Celebrating on Signing Day without a signing

Deer Creek's Caden Sander is one of several players to turn down Division II scholarship offers. He planned to attend Oklahoma to study petroleum engineering, and then Sooners assistant coach Josh Heupel called with an invitation he couldn't refuse.
by Jenni Carlson Published: February 5, 2014

EDMOND — Caden Sander wore an OU shirt as he sat at a table decorated with an OU tablecloth, OU balloons and an OU hat.

The football standout from Deer Creek High School had all the trappings of a signing day ceremony.

Except for the national letter of intent.

On a day when hundreds of high school athletes across Oklahoma accepted scholarship offers by signing on the dotted line, a handful of football players celebrated the day by not signing anything. They turned down scholarship offers, some to major-college programs. They opted instead to take a path where nothing is promised and no letter of intent is required.

They decided to walk on.

There were prospects with Division-I offers like Nick Basquine from Norman North, Andre Dowuona-Hammond from Yukon and John Cole Neph from Owasso. There were first-team All-Staters like Cade Parker and Matt Hockett from Norman.

There was also a kid who as recently as last week didn't think he'd be part of signing day.

Sander did a little bit of everything for Deer Creek during his high school career. At 6-foot, 175 pounds, he played quarterback as a senior, but he'd also spent time at defensive back and kick returner.

But as signing day approached, he had no offers that appealed to him.

Southwestern Oklahoma State had offered a full ride. Central Oklahoma made an offer, too. Sander just wasn't interested in playing Division II football.

So, he'd all but decided to go to Oklahoma and study petroleum engineering.

Football wasn't in his future.

Then last week during class, he got a text from Deer Creek football coach Grant Gower.

“I've got some news for you if you'd stop by my class in between periods,” it said.

Sander went to Gower's classroom.

“Hey,” the coach said, “I just got off the phone with Coach Heupel.”

Sander's stomach dropped.

He couldn't believe what Gower was saying. OU offensive coordinator Josh Heupel had called and wanted Sander to be a preferred walk-on.


by Jenni Carlson
Columnist
Jenni Carlson, a sports columnist at The Oklahoman since 1999, came by her love of sports honestly. She grew up in a sports-loving family in Kansas. Her dad coached baseball and did color commentary on the radio for the high school football...
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