During a season BYU football players tend to mostly focus on winning games as well as a little bit on getting good grades and hanging out with friends.

In 2019, however, they have also thought about head coach Kalani Sitake and his future.

“It was something in the back of our minds,” Cougar junior defensive lineman Khyiris Tonga said Monday. “Knowing Kalani, he never wanted us to think that way at all. It was just something that was always on the back of our minds.”

That will be a concern no longer as BYU announced Monday morning that Sitake had his contract officially extended through the 2023 season.

“We are pleased to announce a contract extension for Kalani,” BYU director of athletics Tom Holmoe said in a statement. “We believe in him and the direction of the program. Together we are committed to creating a bright future for BYU football.”

During Monday’s weekly press conference Sitake expressed his gratitude to the university for the faith it has in the direction of the Cougar program as well as to the players for their commitment.

“I’m excited to keep coaching and to keep working,” Sitake said. “I’m thankful to our players for their hard work and the belief they have in our system and the program. I’m thankful to the administration – Tom Holme and President Kevin Worthen – for all of their hard work and their belief in me and my coaches. I have so much gratitude. My family and I love it here in Provo and are looking forward to spending more time here.”

BYU football players had repeatedly emphasized their view that Sitake deserved to have a secure future. After Saturday’s 42-10 win over Idaho State at LaVell Edwards Stadium, a few of them went a step farther during the post-game announcement of the 2019 SoFi Hawai’i Bowl invitation.

“We got the ‘#ExtendKalani’ shirts because we love Kalani and this was for him,” Cougar junior defensive lineman Uriah Leiataua said. “We knew we might get in trouble but we didn’t care. We had a couple of those shirts and some of us ran out of the tunnel with them. Shout-out to whoever made those shirts.”

Holmoe then took one of the shirts into the locker room and used it as a prop for his announcement that Sitake would be getting an extension.

“That was dope,” Leiataua said. “I don’t know how Tom got ahold of one. I wasn’t expecting him to do that. The fact he had the shirt, that was dope.”

Tonga said that when Holmoe gave the news to the players, he couldn’t restrain his joy for his coach.

“I was screaming loud,” Tonga said. “I was in the front row and I didn’t expect that at all. He always talks at our games and says how proud he is. It was just different. Everyone was just excited and it was super-fun.”

For his part, Sitake said having Holmoe make that presentation after the game was unexpected.

“It surprised me but it was cool,” Sitake said. “I liked the way he delivered it. It was a good moment. Our guys had the opportunity to dance again in the locker room. Whenever that happens it is a good sign for us and for the program.”

He explained that he had never talked about it with his players but their initiative comes because of who they are.

“I love them,” Sitake said. “I don’t think they needed to have the shirts but these guys know. The coaches have worked really hard and the feeling we have together as a program, I think people can see what we are about, that we care about each other. They care about the fans. It makes me emotional thinking about it. I’m really, really thankful to be their coach because they are such great kids.”

The university and Sitake’s agent hammered out the details over the weekend, allowing the official announcement to be made on Monday.

Now the team can remove that one distraction as they look to closing out the season strong.

“They are good kids and they care,” Sitake said. “These guys will do things because they love people. They love the role they are in. Look at all the charity and service work that they do. They are good kids and I’m just lucky to be their coach.”

The players see just how much Sitake gives of himself for the BYU football program, which is why they say they were determined to show their support.

“I testify to everyone all the time that they don’t know how much he puts his heart and soul into it,” Leiataua said. “After the two losses, it hurt him more than it hurt us – and it hurt a lot to us. He really did show his true character all the way through. I’m so happy for him and to have him again next year.”

Tonga added: “For me, it meant the world (for Sitake to get that extension). I felt like I was getting a contract extension. It’s more than football to Kalani. I’m just happy for him and for his family. We love Coach Kalani and everything he stands for.”

Daily Herald sports reporter Jared Lloyd can be reached at 801-344-2555 or jlloyd@heraldextra.com. Twitter: @JaredrLloyd. Instagram: @JaredrLloyd.

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