January 24, 2012

Border crossing: Oklahoma State is looking to Texas to build a stockpile of talent

The past two seasons, Mike Gundy has brought Oklahoma State to the forefront of the Big 12 primarily with in-state players.

The past two seasons, Mike Gundy has brought Oklahoma State to the forefront of the Big 12 primarily with in-state players.

But should the Cowboys' success continue over the next few years, players from south of the Red River will play a pivotal role.

Gundy and his staff have raided Texas high schools to secure commitments from some of the Lone Star State's elite players over the past few years.

Eighteen of the 23 high school players who signed with Oklahoma State last year were from Texas, as are 11 of the 16 recruits set to ink with the Cowboys next week.

Oklahoma State is also in on several of the state's top players who have yet to make a commitment or who are considering switching commitments just a week before signing day.

"When you look at the talent level, Texas has the players," said Damon Sayles, ESPN's Midlands recruiting coordinator.

"And when you look at what Oklahoma State has been able to do and when you look at some of the talent they've been able to pick up for the 2012 class, you've got to understand that Texas is extremely important."

Last year, two of the top players from Texas shunned playing in their home state after leading their teams to state championship game appearances during their high school careers.

Abilene running back Herschel Sims, one the highest-rated players in the nation, picked the Cowboys over Texas A&M, Texas Tech and TCU, as well as USC, Arkansas and others.

Former Denton Guyer quarterback J.W. Walsh also favored the Cowboys over programs from Texas, the SEC, Pac-12 and Big Ten.

This recruiting cycle, the Cowboys have commitments from one of Texas' top linebackers and offensive linemen, among a host of other high-profile recruits.

The players from Texas will eventually replace quarterback Brandon Weeden, running back Joseph Randle and receiver Justin Blackmon, all of whom played pivotal parts in helping the Cowboys to a BCS bowl last season and who played their high school ball in Oklahoma.

"The thing about OSU is it is a college-based town and everyone is so friendly," said Jeremiah Tshimanga, a former Richland linebacker who enrolled early at Oklahoma State and chose the Cowboys over Texas A&M and LSU.

"On my visit, a janitor knew who I was. I was shocked. And my first day here, I met another janitor and he knew who I was. I couldn't believe it," he said.

The atmosphere in Stillwater is one selling point, as is 23 wins the past two seasons.

Having one of the richest men in the country as a financial backer certainly helps as well. Oilman T. Boone Pickens, an Oklahoma State alumnus, has donated hundreds of millions of dollars to the university.

The football stadium was named after him when he donated $70 million in 2003. In 2005, he gave $165 million to the athletic program, the largest donation to a university. The subsequent upgrades have helped Oklahoma State compete with any school in the nation when it comes to wooing recruits.

"Their facilities are out of this world," Aledo offensive lineman Michael Wilson said.

"I took football out of the equation and thought, if I didn't play football, which school would I go to? And it was OSU."

After a visit to Stillwater last weekend, Wilson switched his commitment from Texas A&M and gave his pledge to OSU.

Wins and facilities can act as some of a recruiter's greatest assets, but the commitments coaches make to players can be equally, if not more, important. Sayles equates the recruiting game to being a car salesman, and for Gundy, sales are up.

"It just so happens that everything he's sold those players is coming true," Sayles said.

If Gundy's promises continue to show results, don't be surprised to see even more players from Texas head north and spurn an opportunity to play in state.

Matthew Reagan, 817-390-7760

Twitter: @reaganmatthew

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