By late tomorrow afternoon, a significant, positive and historical breakthrough will become self evident: BYU football – with as many as 15 black athletes signed – will have finally shattered the color barrier in recruiting. The black "race card," used against BYU for decades by rival coaches, players, family and their friends, will be a thing of the past – for the most part.
No one knows for certain whether the 2004 recruiting class will bear sweet or sour fruit for up to 2-3 years, but a review of all the “committed” athletes TotalBlueSports.com has interviewed indicate Crowton and his assistants have landed one of the most talented classes, from top to bottom, in years – and one of the main reasons is the majority of the class are superior, athletically-gifted athletes.
You have only to watch any NFL playoff game or either of the two national college championship games (USC vs. Michigan/LSU vs. Oklahoma) to visually confirm the importance and impact that black athletes have in the game of football. Indeed, the majority of all major college and professional football teams are comprised of black athletes.
Long before Gary Crowton assumed the coaching reins in Provo, former head coach LaVell Edwards, and his many assistants over the years, aggressively recruited excellent black athletes willing to play for BYU. For the most part, their experience has been life-changing and overwhelmingly positive. However, Edwards never had the level of success Crowton has achieved with this historically-significant recruiting class. And it really wasn't anyone's fault. Times have simply changed.
Indeed, this class represents a break-through for BYU in eliminating all doubts that it can attract the type of athletes needed to return the Cougars to its former glory.
Last year, the drama centered on Ofa Mohetau in a national cat-and-mouse game that the Cougars won. This year also has some question marks with at least one recruit TBS is aware of.
Interestingly, it is directly linked to negative recruiting by rival coaches who have fueled family concerns of whether a black athlete can fit in comfortably at Provo. Grossmont College defensive back, Chanti Bloomer, who is personally and emotionally committed to the Cougars, confirmed a coach from another MWC school has used the race card to try and dissuade him from signing with BYU. These comments have fueled preconceived concerns of Bloomer's mother, Vandra Lewis, and other family members.
In a TBS interview several days ago, Bloomer confirmed that “before my (Jan. 9) trip, a lot of people – some family and some coaches from other schools recruiting me – were talking down Mormons, BYU and (state of) Utah. Even my mom was skeptical at first because it was a Mormon school. She didn’t really want me to go at first because she was a little concerned for me as an African American. I met most of the African Americans on the team and they were really cool. I know I wouldn’t feel like an outcast or weird,” he said.
“After my trip, I told her (mother) how welcome and comfortable I felt at BYU. The trip overcame everything! All the things people said is because of a lack of knowledge about the school,” Bloomer said.
TBS has spoken to a number of black athletes who have committed to BYU, including some of their coaches, and most confirm that rival coaches, friends and associates have tried to deter them from signing with BYU saying they would not fit in.
With the exception of Bloomer, all the athletes TBS contacted confirmed their verbal commitment to the Cougars is, in fact, stronger because they have the full support and blessing of their parents -- even as BYU coaches busily call and reassure these athletes and their families their sons will be well taken care of in Provo.
In Bloomer’s case, his personal commitment is validated by a trusted firsthand "insider" source in former Grossmont teammate Todd Watkins, an All-American black wide receiver who is already enrolled as a mid-year transfer at BYU. Along with WR teammate Joe Griffin -- who will definitely sign with BYU tomorrow, both Bloomer and Griffin say they speak almost daily with Watkins who raves about his experience in Provo. Watkins, they say, said it was an adjustment getting used to school and life in Provo, but that everyone at the school have fully embraced him and other black athletes who recently signed as mid-year transfers.
As Watkins raves about BYU, a number of Cougar football players participating in 7-on-7 workouts are raving to friends and family about Watkins and fellow mid-year receivers who are expected to make an immediate impact this fall.
Last season’s Cougar team had more Polynesians on its roster (22) than any Div. 1 school except Hawaii. This recruiting class only has three Polynesian recruits in Vince Feula, Ray Feinga and Isley Filiaga, but that is more indicative of how selective BYU has become in pursuing even better talent on a national basis.
From the collective comments of recruits, it is obvious the school’s impressive new Indoor Practice Facility and athletic complex have validated what LaVell Edwards and others in the athletic department administration knew all along and pushed for long before he retired.
Moreover, TBS’ comprehensive interviews with non-LDS athletes, coaches and parents, confirm Crowton and his staff have done something never thought possible before: They have effectively used Provo’s isolated location and the school’s unique Honor Code as strengths to solidify commitments from athletes and parents who accept the stricter requirements of being BYU Cougar football players.
Academics is emphasized and reinforced to the delight of parents who like the fact their sons won’t have as many temptations to “party” or possibly land themselves in trouble.
Ah, the Honor Code. This is something discussed in detail with each recruit before or when they commit. Gary Lovely, the last athlete to verbally commit, told of his conversation last Saturday with Crowton where the coach clearly and specifically outlined the importance of living and abiding by the Honor Code. “He talked about no premarital sex and other stuff and it was all fine with me,” the non-LDS black athlete said. “I just want to play for BYU!”
Time will tell how important this recruiting class will be for Cougar football, but there can be no doubt that BYU has turned the corner in attracting quality young men of high character who understand their signatures on the dotted line tomorrow could represent a positive life-changing experience for them.
And it has nothing to do with the color of their skin!
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