John E. Hoover: As inside look as, one by one, TU family grows on Signing Day
BY JOHN E. HOOVER World Sports Columnist
Thursday, February 07, 2013
2/07/13 at 7:57 AM
View slideshows from area signing day ceremonies,
including Booker T. Washington, Broken Arrow, Jenks, Owasso and Union.
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• Get full bios of all OU, OSU and TU signees.
Go to John E. Hoover's blog.Original Print Headline: One by one, TU family grows
ON WEDNESDAY, National Signing Day, the University of Tulsa and head football coach Bill Blankenship granted the Tulsa World unprecedented, behind-the-scenes access to the coaches' offices as prospective student-athletes faxed and emailed their National Letters of Intent to play at TU.
What follows is an account of World Sports Columnist John E. Hoover's observations:
Two dozen donuts arrive in the war room.
Someone asks, is the fax machine turned on? Head coach Bill Blankenship interjects, "By gosh, it better be."
The fax machine flickers to life. Adam Blankenship, one of a handful of assistants hovering outside the Staff Operations Room - where the fax, copier and office supplies are kept - pokes his head in and asks, "What do we got?"
Bill Blankenship pulls the document from the rollers and looks up with a wry smile. Every mouth in the room hangs open for a second as he savors the moment.
"Let's just say his name hasn't been mentioned yet," Blankenship says with a prolonged pause. "Lionell Phillips!"
Defensive line coach Calvin Thibodeaux erupts with self-applause, "Yeah! Yeah!" as Phillips, a defensive tackle, was "his" recruit.
"We've got a big steak dinner for the first one to come in - legally," Blankenship says. "Guys are kind of divided up among position coaches, area coaches and the recruiting coach."
Thibodeaux is clearly pleased, but this isn't resolved. Crista Troester, senior associate athletic director for compliance, hasn't arrived yet with her laptop. It's possible a prospect emailed Troester before Phillips' fax arrived.
A fax arrives from Kolton Shindelar, a 6-foot-6, 252-pound tight end from Liberty, Mo.
"That's huge!" Adam Blankenship says.
A minute later, Bill Blankenship's cell phone rings. It's Shindelar.
"Welcome to the family, man," Blankenship says. "Thanks for trusting us. We're proud to have you, and we're gonna do some special things together."
Blankenship continues to sit on the counter next to the fax machine. Assistant coach Scott Downing steps into the Operations Room.
"Have we gotten anything from Union yet?" Downing asks. The staff expects three Redskins to send their letters in, but Blankenship says the last he heard they were expected around 7:45 from Union coach Kirk Fridrich's office.
A question is posed: Jonathan Parker, a running back from St. Louis, was listed as a verbal commitment to TU, but he's been scratched off a list the public relations staff composed Tuesday night.
"He's not coming," someone offers. Turns out Parker signed with Iowa instead, leaving Tulsa with no true running back in this class.
TU instead welcomes Kerwin Thomas, a defensive back from Wagoner.
Pacing in the hallway, Adam Blankenship can be heard in a phone conversation with Devin Rolan, an inside linebacker from McAlester.
"It's time to get you out of McAlester, Oklahoma, and come to T-Vegas!" Blankenship shouts.
At the same time, on the other side of the hall, Thibodeaux is chatting up Jesse Brubaker, a defensive tackle from Wylie, Texas, whose letter arrived four minutes earlier.
"We're excited for you, man," Thibodeaux says, "and proud to have you."
Troester's laptop is up and running, and Thibodeaux's steak dinner may go to someone else. It seems Ray Crockett II, a cornerback from Southlake, Texas, emailed his NLI at 7:02.
"That's coach (Greg) Peterson and coach (Darnell) Walker," Bill Blankenship says.
Thibodeaux walks out of the Operations Room with a cup of water in his left hand and a fist-bump for Peterson in his right.
"So you won the deal, huh?" Thibodeaux says. "Way to go. Congratulations. That sucks. That sucks."
Offensive line coach Denver Johnson has been in his office, but now is lingering over the fax machine. That wacky, creepy fax tone - like a groundhog, noticeable only in early February - sounds off. It's from Rob Boyd, an offensive lineman from Vian.
"Rob's good!" Johnson shouts.
Seconds later, Blankenship responds with some news about Norman offensive lineman Zac Uhles.
"Uhles is good!"
Outside on Skelly Field, football players are running sprints.
While Peterson, TU's offensive coordinator, discusses what a good basketball player Crockett was, two trays of cinnamon rolls, a pan of sausage patties and a pan of bacon arrives in the break room, courtesy of Tally's Cafe.
There has been no drama so far, but even so, everyone's mood seems to lighten as the smell of breakfast wafts through the offices.
Johnson peeks into the Operations Room with a plate of bacon. As he turns down the hallway, Blankenship shouts to him, "Micki (Heatly, Blankenship's administrative assistant) has a note for you you don't want to miss."
Blankenship sits back down next to the fax machine in front of a camera held by media relations assistant A.J. Harrison.
"OK," Blankenship says as he settles in for a video blog on the TU athletics website, "Let's try this again."
Downing hurries through the hallway and into the Operations Room, holding a cell phone to his ear.
"Hold on, I'm looking, T.J."
On the line is former TU quarterback T.J. Rubley, whose son Ryan just emailed in his NLI.
"Did we get an email from Rubley?" Downing asks. Troester has stepped out, however, and there is nothing on the fax machine.
"Just send a fax," Downing says. "Dang. We got all this high-tech stuff and we gotta wait."
