Star search: Which areas produce the most college football players?
BY MATT BAKER World Sports Writer
Jan 31, 2010
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When football recruits sign national letters of intent Wednesday, colleges will get players from some of the biggest recruiting hot spots in the country - Dallas, Houston, Atlanta.
Relative to its size, Tulsa ranks among those heavyweights.
The Tulsa metropolitan area ranks 13th in the country in producing major college players per capita, a Tulsa World analysis shows. That’s one notch above Houston and four below Atlanta.
Tulsa had 71 scholarship or walk-on players listed on rosters of NCAA Football Bowl Subdivision teams last year. That’s 2.2 players per 1,000 boys age 15-19 in the metro area.
Oklahoma City ranks 25th per capita among the U.S. Census’ 100 largest metro areas. Honolulu is first.
Oklahoma ranks 11th among states and Washington D.C, relative to size. The 120 Football Bowl Subdivision teams - the highest level of college football - included 198 players from the Sooner State in 2009.
Experts say Tulsa has several advantages in producing recruits. A natural rivalry with Texas, top-notch facilities and a pair of elite high school teams have made Tulsa and Oklahoma an “underappreciated and under-recruited” area, said Rivals.com recruiting analyst Jeremy Crabtree.
“There’s a reason why the Tulsa Golden Hurricane has won so many games the past few years,” Crabtree said. “They’re recruiting that area, and they’re seeing a lot of talent there that other schools aren’t seeing.”
Other schools focus south of the Red River.
Texas’ recruiting dominance is well known to most fans, but the number of players the Lone Star State produces is staggering.
Of the 12,853 players on FBS rosters last season, 1,714 (13 percent) came from Texas. Two cities - Dallas and Houston - produce one-fourth of all Big 12 players.
Texas’ large population provides advantages for college recruiters. Houston has more teams in Texas’ largest classification than all of Oklahoma has in Class 6A, so games between top teams are closer together geographically. The less time a coach spends driving, the more time he can spend evaulating players, said University of Tulsa assistant head coach Bill Blankenship.
“You might see similar numbers of prospects,” said Blankenship, a former Union coach, “but you have to work a lot harder in the state of Oklahoma.”
That’s one reason Texans make up 42 percent of the rosters of TU, Oklahoma and Oklahoma State.
“We want to recruit Oklahoma without question because we’re an Oklahoma school,” OSU defensive coordinator Bill Young said, “but the number of players is not nearly as many there as in the state of Texas.”
Oklahoma is catching up.
Tulsa fans and players have become familiar with the Friday night lights culture in Texas, and they want to replicate it here, said Union coach Kirk Fridrich.
“Oklahoma schools are chasing that type of competition level that they have in Texas,” Fridrich said.
Some programs have done that by building better weight rooms and stadiums. Union and Jenks have opened new facilities to boost athletes’ performances, and national analysts have taken note.
“Those are college-level facilities, without a doubt,” said MaxPreps.com national football editor Stephen Spiewak. “The fact that people care enough to make a push for that speaks volumes about how important it is to have a successful program and have a team that can compete not just locally … but has expectations of being a national power.”
Oklahoma arms race
Union and Jenks have reached that status, becoming fixtures in national rankings and producing more than 25 players on FBS rosters last year.
The success of those two programs has raised Tulsa’s profile in the eyes of recruiters, who look for proven winners who can help their teams compete for titles.
“There’s a correlation between good players and winning (high school) programs,” Blankenship said, “and you’ve got a really good accumulation of those in this part of the state.”
The rise of Union and Jenks has forced the rest of the area to boost its commitment and facilities in order to compete for gold balls.
Owasso has a new wellness center, Broken Arrow is working on an indoor facility, and other schools are ramping up youth and summer programs. As a result, players are better prepared for the season and look better on tape to recruiters.
“(The area) has been upping the ante on competition, whether it’s facilities or directly on the field,” Fridrich said.
“Competition makes a better player, and colleges are starting to realize that.”
On the rise
But Oklahoma isn’t likely to overtake Texas or Florida, said Allen Wallace, the national recruiting editor for Scout.com and publisher of SuperPrep Magazine.
While recruiters from every conference flock to Dallas or Miami, only a rare talent like Central’s Demarco Cobbs attracts national attention to Tulsa. Instead, the area has become a fixture of the Big 12, Conference USA and nearby SEC schools.
“Oklahoma’s always going to have a few good guys,” Wallace said, “but there are not any dominant numbers there.”
Tulsa lacks the size of Dallas, Houston or Atlanta to bring in droves of scouts, but Rivals’ Crabtree said the city’s profile is rising.
“It used to be just Jenks and Union,” Crabtree said. “Now you see more high quality programs in the city, and the west side of the state is catching up. It’s going to get better, and once the quality picks up, the recruiting will pick up.”
JAMES ROYAL/Tulsa World