MIDWEST CITY — Jason Sexton first encountered Will Sunderland when Sunderland was in middle school.
Most of the time it’s the coaches that are demanding from the kids.
But Sunderland was demanding of Sexton.
He wanted workout plans, nutrition plans, anything he could use to help him reach his goal of being a college football player — or more.
“Will wasn’t one of those guys — the high school All-Americans that just come out in a ready-made package,” said Sexton, now the Bombers’ defensive coordinator. “There’s some fast guys that have been fast since the day they were born, and there’s some guys that have been big since the day they were born and Will wasn’t necessarily just naturally either of those.
“From the time I met him he told me he wanted to play Division I football and in the NFL. He wasn’t necessarily fast, big or anything special when he showed up except he was extremely hungry to be successful and do big things.”
About five years later, Sunderland has followed through both with the weight room and in taking care of his body. He has blossomed into one of the best players in the state and one of the top recruits in the nation. Sunderland is No. 3 on The Oklahoman’s Super 30 list.
Sunderland started thinking about the kind of player he could be while watching some clips not long before he first spoke with Sexton.
“I’d just been watching Sean Taylor highlights, and he was big ol’ safety,” Sunderland said. “I knew I had to get big soon. Why start later when you can start now?”
Sunderland started, Sexton said, with “elbows that were the biggest part of his arm.” Since then, Sunderland has grown from being 144 pounds as a freshman to 159 as a sophomore, to 181 pounds last year. Sexton said Sunderland would likely be around 193 pounds this season as a senior.
“I never thought it was going to be like this,” Sunderland said. “I just put my heart and mind into it, working hard every day, staying after practice working on the little stuff so when game time comes that little stuff can turn into making big plays.”
Recently, Sunderland showed up at a camp run by former Oklahoma and Carl Albert standout J.D. Runnels after seeing posts on Twitter about the event.
“He’s one of those guys where on Twitter or Facebook, if somebody says they’re doing 7-on-7 at Millwood or Midwest City or anywhere out there, there’s a pretty good chance that you’ll have a 6-foot-3 All-American show up just wanting to get reps and get better,” Sexton said. “Anywhere he can get work in, work on his footwork, be in the weight room, that’s where he’ll be.
“He’s focused on his goal and that hard work and that work ethic is what made him into what he is today.”
Sunderland is being pursued by plenty of schools, with most of the focus right now being on Oklahoma, Ohio State and Nebraska. He hasn’t set a timetable for making his decision and has only penciled in one official visit — on Nov. 29 in Columbus, Ohio, when the Buckeyes host Michigan.