Editor’s note: This article takes a look at BYU’s latest prized recruits and the impact Coach Sitake has made on the program as it transitions into owning the trenches and sending guys to the NFL.
During his introductory press conference, BYU head coach Kalani Sitake emphasized that one of his first priorities was to have his team own the trenches on both the offensive and defensive lines.
Sitake took another big step forward in doing just that as the program announced the additions of two offensive linemen in Tristen Hoge and James Empey.
— BYU Football (@BYUfootball) June 5, 2017
Hoge, a 6-foot-4, 303-pound center and guard from Pocatello, Idaho — the same high school that produced former BYU quarterback Taysom Hill — is a transfer from Notre Dame and has three years of eligibility left to play for the Cougars. The junior played in six games for the Fighting Irish last year and was named the Offensive Scout Team Player of the Year in 2015.
So just how good is Hoge?
The four-star recruit was the Idaho Gatorade Player of the Year both in 2013 and 2014 and became the first player from Idaho to win the award twice. A US Army All-American and a consensus Top 100 player, Hoge had offers from Florida, LSU, Penn State, Stanford, Cal, UCLA, and Washington. Notre Dame’s 2015 class was ranked in the Top 15, with Hoge being the third-highest rated player for the Fighting Irish that year.
Several recruiting sites (ESPN, Scout, and 247Sports) ranked him as the No. 1 center in the country coming out of high school. But due to NCAA transfer rules, Hoge will likely have to sit out the 2017 season, unless he wins an appeal.
Hoge has some family ties to BYU as he’s the cousin of current BYU quarterback Beau Hoge and also the nephew of Merril Hoge. Merril played eight combined years in the NFL with stints with the Chicago Bears and Pittsburgh Steelers and is now a football analyst for ESPN.
Looking forward to having big T line up for the Cougars! https://t.co/szwW3g9Bwz
— Merril Hoge (@merrilhoge) June 5, 2017
The 6-4, 270-pounder committed to Utah in 2015 prior to serving an LDS mission to Portugal but has since had a change of heart. He was a Top 15 prospect in the Beehive State by several recruiting services which all rated him as a three-star recruit.
A number of Pac-12 schools recruited him along with Utah out of high school with offers from Oregon State, Washington and Washington State.
The athletic lineman also played defense for the Cavemen as he racked up 62 tackles and 3.5 sacks as a senior in 2014. Empey is also the son of BYU offensive line coach Mike Empey.
— BYU Football (@BYUfootball) June 5, 2017
As Sitake has noted before, you can have the best quarterback, receivers, and running backs, but without a good offensive line, none of that really matters.
While it will be some time to see how the transfers turn out, overall, Coach Sitake and his staff continue to trend in the right direction.
Remember, Utah has had a huge amount of success with sending guys to the NFL. The Utes had eight guys selected this past season to tie Florida and LSU for fourth overall. So to see a player like Empey — who will likely be a multi-year starter — make the move down south is a big win for Cougar fans.
— Utah Football (@Utah_Football) April 30, 2017
And if Hoge ends up sitting out this upcoming season, it won’t be a bad thing either as he’ll be right in line to replace talented senior center Tejan Koroma who was a freshman All-American in 2014.
You can never have too much talent and depth on the offensive and defensive line and so both of these additions should have a big impact on the program.
Hoge and Empey will join some other studs along the offensive line with the recent additions of John Vaka who decommitted from Oregon to sign with BYU this past season. And after redshirting last year, Keiffer Longson — a four-star recruit that was heavily recruited by Ohio State, Utah, UCLA and Florida State — will look to earn starting time on the line this season.
The Cougars have four verbal commitments in the 2018 signing class from offensive linemen Jaren Kump, Jacob Smith, Connor Pay and Campbell Barrington. All four recruits are rated at three stars.
And if the Cougars can land talented offensive lineman Penei Sewell too — who attended BYU’s FanFest in March and who just met with Alabama head coach Nick Saban — Coach Sitake will have added the cherry on top as he continues to transform the football program into an NFL-making, trench owning football powerhouse.
During his nine years at Utah as the defensive coordinator and assistant head coach under Kyle Whittingham, Sitake was groomed on owning the trenches and helped recruit, coach and develop a number of NFL stars. And now, it’s something he’s bringing back to his alma mater.