By Jay Drew
The Salt Lake TribuneLaramie, Wyo. » Aside from their once-a-year meetings on the field, football coaches at Wyoming and BYU don't usually see a lot of each other. But that figures to change, now that former Missouri offensive coordinator Dave Christensen has taken over the Wyoming program.
No, Christensen doesn't necessarily want to become best friends with BYU coach Bronco Mendenhall and his staff. The reason is because Wyoming has made it clear under Christensen that it intends to recruit the state of Utah more heavily, and that it is going after players of Pacific Island descent like never before.
"We are going to recruit the state of Utah probably more so than [Wyoming coaches] have in the past," Christensen acknowledged. "We have expanded our recruiting base drastically over the last year. We are willing to recruit everywhere and anywhere we can find a kid that fits our system and that can help us win."
The Cowboys (4-4) will have no Utahns on their roster when they take on the Cougars (6-2) Saturday (noon, the Mtn.) at War Memorial Stadium, but that will change in future meetings, coaches from both sides agree.
Jordan High lineman Billy Vavau, a 6-foot-3, 295-pound senior, committed to Wyoming earlier this season, and last year the Cowboys signed Cottonwood's Alo Moli, a defensive back who is currently on an LDS Church mission.
In the past, Wyoming coaches (and other Western States coaches) have avoided recruiting Utah not because the high school talent level is found lacking, but because the state has three Football Bowl Subdivision programs (BYU, Utah, Utah State) and two FCS programs (Weber State, Southern Utah), and beating all five programs for a local is difficult.
But when Christensen took over, one of his first hires was outside linebackers coach Mike Fanoga, a native of American Samoa who has strong ties to Pacific Islander communities in Hawaii, California, Texas, Utah and Las Vegas.
Mendenhall has noticed the difference.
"They are going after Polynesian kids," Mendenhall said. "... The comment was made [to a BYU assistant coach] that Wyoming wants to recruit the Polynesian kids that BYU is recruiting or [players] that they can beat BYU with on the field. So clearly, they are after an improved program, a conference championship, and to play at a very high level. To do that, they probably think they have to improve their recruiting base or talent level."
Mendenhall and BYU recruiting coordinator Paul Tidwell both said they have a lot of respect for Fanoga and his reputation as both a coach and a recruiter. Wyoming's media guide lists Arizona, Hawaii and Utah as Fanoga's recruiting areas.
"I am sure that's one of the reasons for [Christensen] hiring him, because of his Polynesian ancestry," Tidwell said. "But it is also because he is dang good defensive line coach."
Tidwell said Wyoming isn't the only school just now discovering Utah high school talent and Polynesian talent.
Polynesians "are good athletes, and I think we are going to see more and more of them playing Division I football," Tidwell said.
BYU running back Harvey Unga, a Polynesian, said he is "thrilled" to see more schools recruiting players from the Pacific islands.
"I am happy that a lot more Polynesian kids are getting opportunities to go play at different colleges, to get out there and show what they can do," he said. "To go to college and get an education is awesome, as they will find out. So I am proud of those guys."