STILLWATER — When Mike Gundy has taken certain recent in-home recruiting visits, he's felt like he's stepped into a totally different world.
Different, yet familiar.
The Oklahoma State coach has been surrounded by more and more large, yet fiercely close Polynesian families who are sending a son — or a nephew, or brother, or cousin — off to play college football.
Gundy is hoping those recruits will see the parallels between their families and the atmosphere he's tried to build within his Cowboy program. And so far, that new recruiting focus has yielded results, with OSU bringing in two Polynesian players in each of the last two classes.
“You're not going to break their family up,” Gundy said. “That's what we're trying to accomplish here. You bring young men in that the very most important thing is their family. The ones I've gone on home visits to have large families and they take care of their people. There is a genuine love and compassion in their family.
“The way that we're all raised and the values that are instilled in us when they come here, then that will spread among our staff and players.”
In 2013, OSU signed Ofa Hautau, a junior college transfer who became an immediate rotation player at defensive tackle, and Vili Leveni, a highly regarded defensive end who redshirted this past season. Last week, three-star running back Sione Palelei and three-star offensive lineman Lem Galea'i officially chose the Cowboys. OSU was also in play for three-star defensive end Sione Teuhema before he signed with LSU.
A key link to landing those Polynesian players? Beni Tonga, OSU's first-year player development specialist who was able to recruit on the road. Gundy also alluded to bringing in another Polynesian staff member soon, though he wouldn't drop a name.
“(Tonga) would tell me that they're trying to build a Polynesian foundation here,” Galea'i said, “like, start a ‘Poly group' like how other schools have done, like Utah and all them.
“He talked to me about how (we) could be the first ones that start another Poly tradition here at Oklahoma State. I like that. I wanted to join that. I wanted to be a part of it.”
Gundy joked that it feels like every recruit Tonga has brought to Stillwater has been a cousin.