STILLWATER — In a word, Oklahoma State’s football recruiting for 2015: selective.
That’s partly due to the Cowboys’ elevated profile, and in large part a necessity on this particular path to national signing day. OSU’s roster is overrun by youth, with 61 scholarship spots filled by freshmen and sophomores.
Counting just 11 scholarship seniors on the books, plus a few more available slots because of attrition, it all adds up to a limited recruiting class.
“We’ll have a smaller senior class and a signing class anywhere from 14 to 16,” Cowboys coach Mike Gundy said at the conclusion of spring.
That small of a class — the smallest of Gundy’s tenure — leaves little, if any, room for projects or players perhaps worthy of a flyer based more on optimistic projection than proof.
And it leaves no room for error; no swings and misses.
So Gundy and his staff must weigh all outgoing offers carefully, pursuing prospects based on thorough evaluation, background homework and fit.
And while limited scholarships might suggest a patient approach, we’re in a time when so many elite players commit early. So waiting to engage could be tricky.
So therein lies the challenge for Cowboys coaches. Identify a short list — and quick.
So far, OSU claims four commitments, highlighted by four-star running back Ronald Jones of McKinney, Texas. The Cowboys have a quarterback in Norman North’s John Kolar, a defensive tackle with Taaj Bakari of Mansfield, Texas, and an offensive lineman in Johnny Wilson of Midland, Texas.
All are positions of need, which speaks to another issue in this class — divvying up what’s available.
It all makes for an intriguing approach by Cowboys coaches in the coming weeks and months and a probable departure from recent summers, when OSU has mounted up commitments by the time preseason camp opened in August. Last year, of the 26 players who eventually signed with the Cowboys, 16 had committed by Aug. 1 and three more had pledged by the season opener.
The four current commitments fit the selective profile.
Jones ranks as the nation’s No. 2 running back by Rivals.com, a big-play threat who ran for 2,406 yards and 39 touchdowns as a junior. Bakari is Scout.com’s No. 25 defensive tackle, an athletic and versatile player at a position always in demand.
Kolar is a quarterback on the rise, already making ESPN.com’s Top 300 list, despite only one partial season as a starter, stepping in for the Timberwolves when Alabama recruit David Cornwell was lost to injury last season.
Wilson, at 6-foot-5 and 280, already has good size, making him a candidate to provide depth immediately, with the offensive line the position most pressing for help. Already thin across the front, the Cowboys lose three senior linemen after this season. Conservatively, four scholarships could go to addressing the offensive line.
Where else will OSU focus? Gundy has said he’d like to sign two quarterbacks. Defensive tackle needs more attention, as 2014 starters James Castleman and Ofa Hautau are seniors and no scholarship juniors can be found on the roster. A junior college addition is likely. If the Cowboys get serious about reemphasizing the tight end position, help is needed there, preferably a premium prospect.
Beyond those areas, players will likely be sprinkled in across the board.
The Cowboys have four commitments to date. Coaches are carefully — and selectively — working their short lists.
And they may even have some help attracting top prospects.
"That's actually the plan and I'm working on that now,” Jones said in an interview with Rivals.com, “because I've made a lot of friends throughout this process and I'm going to try to get a good class to come with me. That's my job. I told the coaches I would do that."