STILLWATER — It was football recruiting's holy day of obligation — national signing day — and Austin Hays sat in accounting class at Reagan High School in San Antonio, waiting, hoping, perhaps praying for a phone call.
And before you wonder why a kid would answer his phone in class, well, there was good reason.
“That was an important call,” Hays said of his one shot at a Division I scholarship offer in February of 2012.
Besides, his mom, Robin Hays, was the school's assistant principal, and she and the teacher are best friends … so it's all good.
All great, as it turns out.
Eventually the call came from Oklahoma State offensive coordinator Todd Monken, who told the under-the-radar receiver that a letter of intent to play for the Cowboys had been faxed to the school office. With a scholarship to give, OSU took a flier on Hays based on a strong endorsement from his high school coach.
And he became a late, great find in a business that no longer practices patience, with Hays emerging from an otherwise hyped class of receivers to contribute, leading the freshmen in every receiving category.
The trend in college football is to collect commitments early and often — OSU claims 20 already for its February class — regularly leaving the senior breakouts and late bloomers with few, if any, options. Still, there are exceptions, like Hays, who have kept Cowboys coaches searching and working well after the classes appear complete.
“I'd almost rather not fill up, in some situations,” said OSU receivers coach Kasey Dunn, “and leave a couple of scholarships for guys who show up their senior year and become the guy everybody expects them to be.”
Almost, Dunn said, except he knows that's not the way the game is run these days.
Cowboys assistant Van Malone recalls a different time, when players were pegged more for their continued play, than potential. But lately, there's a snooze-and-lose sense to recruiting.
“Recruiting back in the '20s when I was playing,” Malone said with a chuckle, “it happened slowly. You didn't get offered until you went and sat with the head coach.
“Nowadays, you're going to offer them when they're born. And if you don't offer them when they're born, then you're behind.”
Circumstances, however, can crack the door for a sleeper prospect. So evaluations and maintained relationships can prove fruitful when such circumstances arise. And staying ready has benefited the Cowboys, with Hays and Jhajuan Seales, another receiver in that 2012 class; possibly with running back Rennie Childs or linebacker Dawson Bassett in last year's class.
In 2005, Andrew Lewis was an afterthought signing, and he became a mainstay on the offensive line. Levy Adcock had no offers as an undersized offensive lineman out of Claremore-Sequoyah, spent a redshirt freshman year at Northeastern A&M, then was brought to OSU, where he was a two-time, first team All-Big 12 pick.
“I think you can find a lot of good football players who haven't committed in their senior year,” Dunn said. “I think there are a lot of excellent players who mature as seniors, either through confidence or opportunity.