STILLWATER — Sione Palelei watched the reaction from LSU fans unfold via social media when he announced he had decommited from the school and pledged to Oklahoma State.
Tiger Nation was, in a word, displeased.
“Bad, negative things,” Palelei recently recalled. “It kind of calmed down after a while, but the first few weeks, it was hard.”
It was a flip-flop from SEC country to the Big 12 for the three-star all-purpose back from Gonzales East Ascension High located between New Orleans and Baton Rouge. But Palelei is part of a larger, subtle-but-intriguing recruiting development for the Cowboys — a sudden, newfound presence in Louisiana.
OSU had zero players from its 2013 roster from the state. But the Cowboys currently have three high school commits from Louisiana in Palelei and New Orleans Edna Karr teammates Juwan Offray, a three-star cornerback, and Joyan Williams, a three-star defensive lineman. Junior college transfer D'Nerius Antoine, an unrated linebacker, played his high school ball at New Iberia Westgate near Lafayette.
Additionally, the Cowboys' top remaining target, four-star linebacker Kenny Young, is from River Ridge John Curtis. OSU is also making a late push on two-star offensive lineman Joseph Paul, an Oklahoma commit from New Orleans St. Augustine.
“Our kids are traditionally SEC kids,” Edna Karr coach Nathaniel Jones said. “But I think what happens is guys understand if (college coaches) come in and they do a good job recruiting our guys, (they'll consider all their options). Just like anything else, you've got to believe in yourself and sell your program.
“And I think Oklahoma State has a lot to offer … I think it's an easy sell once you get the guys on campus.”
OSU has had pull in another Southeast state, Georgia, for several years because of defensive coordinator Glenn Spencer's roots and relationships there.
And several connections helped lure these 2014 Louisiana prospects to Stillwater.
Cowboy graduate assistant Eric Henderson, who primarily works with the defensive line, is an Edna Karr alumnus. So his place on staff helped OSU identify and snag two best friends in Offray, a confident, aggressive 1-on-1 defender with good hips and feet, and Williams, a versatile lineman with the speed to play end in 3-4 looks and the size to play tackle in 4-3 alignments.
Williams' offer list was littered with schools in his home region, including Arkansas, Georgia Tech, Miami, Mississippi State, Tulane, Arkansas State and Southern Miss. Offray had an offer from South Alabama.
Yet they both pledged to the Cowboys in June.
“I know that Coach Henderson will show me love when I come up there,” Offray said. “He makes me feel like family. He makes me feel like home.”
The OSU link for Palelei, an undersized-but-versatile back coming off season-ending knee surgery, actually did not come from Louisiana, but from his early childhood days in Utah.
His father is a longtime friend of Cowboy player development specialist Beni Tonga, who moved to Utah in high school and played and coached at Snow College near Salt Lake City before coming to Stillwater this past season.
Whether OSU can land Young or Paul as Signing Day approaches remains to be seen.
Either way, the Cowboys are sure to have some more Cajun flavor on the roster in 2014.
And Jones invites OSU to come back to Louisiana soon, because he estimates he's got three or four Division I prospects returning to his Edna Karr squad.
“I'm more than sure Oklahoma State will be dropping back in and giving a few offers,” he said. “And maybe we can just keep that pipeline going.”