STILLWATER — A quick scan through the Oklahoma State spring roster reveals just two scholarship players — Blake Jackson (Gilbert, Ariz.) and Seth Jacobs (Arroyo Grande, Calif.) — who hail from a state in the western part of the country.
That shouldn't come as a huge surprise. Texas consistently produces arguably the top high school talent in the nation each year, while a slew of other skilled players come from Oklahoma, Kansas and Missouri. That's enough to fill a roster that can annually compete in the Big 12.
But the Cowboys' recruiting strategy for the 2014 class so far shows that the staff is attempting to make recruiting inroads out West.
OSU has already offered six players from the region, according to Rivals, and has also shown strong interest in West Hills (Calif.) Chaminade three-star quarterback Brad Kaaya. During last year's entire recruiting season, the Cowboys offered eight total players from the West — three from California, three from Arizona (including junior college transfer Sam Wren, who played his high school football in Texas), one from Colorado and one from Utah (signee Ofa Hautau).
The difference this year, it seems, is OSU has more of a legitimate shot of landing its offers from that region, as Kaaya and four-star quarterback prospect Kyle Allen of Scottsdale (Ariz.) Desert Mountain were both on hand for the Cowboys' spring finale last month.
“The biggest obstacle recruiting nationally is overcoming local ties for kids,” said Jay Fielder, OSU's recruiting analyst for Rivals. “OSU's program isn't where it can be overly successful in doing so.
“Because of that they still have to pick and choose their battles, but the offer count is definitely increasing, so the effort looks to be there.”
Fielder said he first noticed that effort increase after the 2012 class, when OSU landed Jacobs and Jackson.
An appearance in the desert for the Fiesta Bowl certainly helped showcase the Cowboys in that area, especially when it linked up with the Semper Fidelis All-American Bowl in Phoenix that featured future signee Wes Lunt. That high school All-Star game led to late OSU offers for Chandler (Ariz.) receiver Javon Williams and Los Angeles Dorsey athlete Jaydon Mickens, though neither player ultimately chose the Cowboys.
Additionally, the Cowboys now have enough sustained success in the Mike Gundy era — seven consecutive bowl appearances, 49 wins since 2008, a Big 12 title and consistently brilliant offensive numbers — that OSU has become a recognizable national name for big-time high school football players.
“More kids are willing to listen now than in the past,” Fielder said.
Some players may be from the West but have a connection to the state of Oklahoma or OSU. Jacobs has family in the Tulsa area. Allen's high school coach, Tony Tabor, grew up in Perkins.
But Jackson and Hautau, by all accounts, just chose to come to Stillwater.
During a casual conversation about recruiting in 2011, Gundy noted he would prefer to have the vast majority of his players from the Great Plains/Midwest region.
Not just because of the immense talent in the area. He also alluded to the fact that there is just a different type of mentality and attitude in this part of the country compared to the West Coast.
In many ways, Gundy is right. Take it from someone who grew up in the Scottsdale area. Not far from Allen's high school, in fact.
But the right types of kids — when measuring based on pure skill and work ethic and character and any other qualities — can be found in all parts of the country.
“I think (Gundy will) always prefer more local guys from Midwest,” Fielder said, “but if you have a chance to get a Kyle Allen-type, then they've got to pursue it.”
Making a concentrated effort to expand recruiting is smart. Developing relationships with coaches out West can be extremely valuable, both in the present and down the line. California has always had a strong high school football reputation. And this year, Arizona has five players ranked Rivals' most recent top 100. Oklahoma, by comparison, has two in what's expected to be a banner recruiting year for the state.
And based on the 2014 offer list so far this spring, pushing for a presence in the region is starting to happen.
“It obviously takes time to develop connections out there,” Fielder said, “but if they get even just one or maybe two quality guys each year, it's worth it.”