When BYU head football coach Bronco Mendenhall announced the 2014 recruiting class last week, he didn't just talk about the athletic potential of the next group of players who will be joining the program.
He also talked about many of them as individuals and told a few of the stories describing the various paths that led these players to become Cougars.
So here's a look back at some of those tales from Signing Day:
In, out, then in again
Mendenhall called the journey of Timpview senior linebacker Isaiah Nacua a "wild story."
Isaiah Nacua, the younger brother of BYU safety Kai Nacua, originally committed to come to BYU. But then things began to change.
"I had a lot of other schools come rolling in," Isaiah said on signing day. "I ended up sitting down with Coach Mendenhall and undeclaring. I didn’t know how he would react."
He said he got looks from Utah, Utah State, Arizona, Arizona State, Nevada-Reno and Hawaii. Mendenhall explained that it's a process many high school athletes go through.
"Along the way, like a lot of young men do, he made some unique choices and decided he didn’t think he wanted to come to BYU," Mendenhall said. "He wanted to consider elsewhere. We went back and forth at least two times on that similar trend."
It was a personal time for Isaiah as well, as his father passed away last year and he had to figure out just what he wanted.
“I knew my dad would cheer for me wherever I went,” he said. “In the end I decided I wanted to go to BYU for my own reasons.”
But he still had to go back to Mendenhall and the Cougar coaching staff and tell them his position.
“I was nervous going in,” Isaiah said. “But Coach Mendenhall is a straight-up guy. I love how straightforward he is. He told me what would happen and the process I would need to follow to build the trust back up.”
Mendenhall explained that Isaiah has some academic work to take care of and is also planning on serving an LDS mission, but said that once those are taken care of he has confidence that the young man will be ready to go at BYU.
“I was convinced about a week ago that not only does this young man want BYU, but he was sincere about it,” he said. “I would love to see his mom have both boys play at the same spot and that had a lot to do with it as well.”
"It not going to matter"
One of the guys who came the furthest to join BYU was Jaterrius Gulley from Alabama. Mendenhall described him as a player the Cougar coaching staff identified early as a player they wanted to join the team.
"We got an email video link who said he had a unique player who developed later than others," he said. "I watched the film and loved it. I thought he fit our system perfectly, so we sent a coach out instantly. I think we were the first to respond."
But given the football culture of the South and the many opportunities in that area of the country, many might've considered having Gulley come to Provo a long shot. Gulley, however, found something he was looking for.
"It’s nice to have young men come who don’t know much about BYU and instantly appreciate it," Mendenhall said. "To come with no preconceived notions other than the half or partial truths they hear about the LDS church and BYU, then to be brave enough to say, ‘I want to go see for myself.’"
With things going well, the Cougar head coach decided to offer Gulley a scholarship while he was there for his visit. But he didn't want Gulley to rush the decision, so Mendenhall told him to go home and talk it over with his family.
"He doesn’t know everything about BYU but the instant reaction was that he was smiling and I was smiling," Mendenhall said. "I thought, ‘yeah, we know enough.’ I told him I was going to offer him a scholarship but that I didn’t want his answer. He said, ‘coach, I want to come.’ I asked if he heard what I’d just said and he said, ‘it’s not going to matter.’ He was persistent, so I took his commitment on his visit. That’s fun for me."
Never underestimate paintball
As part of the recruiting weekend before signing day, Mendenhall, some of the current players and visiting recruits headed off for some paintball.
“Don’t underestimate me on paintball,” Mendenhall said.
The teams divided up and went into battle. When the contest was over, Mendenhall recalled that many of the participants — including himself — had paint dripping off them. There was something odd about the pattern of how he had been hit.
"When you paintball with recruits, there are also hosts which are your current players," he said. "I was working against the team that was visiting but most of the shots I took were in the back. I realized most of my current players were behind me. I didn’t get hit once in the front but my back was just pummeled."
The Cougar head coach talked about the recruits liked seeing our current players really get after him.
It was just one element of the process that often becomes a unique bonding experience for the visitors, according to Mendenhall. He recalled hearing about how the recruits spent their time the weekend before signing day.
“They stayed up late in the lobby of the hotel sharing each other’s stories,” he said. “What they found is a lot of similarities. They may have been in relative isolation in different parts of the country and in the minority, then they come here and they found likeness. It’s hard to separate them at the end of the visits.”
One of the guys who enjoyed his visit to the point of changing his mind was linebacker Uriah Leiataua, who chose at the last minute to go with BYU instead of Stanford.
“He is super-strong academically,” Mendenhall said. “The family absolutely is one of the best homes I’ve ever been in. It’s a faith-based, strong-academic household with a young man who is a great football players. He is BYU in that he chose us after have already committed and agonizing about where he was going to be.”
Too much, too fast
Another interesting story was the addition of Devon Blackmon, a junior college wide receiver from Riverside City College.
“On a day like (Signing Day), ESPN will have the top 100 say where they are going and he was one of those type of players coming out of high school,” Mendenhall said. “He chose the University of Oregon, but went there and was not successful, not only on a social level but on an academic level.”
Mendenhall recalled that Blackmon said it was “too much, too fast.” The junior went back to a junior college but again had many choices about where to complete his career.
“What I’m convinced of is that he not only wants BYU but he wants to prove he can be at BYU with all the unique standards,” Mendenhall said. “He also knows he can help our football team.” The Cougar head coach talked about some players come already qualified, some come needing BYU and the question is whether they want it.
“Devon Blackmon wants it, needs it and is excited about the role he can play as a football player,” Mendenhall said. “It’s a bright story and I’d really love to see it end well, meaning he comes to BYU and has great success. That would be a nice finish and conclusion to his college life.”
Daily Herald sports editor Jared Lloyd can be reached at 801-344-2555 or email@example.com. Twitter: @JaredrLloyd. Instagram: @JaredrLloyd.