Recruiting Roundup: Turnaround Next Year at BYU?

After two consecutive losing seasons for the tradition-rich BYU football program, head coach <b>Gary Crowton</b> and his staff are looking at their first complete recruiting class without being hampered by prior commitments for LDS returned missionaries recruited by former coach <b>LaVell Edwards</b>.

When he agreed to follow a legend in Edwards, Crowton also committed to honor all his predecessors prior scholarship commitments.

Now, with about 18 mid-year and fall scholarships available for its recruiting class of 2004, the entire BYU recruiting staff is working feverishly to sign the "horses" to get a quick start out the gate next season in a hopeful storybook return to greatness.

But this is a real world. How will BYU really do next year on the field against a schedule that still includes USC, Notre Dame, Stanford, Boise State and the best of the Mountain West conference?

Perhaps the more appropriate question is, "What will BYU have to do before the season starts to get back to its winning ways?" Former USC and Tampa Bay Buccaneers coach John McKay once said: "It is players that win games, not plays." I believe Crowton must trim his offensive playbook and rely on better-conditioned and prepared athletes to "execute" fewer plays with greater precision. This is now abundantly clear with a necessary reliance on junior college recruits in BYU's immediate future to plug major holes immediately.

With two consecutive losing seasons for the first time in 30 years, Crowton likely has two years to show significant improvement and upgrades in his on-field football fortunes.

Actor Denzel Washington, as a Hollywood coach of the T.J. Williams High School team in the movie, "Remember The Titans," sternly told an assistant coach who wanted to inject a few more plays in the playbook, "We run seven plays with precision; give it time. It always works, just like Novocain."

I don't know if seven, 25 plays or 50 offensive plays is the right number. Can you imagine Crowton, the Cougars XO scientist in the lab settling on only seven plays? I don't think so. The point is, without the players (horses), BYU will not return to its winning ways in the parity-filled competitive world of college football – yes, even in the MWC.

Everyone throws the ball now; not just BYU. Consequently, teams are better at defending the pass more effectively than in years past.

It was apparent the 2003 BYU offensive was in a state of disarray with co-offensive coordinators Robbie Bosco and Todd Bradford and Crowton all calling plays at different junctures of the season. This simply can't happen in 2004.

Mr. Crowton, the choice seems obvious to me: You must either single handedly assume the offensive reigns, taking complete ownership of the offense in 2004 (a la Bronco Mendenhall on defense in 2003); or hire a proven, powerhouse offensive coordinator and give him complete and "unfettered" control of the offensive play calling.

Frankly, it's hard to see Crowton handing over total offensive control with his job seemingly on the line in 2004. Whatever happens, he has to do it "his way."

On the other side of the field, I expect Mendenhall's defense, ranked No. 13 nationally in 2003, to be even better in 2004, and probably Top 10. I'm not concerned about the defense, especially since it appears BYU is landing top defensive talent in Justin Luettgerodt, Turmurian Moreland, Drew Mugleston, Eddie Scipio, Gregory Lovely and likely two more to reinforce its weak links.

The priority concerns of all Cougar fans – and especially BYU coaches – is the absolute need for a true quarterback leader who will prove his mettle; filling major voids on the offensive line and fixing the glaring weaknesses at the wide receiver position.

All things considered, and with all due respect to current starter Matt Berry, I believe John Beck may emerge as QB heir apparent next fall – unless JC transfer Jason Beck (no relation) beats him out. My prognostication is based solely on the fact that Crowton's most successful teams in college and in the NFL depends on a quick, mobile and smart quarterback with the innate ability to make big play happen in key situations. The anointed golden boy, Elder Ben Olson, is currently serving an LDS mission and will not be ready to assume the role until 2005 or 2006 at the earliest.

Whoever the emerging starter is, he will have excellent support from running back Rey Brathwaite and Marcus Whalen, among others, plus some excellent new JC receivers.

