
“It’s just a different feel,” said Pilimai. “There wasn’t a time when I felt unwelcome, or a time when it didn’t feel like home, or that it couldn’t be home to me. I know with Kalani it feels like I come first in the program. That’s what I feel like and what a lot of the boys feel like. I know with Keenan [Pili], Cole Fotheringham, and Solofa Funa, they also feel this way. I felt like these guys were my brothers. I felt like I could play alongside these guys as my brothers. That’s what it feels like with Coach Kalani Sitake as the head coach there.”
Pilimai got a chance to talk with many of the current players about the new coaching staff. What he heard from among the many current players made him smile.
“The players that were there treated us great,” said Pilimai. “They said they really like Kalani and what he’s bringing to the program. They felt like they could go to him about anything, both personal and otherwise. It’s just a different feeling there. They said they loved Kalani because the players come first. If the players have a problem they know they can go to him first, and they all feel comfortable about going to him about things personal or otherwise.”
Coach Sitake’s personal side came out one night when all the recruits were out on the town together bowling.
“You know one night we were bowling and he was bowling with us and talking with us,” said Pilimai. “He just seemed like one of the boys and was someone you just thought, ‘You know, this is someone I can play for.’ That’s just the vibe everyone got when we were all hanging out with him.”
Apparently, Coach Sitake bowls a mean game.
“I will tell you this, one of the other bowlers- I think it was Cole Fotheringham- was doing horribly,” said Pilimai with a laugh. “When it was his turn to bowl, Kalani said, ‘I’ll show you a strike right now.’ He walked up, rolled the ball, and got a strike on his first try! Then he did a little dab afterwards. It was hilarious. But that’s what we like about him. He really wants to have a relationship with his players.”
The visit to BYU exceeded Pilimai’s expectation in every way.
“Really it exceeded my expectations,” said Pilimai. “There was a feeling when Coach Mendenhall was there of uptightness before. When I went up there this time there was a different feeling. There was a different feeling and good to see the players interacting with the coaches, and that’s something I wanted to see. That’s what I wanted to see and I got it.”
His trip to BYU has left him even more undecided than ever before.
“I’m more undecided now,” Pilimai said. “I’m taking my official trip to Utah this weekend. To be honest that’s going to be the deciding factor when I’m done. To be honest with you, I still am torn about this. I would say now that I’m undecided, but I did have a great feeling about BYU after I got back from my visit. I’ll just leave it at that.”
With all of his concerns resolved, Pilimai looks at the new BYU under Coach Sitake as a major plus.
“Yeah, exactly,” Pilimai said. “I got everything that I was looking for at BYU. They answered pretty much all of my questions and got rid of all the misconceptions I had about the program, at least after when Mendenhall was still there. It was great and I know what BYU is all about. I know exactly what I would be getting myself into if I decide to go there.”
With much of his previous concerns associated with the old coaching regime dissolved, Pilimai is now more excited about the possibilities BYU has to offer. He looks at his current state of confusion as a blessing knowing an answer will soon come.
“It is,” he said. “It really is. I’m stoked and I’m excited. There were so many things that I was hoping for, and then there were things I was wondering about. When I was at BYU they absolutely blew it out of the water. They did a great job.”