How did BYU end up in a 5-Star recruit’s top 5? The connection between Cormani McClain and BYU

Photo Courtesy of BYU Athletics / Cormani McClain

5-Star recruit Cormani McClain visited BYU last weekend to see the Cougs take on Idaho State. This has had many BYU fans wondering how a highly sought after recruit from Polk County, Florida, not only ended up at BYU for a visit, but has even gone so far as to put BYU into his “Top 5” list of schools.

The connections to BYU began long before McClain had D1 offers to almost every school in the country, and they happened in his home town of Lakeland Florida.

Tyree Brooks, another Polk County product, had recently been forced to end his own promising football career during his senior year at Tuskegee University due to an injury he sustained in a car accident. After the accident, Brooks went to work as the “Security Guard slash Hypeman” for a trampoline park called “2infinity” in Lakeland Florida.

While working at the trampoline park Brooks got to know the former manager of the park Ty Nielson very well. Nielson has since moved up in the company to become the Vice President of Marketing at CircusTrix, the parent company who owns many trampoline parks around the nation like the one in Lakeland Florida.

Nielson, a native of Atlanta, Georgia, spent his freshman year of college at BYU before transferring and finishing out his schooling at LSU. After graduating from LSU, he moved to Lakeland, Florida where he opened the trampoline park for CircusTrix in 2016.

One academic year at BYU wasn’t the only connection that the pair would have to the school. After working together for some time at the park, Brooks and Nielson had built some connections to big names by throwing parties at the park and scheduling popular performers to headline the events. One of those big names was the popular rap duo Ayo & Teo from Ann Arbor, Michigan.

Shortly after the duo’s performance at the park in 2017, Cosmo the Cougar and the Cougarettes posted a video of them dancing to the well-known Ayo & Teo song “Rolex” at a BYU football game that went viral on the internet.

Nielson saw the video and found himself sending messages to Cosmo’s instagram account to connect BYU and Ayo & Teo together.

““So I, who doesn’t have many ties to BYU, who’s really just a fan,” Nielson said in an interview with ESPN 960. “I’m like sending Cosmo messages saying trust me I know those guys who wrote that song. We can get them out to BYU and it will be the coolest thing ever’”

Someone from BYU returned the message and the plans for Ayo & Teo to perform at BYU were later put into place. Brooks was the emcee for the performance that took place at halftime of the BYU basketball game vs Pacific on Jan. 28, 2018.

So how did Neilson and Brooks come to know McClain? As a young kid, McClain used to frequent the park with his friends, and one day he did something out of the ordinary for a kid of his age that made him stand out from the others.

“There was a situation at the park,” Brooks said in a separate interview with ESPN 960. “And Ty, being the manager, had to deal with it. One of the kids had stolen some very expensive shoes.”

The shoes that went missing were Jordan Space Jam 12’s that on today’s market run anywhere from $300 to $500.

McClain came forward and told Brooks and Nielson that he knew who had taken the shoes and later was able to go to the person’s house to retrieve them.

“Cormani was a local kid that Tyree knew, I mean he was 12 years old, he wasn’t some prospect, he wasn’t some football player, he was just Cormani.” Nielson said. “[He] came and he was like… ‘I know who stole the shoes and I can get them back’…and after that Cormani was basically the kid that could jump for free anytime because he saved the day on the Jordans that were stolen.”

Fast forward to June of 2021. For the first time in 15 months the NCAA allowed in-person recruiting to happen following the shutdown due to the COVID-19 pandemic. McClain took his first unofficial visit to BYU to attend a BYU summer camp where he took home the honor of being the fastest man at the camp. That wasn’t the only thing he went back to Florida with— Defensive Backs coach Jernaro Gilford offered McClain a scholarship during his stay in Provo.

About two months later, McClain released his first top 5 list of schools which featured Alabama, Florida, Ohio State, Miami and Florida State. So, naturally experts and BYU fans thought BYU was out of the running for one of the highest ranked recruits in program history. That is – until they weren’t.

“Nobody really knows this,” Nielson said. “Cormani came out in the summer and had a good time, Coach Sitake sat him down and gave him the best speech I’ve ever heard.”

Nielson said that McClain had texted him out of nowhere in August telling him that he wanted to go to BYU for a game and chose Nov. 6 as the date. Nielson said as time went by he had forgotten about the plans for McClain to go out to BYU.

“He followed up and asked if we were still doing it… So this game and specific date was driven by Cormani.” Nielson said.

McClain wasn’t the only athlete from Florida that came out to BYU. This time he brought three of his friends that all play at a nearby school, Lakeland High. 2024 running back D’marius Rucker, 2023 safety Dontay Joiner and 2023 Wide Receiver Daidren Zipperer, whose older brother, Keon Zipperer, plays tight end for the Florida Gators. Zipperer was also offered a scholarship by passing game coordinator and receivers coach Fesi Sitake over the weekend.

You can listen to the ESPN 960 interviews with Brooks, Nielson and McClain below.

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