In my mind, John Beck has all the tools (passing velocity, deep ball ability, mobility and football smarts. Quite frankly, I wouldn't be too upset if Berry becomes ‘the man" and does everything superbly that I think Beck has in natural ability. Berry's great strength is his accuracy and his biggest weakness is his lack of playmaking mobility in key situations. Beck has the mobility and stronger arm, but needs to dramatically improve on his decision-making processes in the pocket, an area that Berry was superior in.

If he gets the nod as a true sophomore, Beck must eliminate the rookie mistakes and inexperience tendencies of 2003. Whoever it is must become even more proficient in Crowton's "simplified" system and demonstrate a great "touch" in all aspects of the game.

The bottom line is the quarterback has to be the supreme performer and leader on BYU's offense; that's just the way it has always been.

JC quarterback transfer Jason Beck, also an LDS returned missionary, perfectly fits the quarterback mold that Crowton likes. After evaluating the best available QBs nationally from the JC ranks for TotalBlueSports.com some weeks ago, I rated Jason one of the top 3 junior college quarterbacks QBs in the country. With his signing, I am much more confident of our quarterback depth and quality next year.

Now that freshmen offensive linemen Ofa Mohetau, Jake Kuresa and Eddie Keele have had a solid year of experience under their belts and with the addition of Scott Young, Nick Longshore and one or two more unnamed powerhouse JC transfers, I believe BYU will be better much next year if the offensive line lives up to their billing.

The biggest offensive line question mark is not at guard and tackle, but in who will replace captain Scott Jackson at center. Hanale Vincent returns, but he is not considered in the class of Jackson or former Cougar Jason Scukanec.

There are reports that BYU is aggressively recruiting Kahuku High School's Jeremy Perry to possibly play an important role at center as early as next season. Supposedly, he's that good. Crowton and offensive line coach Lance Reynolds may also convert Nick Longshore or Scott Young to center. With Taitusi Lutui's decision to play for USC, I hope BYU signs Michael Morris, Austin Collie, Riley Weber and as many as three other undecided JC receivers in Todd Watkins, Joe Griffin and/or Travis Brown. Getting all three may be too much to hope for, but any combination of them would be a major upgrade.

Now if Crowton can instill the same kind of maniacal "effort and intensity" on the offensive side of the ball as Mendenhall has developed in his first season on defense, we are all in for a great ride next season.

Allow me now to project what I think will be the final 2004 BYU recruiting class with a few changes between now and Feb. 4 (Letter of Intent day). With the existing talent and a nearly full complement of upgraded recruits that will produce immediately and in the future, there is no reason to doubt BYU will have the players to produce a winning season next fall.

PEDERSEN'S PROJECTED 2004 BYU FOOTBALL RECRUITS

TODD WATKINS, 6-3, 185 pounds, 4.3 WR: Grossmont College, considered by many as a top 3 JC receiver in the country. First Team All American. Watkins' addition could "springboard" the confidence and playing level of the offense to immediate wins in 2004 and 2005. His is a mid-year transfer who is eligible to play spring ball and acclimate sooner.

OR

JOE GRIFFIN, 6-3, 185 pounds, 4.45 WR: Grossmont College; he played in the shadow of teammate Watkins, but he is a major recruiting prize. Either Watkins or Griffin will add a huge boost to the offense. If Watkins commits to BYU, may Griffin will sign elsewhere. If Watkins commits elsewhere than BYU, Griffin will likely commits to BYU.

JASON BECK, 6-2, 205 pounds, 4.6 QB: College of the Canyons, All League First Team. Low turnover/interception ratio. Excellent mobility. Very athletic. Great leader. Crowton could have used Jason Beck this season. He is huge insurance for BYU next season, like Alex Smith was for Utah this year. He is eligible to participate in spring ball.

