“Just be yourself.”

That was the advice from a retired coach to his former player about to fill his shoes.

BYU Head Football Coach Kalani Sitake shared that counsel while accepting the Communicator of the Year award at the 29th Golden Spike Awards.

Sitake was selected as the Communicator of the Year following his inaugural season at the helm of BYU Football. The Golden Spike Awards competition is an annual program that recognizes excellence and best practices in public relations and business communications in Utah.

“It is an honor to receive this award,” Sitake said. “It’s truly an honor for me. I’ve said it before that I’m the product of the hard work of other people around me and their sacrifices. Me being here is a huge compliment to the people in my life.”

Sitake counts his former coach, LaVell Edwards, among that group.

In his first few hours, as news broke of Sitake’s new position, Sitake recounted grabbing a notebook and picking up the phone to call his mentor.

“I said ‘Okay Coach, give me the playbook,’” said Sitake. “And all he said was ‘Just be yourself.’ Coach Edwards taught me to be humble and how to engage the media. As I watched him as a coach there were so many things I couldn’t do even if I tried. He encouraged me to be myself and not shy away from that.”

Sitake joked that fans could blame LaVell’s advice on the decision to fake a punt on 4th down with 19 yards to go in the backfield.

He finished his acceptance speech with a memory from his childhood, where a seemingly simple form of communication changed his life. At 9 years old, a young Sitake was struggling to overcome the difficulties of divorce when his school held an assembly with a group of notable BYU Athletes. After the assembly, the athletes joined the students for recess. Sitake didn’t want to join the group playing games and settled for watching the students from a distance. One football player noticed the lone Sitake and broke off from the group to talk to him.

“He asked me how I was doing, told me everything was going to be okay and gave me a hug,” said Sitake. “That moment changed my life. I’d heard those words from people I love and know, but when I heard it from a stranger I believed it. The person who helped motivate my life has no idea the impact he made. Communication is about people.”

The BYU public relations program, Bradley Public Relations, was also recognized, winning the Golden Spike Award in the Social Media for Profit category.

Learn more about the Golden Spike Awards.