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In the first two parts of this “Recruiting Issues” series, I offered up some thoughts on the possible role that facilities and cheating can play in recruiting. In this part, I wanted to talk about something I’ll broadly term “location.”
Time and time again folks argue that OU is disadvantaged by the fact Oklahoma does not contain, within its borders, a high number of ‘OU good’ caliber prospects, when compared to states like Louisiana, Florida, Mississippi, etc. And this is obviously true – though as a side note, I do believe there is more talent in the state of Oklahoma than the general football public estimates.
But what I want to focus on is OU’s ability to host a vast number of recruits on unofficial visits. The obvious point being when you look at the talent inside and surrounding the state of Oklahoma, it’s not as rich as a state like say Louisiana. A state which contains within it an incredible number of athletes and they are bordered by Texas, Mississippi, and Arkansas. All of which have a number of BCS quality prospects. This fact is true throughout much of the SEC’s footprint.
However, something that gets overlooked quite a bit is the ability of school to actually get kids on campus for unofficial visits. In the SEC and southern parts of ACC territory, unofficial visits to their programs by talented players is a very common thing. Some will argue that is due to proximity, but it’s certainly not the only reason.
Some examples to try and help make my point: Breylin Mitchell is very interested in OU and lives in the bordering state of Texas, about five hours from Norman, but still hasn’t been able to make a visit. PJ Mbanasor was interested in attending Oklahoma’s spring game, but could not get a ride. Jaylon Lane wanted to make a trip to OU before his commitment to Ok. State, but due to some financial issues he was not able to make the trip at that time. The list of recruits in Texas and other territories OU recruits that cannot find a way to make the trip to Norman goes on and on.
Part of this travel issue is geographical, in that state of Texas is huge and cities like Houston, Austin, and San Antonio are far enough away that they can be (1) costly in gas and (2) require an overnight stay. But the bigger issue is that in SEC territory, there are a number of coaches, services, boosters, mentors, and even “handlers” that are more than willing to make sure recruits are able to get to campuses across the SEC and in southern ACC territories.
I’ll give you another example. I have a friend who runs an NCAA compliant organization in Florida that does annual bus tours. They load up a charter bus (or two) with local D-1 prospects and visit schools like Georgia, Clemson, Kentucky, Tennessee, etc. Many of the schools they visit are 10+ hours away and are schools that would normally never get visits from that many ‘star’ prospects at one time. To my knowledge, nothing like this currently exists in the state of Texas. And this is just one example. There are a number of boosters in SEC territories that are more than willing to facilitate visits. There are mentors, handlers, and/or coaches all willing to help. Schools like Tennessee will often have vans (plural) full of top kids show up on a visit.
As I’ve detailed, while OU (among many other non-SEC schools) is at a disadvantage in this respect it’s the the last handlers/coaches, who are willing to help kids make these visits, where the special attention really needs to be paid. It’s these people that the OU coaches need to do a great job of building relationships with. Remember, it was Torrance Gibson’s coach that brought him on the visit to Norman. Oklahoma’s relationship with coach and mentor Tony Perry has yielded two or three top California commits in the past and has all the look of continuing to pay dividends in the future. But OU must continue working to build the key relationships with coaches, handlers, mentors, etc. in order to help get more and more kids on campus.
In my opinion, if this isn’t already a huge part of recruiting (and I believe it is) it’s going to be very, very soon. Your chances of landing a kid go up significantly once a player gets on campus. Additionally, players talk and the more of them that come to Norman and have a good experience, the more OU is talked about in those circles. And that’s never a bad thing. A lot of people, for example, don’t know that Ryan Newsome and James Proche are VERY good friends and will be taking visits together this summer.
The person taking them on said visits? You guessed it, a coach/mentor.
Players don’t have the money to get themselves to-and-from unofficial visits, and many times their parents don’t either. It’s often other people around the player that are able to facilitate the visit. Oklahoma needs to be better at identifying those type of people and building long-term relationships with them. Someone has to spend their time and money to get kids on campus, and most people are not inclined to do that if they don’t have a relationship with a staff.