JUSTIN LUETTGERODT, 6-4, 230 pounds, 4.6, LB/DE: Foothill College. First Team All American. Although our greatest need is on offense, Luettgerodt's talent has rarely been seen in Provo. His defensive efforts will elevate Bronco's defensive effectiveness to new levels. Most leading tacklers on teams lead with typically 85-110 tackles a year. Luettgerodt led his team with an insane 147 tackles this past season. Mendenhall's next Brian Urlacher? He is eligible to play spring ball.

NICK LONGSHORE, 6-5, 295 pounds, OL: College of the Canyons. Without more experienced beef up front, it could be another long season. BYU needs more insurance on the offensive line with added quality and experienced depth. Longshore is also spring ball eligible, which is very important for him to learn BYU's complicated blocking assignments.

GREGORY LOVELY, 6-0, 180 pounds, 4.4, CB: Foothill College. Lovely is in the bag as a February LOI signee. He has three years to play three seasons. Great cover corner with excellent speed and size. BYU needs quality depth at cornerback for maximum defensive impact. Lovely could push both Brandon Heaney and Shannon Benton for a starting slot.

MICHAEL MORRIS, 6-1, 195 pounds, 4.5, WR: Itawamba Junior College. If I didn't think that either Watkins or Griffin were BYU bound, I would have ranked Morris in the top 3. Either way, Morris will likely start at one of the three receiver slots, barring injury. Morris is also a mid-year spring ball qualified player.

EDDIE SCIPIO, 5-10, 170 pounds, 4.4, CB: Hancock Junior College. Though he has verbally committed, the question remains as to whether he is still coming or not because of strong interest from other major programs. He is definitely one of the top two priorities for BYU's JC recruiting class. Scipio is a game breaker as a kick returner. The soonest he can sign is February LOI day.

AUSTIN COLLIE, 6-2, 190 pounds, 4.5, WR: Oak Ridge High (CA). Collie is simply the best LDS wide receiver prep recruit in the country and will be a great one at BYU before he is done. He was just selected NorCal MVP in his high school region. Collie is a natural leader and willed his team to key wins all season.

RAY FEINGA, 6-5, 280 pounds, OL: Hunter High (UT). Another "must get" for BYU as the top OL prep recruit in Utah. Feinga has strong family ties to BYU and grew up a big Cougar fan. I would rank three or four JC players ahead of him based on immediate needs, but the Cougars must continue their Polynesian pipeline tradition and success. Feinga was reportedly the first OL athlete to receive the Utah MVP Football Player award. He's a great future prospect with NFL written all over him.

CORNELIUS THOMAS, 6-6, 310 pounds, OL:City College of San Francisco. He provides immediate depth on the OL. Thomas is a definite "sleeper" with five offers in recent weeks. He could be better than Lutui, whom I have seen a lot of film on. Thomas is much quicker and agile. He may not pancake as many as Lutui at the next level, but he certainly will prevent many more rushing defensive ends and blitzing linebackers from sacking the quarterback. Thomas is half Samoan, half black and is being recruited aggressively by BYU.

TURMARIAN MORELAND, 6-2, 195 pounds, 4.5, DB: Los Angeles Valley College. Moreland is a definite sleeper lost in the roster of a lousy JC team. He can play cornerback or safety. Maybe Moreland gets some Mike Williams (USC) duty next season because of his size? Moreland is a mid-year signee and will participate in spring ball, so his value in terms of more experience is important.

ANTWON GUIDRY, 6-0, 190 pounds, 4.4, All Purpose Athlete: City College of San Francisco. If Scipio spurns BYU for Kansas State, we'll need an athlete like Guidry. The only question is whether he will graduate in time for next fall. Guidry is "the best all around athlete on the team," according to one of his coaches. Guidry played WR on offense and CB on defense. What's more, Guidry returns kicks and punts. He is a "playmaker" that can be plugged in wherever he is needed most. It would be great if Guidry and Thomas come to BYU in a package signing and open up a new pipeline to CCSF, the national JC championship team – or California state JC Champs four of the last five years. CCSF plays a very similar "spread offense" to BYU with frequent four receiver sets.

