The best high school talent in the nation doesn't reside in Kansas. But recently, the best high school talent in Kansas has been lifted by the Sooners.
That trend continued last Wednesday, when Oklahoma signed defensive tackle Jordan Phillips, the No. 1 prospect out of the Sunflower State.
Phillips, however, is only the latest.
Last year, the Sooners plucked the top three players from Kansas in athlete Justin McCay, quarterback Blake Bell and defensive end Geneo Grissom, who originally committed to the Jayhawks. The year before, OU reeled in two of the state's top four players: fullback Marshall Musil and linebacker Jaydan Bird.
OU coach Bob Stoops attributes his program's recruiting success in Kansas to a couple of factors.
One, proximity. The driving distance is no more than five-and-a-half hours to Norman — usually less — meaning players' families can easily visit or attend home games; and the players can drive home when they need to.
“They're close enough,” Stoops said, “for their families to come down and participate in it without a lot of great expense, without flying and those type of things.”
The other reason, Stoops says, is past success with Kansas natives. Call it the tumbleweed effect.
“Usually, they pay attention and relate to or follow certain players in their area that they may know a little bit,” Stoops said. “You look at players that are here from those areas that are having great careers that we've had success with. You look at the championships and the bowl games.”
The Sooners can point to someone like La Cygne, Kan., native Brody Eldridge, who became an All-Big 12 performer at OU, competed in a national championship and is now playing for the Indianapolis Colts.
“Those kind of things matter to the players,” Stoops said.
Other things matter, too. Like the return of Kansas and Kansas State to earth.
The Wildcats were decent last season, but nowhere near the apex of the Manhattan Miracle of a decade ago. The Jayhawks, four years removed their Orange Bowl victory, finished last in the Big 12 North.
Ironically, the Sunflower schools each reached their ascendance using Oklahoma players. During OU's down years of the 1990s, K-State's Bill Snyder picked up future stars like Kevin and Aaron Lockett, Josh Scobey and Chris Claybon.
On its Orange Bowl team, Kansas had 15 Oklahomans on the roster, including key cogs like linebacker James Holt.
Now the Sooners are returning the favor.
And as ace recruiters like Brent Venables (born in Salina, Kan.), Jackie Shipp and Jay Norvell continue to make inroads with Kansas' high school coaches, the tumbleweed figures to keep rolling along.
“Coach Shipp and Jordan hit it off great,” said Lee LaMunyon, Phillips' coach at Towanda Circle. “It's the building of those relationships. I think that's a major contributor to what's happened.”