NORMAN — College football coaches lined up to pitch their schools to Adrian Peterson more than 10 years ago, promising him the moon.
Only one coach was different.
“We’ll win with or without you,” Oklahoma running backs coach Cale Gundy told Peterson, the nation’s No. 1 overall prospect in the recruiting class of 2004.
Thus began a bountiful relationship for both player and coach. Peterson became a superstar at Oklahoma and is now one of the NFL’s greatest running backs, and Gundy has continued to reap the benefits of signing Peterson to this day.
Gundy and the Sooners have reeled in at least one top-15 running back each year since 2010, with Katy (Texas) High senior Rodney Anderson becoming the latest with his commitment earlier this month. Gundy’s process for finding those backs, though, involves far more than just watching film and assessing on-field talent.
“I really almost try to scare players away when I recruit running backs,” Gundy said in an interview with The Oklahoman.
“When I watch film and I find my running backs that I know have the talent to play here, that’s just half of it. Then you’ve gotta find the character. Then you’ve gotta find out if he’s the fit you want at Oklahoma.”
Gundy tells recruits about Jerry Schmidt’s summer workouts. He tells them there will almost certainly be days when they are mad at him and wish they’d never signed with the Sooners.
“But at the end of the day, at the end of their career, five years from now, 10 years from now, they’ll realize it was the best decision of their life,” Gundy said.
Gundy found two running backs like that for the Sooners’ 2014 signing class, which included five-star standout Joe Mixon and four-star back Samaje Perine. Both Mixon and Perine were ranked among the best at their position in the country by every major recruiting service.
In 2013, the Sooners signed Keith Ford, the Cypress, Texas, standout who played some as a true freshman a year ago. OU added Jenks’ Alex Ross in 2012, and in 2010 signed Brennan Clay and Roy Finch, who each ended up being important contributors throughout their Sooner careers.
Two former Sooners — Peterson with the Vikings and the Cowboys’ DeMarco Murray — are currently starting running backs in the NFL.
“I think one of the first things you look at is their history of running backs,” Anderson said when asked what he found appealing about Oklahoma. “They’ve had a great history of putting backs into the NFL. There’s really no denying that OU can build an all-purpose back that will be successful.”
But Josh McCuistion, who covers OU recruiting for the Rivals network site SoonerScoop.com, said that while Peterson and Murray certainly help sway running backs toward the Sooners, Gundy deserves much of the credit, too.
“I think sometimes that steals a little credit from Gundy,” McCuistion said. “Sometimes people think it’s just that, and that’s not fair either.”
Anderson said Gundy’s personality resonates with him.
“I like the way he coaches, how technical he is and how he wants things done,” Anderson said. “I’m used to being coached real hard.”
Asked how Peterson reacted to his blunt, unorthodox recruiting pitch all those years ago, Gundy said he loved it.
“Everybody went to Adrian Peterson and put their arm around him and told him, ‘You’re gonna come here. We’re gonna win championships. You’re gonna win Heismans. You’re gonna start,’” Gundy said.
“That’s just not how we work at Oklahoma. Everybody is told the same thing: ‘The only thing you’re guaranteed at Oklahoma is an opportunity.’”