DREW MUGLESTON, 6-2, 195 pounds, 4.5, DB: Mesa Mountain View High (AZ). Mugleston is a Austin Collie type talent. Dominates in most games he plays. Plays WR and DB and is a versatile athlete – an important flexibility consideration for Crowton.

LEE FOLIAKI, 6-3, 240 pounds, LB: Butler Junior College. Led No. 1 ranked Butler in tackles with 86 this past season. Selected Second Team All-Jayhawk JC Conference. He was a teammate of Ofa Mohetau at Euless High in Texas. He provides excellent quality depth at LB and is certainly good enough for the two-deep chart. The LB spot will be very competitive next year.

CHANTI BLOOMER, 6-1, 190 pounds, 4.5, CB: Grossmont Junior College. I like his size for a cornerback. BYU can never have enough depth at corner. Heaney went down in the first game of the season and it hurt the Cougars all season.

RILEY WEBER, 6-1, 180 pounds, 4.5, WR: Glendale Junior College. Even though I see a Watkins or Griffin and/or Morris starting tandem, I believe Weber will contend for the third starting WR position along with Austin Collie and the current corps of Cougar receivers. He was second in receptions in his league this season. Skinny, but tough and sure-handed.

AARON WAGNER, 6-3, 250 pounds, LB: Washington State transfer. We won't see him for another year because of his transfer. Wagner is a huge ‘get.'

PATRICK EALY, 5-9, 190 pounds, 4.4, RB: Denver High. He is a game breaker. Although we are currently deep at running back, Whalen and Brathwaite graduate after next season and BYU needs another great RB in the wings. If Ealy commits to BYU, he will likely redshirt next season. He set all kinds of rushing records in Colorado.

ISLEY FILIAGA, 5-11, 280 pounds, DT: Orem High (UT). Has dropped to 265 for wrestling. One of the strongest prep players in the country, Filiaga would provide excellent back up at defensive tackle next year. His signing would also keep the BYU Poly pipeline strong in Utah.

SAM DOMAN, 6-4, 200 pounds, 4.5, CB: Canby High (OR). His coach considers Doman, a cousin of Brandon Doman, the best cornerback in the state of Oregon. He would be very effective against tall receivers like Mike Williams from USC. Will likely redshirt if he commits to BYU.

AARON STRAITEN, 6-3, 190 pounds, 4.4, WR: Antioch High (CA). I would love to see us land Keith Dickerson, but many schools are after Dickerson. It is much more likely Straiten ends up in Cougar blue or Ram green (CSU). If he commits to BYU, he will likely be redshirted.

JACOB BOWER, 6-4, 220 pounds, QB: Meridian High (ID). A national 100 Insiders.com recruit, Bower would rank higher, but he will leave directly on an LDS mission. Cougar fans probably won't see him in uniform until 2008-2009 (seems like forever, but he will follow Ben Olson).

TERENCE BROWN, 6-4, 280 pounds, OL: Summerville High, SC. Highly recruited by major colleges, he will leave immediately on an LDS mission.

NICK ALLETTO, 6-5, 280 pounds, OL: Parker High (CO). A First Team All-State player in Colorado, he will leave immediately on an LDS mission.

MATT PUTNAM, 6-7, 235 pounds, 4.6, DE: Box Elder High, UT. He will leave immediately on LDS mission and was the top Utah Football player along with Feinga. Very talented and, with a little more beef, can be a standout defensive end.

The following players have returned from LDS missions and will take up mid-year scholarships: T.J. Sitake (DE); Junior Kato (OL); Bryce Mahuika (WR); and Saia Hafoka (WR).

Recruiting development will not pan out exactly as I have projected and we are in for some great recruiting surprises. That's good news. A lot of this is calculated speculation since BYU coaches cannot comment on recruits until after they officially sign Letters of Intent.

One thing seems certain: Gary Crowton will enjoy his best recruiting class ever at BYU. That's the best news for his struggling gridiron program and long suffering Cougar fans.

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