STILLWATER — Todd Monken doesn't have any dramatic or entertaining battleground story about the recruitment of Austin Hays.
“I was trying to get him to walk on for God's sake,” Monken said.
The dramatic story, it turns out, is happening now.
Last February, the Cowboys signed six receivers in a recruiting class supposedly rich on pass catchers. Hays was an afterthought, a two-star rated receiver out of San Antonio's Reagan High School.
His scholarship offers: Stephen F. Austin. Abilene Christian. Midwestern State.
Still, Monken liked him. And eventually a scholarship opened with the Cowboys, which went to Hays, stealing him away last-minute from a free education at Stephen F. Austin.
What a get, for Hays and the Cowboys, with the unsung freshman hurdling all the others in the class to be the one making the biggest impact at wide receiver.
He leads all freshmen receivers with 18 catches for 266 yards (14.8 yards per reception) and has two touchdowns, despite missing three games to injury and illness.
While many would have projected C.J. Curry, Brandon Sheperd or Blake Webb for the lead freshman role with the Cowboys, it's been Hays who has seized playing time on the outside.
If Hays didn't come highly regarded, at least by the recruiting analysts, he came highly recommended by his high school coach, David Wetzel at Reagan. Wetzel had a connection with OSU running backs coach Jemal Singleton, whom he contacted to make his plea.
“(Wetzel) said, ‘I'm just telling you, I've got a good player,'” Monken said. “And when a coach calls, all we try to do is do our due diligence. If someone calls and recommends a guy that highly, who says, ‘I've had guys, you want to look at him,' you take a look.”
Monken offered to take such a look on a swing through southern Texas. And he liked what he saw.
“I thought he had good hand-eye coordination and quick feet,” Monken said.
Monken, as is human nature, also wondered why nobody else had a spot for Hays. When coaches or scouts are solo on a kid, doubt can creep in.
“You do that in everything in life,” Monken said. “A job. A girlfriend. ‘Why is she available? There's got to be something wrong. Am I missing something?'
“Then you start piecing together why. Was he hurt? Did they not throw it? If he doesn't have stats and he's not highly recruitable, why are we going to be the smart ones? Why are we so smart and everybody else is dumb”
“I think it's more luck than anything. Did I think he was a good player? Yes. Did I know all this? No.”
Turns out Hays was hurt in his junior season, which is when players are most regularly noticed, leading to commitments the following summer.
As a senior, Hays produced, turning 55 receptions into 1,060 yards and 14 touchdowns for a Reagan team that advanced to the quarterfinals of the state playoffs. He earned Class 5A All-State notice by the San Antonio Express-News, yet scant notice from major college recruiters, except Monken.
“If you're looking for wow plays, guys like that don't make wow plays,” Monken said. “They just make a lot of really good plays.
“When you're not a wow player, your highlight tape just shows some nice things. But you still need good players.”
So far, Hays has been good.
Lately, he's getting more snaps and more opportunities. He had just one catch against TCU, but it went for 41 yards and set up a score. Hays caught a 54-yard touchdown pass against Kansas State. And in last week's win over West Virginia, among three receptions was a 36-yard grab in the fourth quarter that led to a scoring drive giving OSU a two-touchdown lead.
Josh Stewart, the Cowboys latest go-to guy at receiver, can relate after he was considered a fringe prospect as a freshman a year ago.
“Austin is one of those guys like me, got offered last,” Stewart said. “His was last second. To be one of those guys with something to prove coming in, I think that's where he's at, like I was, with something always to prove.
“He's a good player. And he practices hard every day. For him to be right next to me, lined up right there, I have a lot of confidence in him.”
Monken's confidence is paying off.
“It's been a blessing,” Monken said. “Somehow guys ended up going other places, opening up a scholarship, and we got him here.
“I was convinced he could play for us. I was just trying like heck to get him here in some way, shape or form. It just turned out that we could.”