Running backs coach AJ Steward says he remains on alert for running back talent to bring to BYU even though the National Letter of Intent signing date came and went last week without obtaining a few desired targets.
While others may wonder what is up, Steward says the running back situation “is in a good place right now, to be honest with you.”
In other words, don’t ditch or diss his guys already on the team — don’t sell them short.
This includes almost last-minute signings of athletes who could be hybrid receiver/running backs last Wednesday, including Colorado’s 5-10, 175-pound Luc Andrada and San Diego’s Javelle Brown (6-1, 180). Two preferred walk-ons are expected to be on the roster in Scottsdale Junior College running back Alec Fitz Meza and Bailey Sulzer from West Valley, California.
Former Lone Peak star Jackson McChesney (6-0, 187) returns from missionary service, and the Cougars do have other candidates led by Lopini Katoa, Kavika Fonua, Sione Finau, Tyler Allgeier, Morgan Pyper and fullback types Darius McFarland and Kyle Griffitts.
Head coach Kalani Sitake says he wants all his running backs to be receivers, athletes capable of working into a passing scheme. And last year showed offensive coordinator Jeff Grimes isn’t averse to drafting receivers and linebackers to the backfield.
To those who follow recruiting, they note Steward went coast to coast reviewing prospective BYU recruits. He offered visits, made offers and looked at high school, junior college and graduate transfer candidates. A few of those he offered signed elsewhere.
247Sports BYU publisher and ESPN 960 on-air host Mitch Harper described Steward’s work in this way: “Whenever you think BYU has zero options left on the recruiting trail, AJ Steward has had another plan waiting in the wings. A prime example of this was Alec Meza, who BYU was sending letters to for months, but they waited to offer the preferred walk-on status to Meza who was a junior college standout and is a member of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. Steward has been aggressive in finding running backs. I don’t expect him to stop searching as BYU will look to add skill players between now and the beginning of fall camp. If I had to say who's the top recruiter on the staff this 2019 recruiting cycle, the award would go to Steward for getting BYU into the conversation for prospects that wouldn’t usually consider BYU. Now he just needs to finish the job and get kids to sign.”
Steward said signing day may have come and gone, but he isn’t finished by any means.
“Our roster isn’t going to be complete until we get ready for camp,” he said. “We have left no stone unturned throughout this process and we’re gonna keep it that way. We will continue to do what we can and by the time we step on the field for our first game we will have a well-prepared group that will be talented and representative, so there are no worries from our coaching staff right now.”
Steward confirmed he has chalked up frequent-flyer mileage in his recruiting efforts. “I think that shows Kalani Sitake is willing to let me go out and do whatever I can find the best guys for this program. There are time and effort that go into that, and this program deserves it.
“You see the interest in it at signing day with our boosters and The ROC at our signing day event. They deserve for us to leave no stone unturned throughout this process. That’s the approach we take and I think the work is going to pay off.”
Steward has now spent one full recruiting cycle selling BYU. He is familiar with what it may take to enlist the services of prospects from a myriad of backgrounds and geographical locations. He was educated when he faced a few rejections — recruiting to BYU is unlike anything he’d encountered before in his coaching career. He likes the challenge.17 comments on this story
“I think there's a variety of things that go into it (rejection) from both sides. Sometimes they're not the right fit for us, sometimes we're not the right fit for them. But that's why you go out and meet people face to face and you ask questions and make sure you know you're making the right decision. That's how some of those things played out.
“And I firmly believe that wherever a guy is supposed to be, that’s where he'll end up, whether it be here or somewhere else. We've made a living in this program having guys here that want to be here, that fit here, that thrive here. And we're not going to sacrifice that just to get a guy that we think has the talent. If they've not bought into the lifestyle, the academics and things that are required here at BYU, then we're gonna cut that connection.”
Steward’s motto? No stone unturned.