There have been whispers surrounding the BYU football program that the Cougars weren’t allowed to recruit junior college athletes.
Those rumors proved unfounded as BYU signed defensive back Eric Ellison from Mt. San Jacinto junior college (California) in December, then signed his teammate in the secondary Dimitri Gallow on Wednesday’s National Signing Day.
“The lion’s share of the work was done by Coach (Preston) Hadley and Coach (Jernaro) Gilford,” Cougar assistant head coach Ed Lamb said during the signing day press conference. “Coach Gilford felt like although we have a lot of young, promising guys in the secondary, we still need guys who are ready for college football. We identified the need for junior college or transfer recruits.”
He said that Mt. San Jacinto head coach Casey Mazzotta played a big role in helping BYU connect with the two athletes.
“Casey and I were here as players and teammates at BYU way back. We’ve actually been trying to get a couple of his guys here over the years. It just hasn’t worked out for whatever reason. We stuck with it. Coach Hadley took over the area a year or so ago and made that connection.”
Hadley, who coaches the safeties for BYU, explained that both Ellison and Gallow took different routes to get to Division I football.
“I actually went to Eric’s high school back in the spring,” Hadley said. “His coach was telling me he was a kid who played quarterback, running back, wide receiver, corner, safety. He played every position in high school. We weren’t able to get him in late, so he ended up going to San Jacinto. We stayed in touch there and came to find out his coach was a former BYU player. We’ve been recruiting him since the spring. He had a lot of people coming in late trying to get him to not sign. We’re excited about him.”
Hadley said the characteristic he likes most about Gallow is how he carries himself.
“He’s older and more mature,” Hadley said. “He’s focused on being the best football player and student he can be. He was another one Coach Mazzotta had told us about throughout the season. He’s a kid who kind of slipped under the radar. He ended up redshirting his last year, so he didn’t play at the same time as Eric. But I think both are guys who can come in and have an immediate impact.”
Both have some skills that the Cougars think will be major assets.
“Dimitri (Gallow) is probably one of the best junior college or high school guys I have seen at bump-and-run coverage,” Lamb said. “I don’t know if it was trained by his high school coach, his dad or his college coach, but he stands at the line of scrimmage. He does not back up, stays low and gets in front of the receiver. So many times in the video I watched, the quarterback can’t even look in that direction because the receiver isn’t off the line of scrimmage. I hope he will bring that physicality to us and teach some of the other guys how to play with his success.”
BYU also likes the athleticism Ellison has.
“Eric is going to bring a lot of speed, man-coverage ability and the ability to run with his back to the quarterback, which is really critical with the way that we play up at the line of scrimmage,” Lamb said. “He’s got great length in the way that he plays.”
Although Ellison is listed as a corner, the Cougars believe he is good enough to be slotted into other places as well.
“I think he could play multiple positions on our team,” Hadley said. “I think that is a good indicator that you are getting a good player. Those are the types of athletes you want to get.”
The two athletes have something else that Hadley values: Experience at a level beyond high school.
“I’m aJUCO guy,” Hadley said. “I’m a big believer in JC guys. Historically at BYU, you look back and there have been some great JC guys like Colby Clawson, Andrew Rich, Brian Logan, all impacted the game for us. One thing we have discussed as a staff is continuing to bring in JC guys.”
He explained that going after junior college athletes depends on need as well as fit.
“I coached at the JUCO level as well and it’s a little different now,” Hadley said. “There are so many junior colleges and so many kids at that level. The talent has been diluted and dispersed. It’s getting more difficult to identify kids, but (head coach Kalani Sitake) is really big on making sure we leave no stone unturned. Then we go out and find the right fit.”