Downing is back as the fax tone finishes.
"Is that Rubley?" he asks. "It's a heck of a signature, but it is his signature. There it comes. Wait - it's the second sheet! Oh no, he's gonna send all four pages. Oh well. He's a quarterback. He's thorough. He's got his primary read and his blitz-check, too.
"OK, we're all good. Ryan Rubley is in the house!"
Johnson reappears. He has more bacon.
"I hear a beep. I hear a buzz."
Owasso quarterback Jaylen Lowe's fax arrives.
"But," Blankenship says, "I'm gonna have to ask him to send it again."
Johnson is back and he's on the phone, looking a bit stressed.
"Where'd Crista go?" he asks as he maneuvers between a writer, a photographer, three PR staffers and a graduate assistant. "Geez, can we get some more people in here?"
The fax machine sounds off again, but this time it's not picking up. It goes unanswered.
It's the fax tone again. Still no answer. It's like a yodeler playing bagpipes, but associate athletics director for communications Don Tomkalski is the only one who realizes: It's out of paper.
The fax goes off again. This time it's from Union all-purpose back Chris Hall. But there's a problem.
"It doesn't have his mom's signature," Blankenship says. "She was there (at the signing ceremony at Union High School), but I guess she didn't sign it."
A fax from Colorado linebacker Jake Hanks arrives. "Speed of lightning," Blankenship says.
Lowe's NLI finally arrives.
"Good to go," Blankenship says. "We need to get him on the phone."
Blankenship's phone rings. It's Hall.
"Welcome to the family, man," Blankenship says.
Johnson is two feet away, talking on the phone with Lowe.
"It's a great day for us," Johnson says, "and you're gonna look back on this day someday and realize what a great day it is for you, too."
Johnson hands the phone to Blankenship, who has handed off his conversation with Hall to Peterson.
"You made me a happy camper today. We're gonna win a lot of games together," Blankenship tells Lowe, a high-scoring point guard on the Owasso basketball team. "You keep on winning championships, and you can start with basketball."
Blankenship hands the phone to receivers coach Dan Bitson.
"Hey, hoops star," Bitson says to Lowe. "What's going on? I heard you all beat Jenks the other night. How many did you put in? Twenty-four? Hey, that's the way. Well, congratulations, and welcome to the family. We're excited for you, and you've made it real nice for me."
Bitson hands the phone to Johnson, who realizes it's still Lowe, says goodbye and looks down at the phone.
"Is this my phone?" Johnson asks.
"I say Bit's getting his butt kicked by the fax machine," says Johnson, who's picking over another piece of bacon. "I could see him getting mad and getting after it with a hammer. If you can't fix it, just use a bigger hammer."
"We're just waiting on four," Blankenship says.
On the list next to the fax machine, only Joe Bean, Chris Hall, Ben Oberste and Dalton Rodriguez remain from the original Rivals.com list.
"Rodriguez," Blankenship shouts. "Three to go."
Hall's NLI arrives, properly signed, by email.
Johnson walks past holding his stomach.
"Whoo! I bet I ate a pound of bacon!"
"Denver should write a book," Peterson says with a laugh. "He's got a ton of one-liners."
Bean, a cornerback from Hooker, Okla., way out in the Panhandle, sends his NLI. Blankenship hands it to Troester.
"Good to go?" he asks.
"Good to go," she says.
Blankenship recounts the tale of his recruiting trip to Hooker. His brother, Rex - now the TU team chaplain - was once a pastor at a church in nearby Guymon. During Bean's basketball game, a woman introduced herself as a member of Rex's church. Blankenship added her to his phone contacts - "Rhonda Parker, Hooker."
"Then I realized, I'd better change that to 'Rhonda Parker, Guymon,' in case somebody finds my phone."
One prospect - Oberste, according to the prep list - remains. The fax rings. It's Lowe again, for the third time.
Blankenship has retired to a couch in the lobby outside his office. He's scrolling on his phone and chatting with Heatly and Megan Hoffman. To his left is grad assistant Zak Bigelow, and between them is the Liberty Bowl Trophy.
Blankenship gets a text message from Sallisaw coach Craig Benson. There's been a delay in sending Oberste's NLI, but no worries.
"He says, 'We're in the process of scanning the papers now,' " Blankenship relays. " 'But you know we have one scanner here in Sallisaw, and you've gotta climb a pole to use it.' "
The fax goes off again. It's from Sallisaw. Oberste is officially the last member of TU's 2013 class.
"Got it!" Blankenship shouts. "Awesome!"
Blankenship tells his staff to spread the word and remind everyone of a staff meeting at 9:30. Someone informs him that Thibodeaux has left to get the oil changed in his car and won't be at the meeting.
"Hmm," Blankenship says.
Blankenship takes his place at the head of the table. The staff - minus Thibodeaux - has assembled to review a video presentation that Blankenship will make later in the day at a recruiting roundup for members of the Golden Hurricane Club.
For each new recruit, video coordinator D.J. Welte has compiled a headshot page with stats and accomplishments, followed by four individual highlights with a rock guitar-driven soundtrack. It plays on a PlayStation, and Welte runs the video with a game controller.
"Nice job," Blankenship tells him.
Everyone double-checks the stats and accolades and offers Welte any corrections to make before the actual event. Peterson, Johnson, defensive coordinator Brent Guy and recruiting coordinator Jess Loepp give Blankenship last-minute tips on each player for his presentation to fans and boosters.
The 45-minute session is strictly business, but with plenty of levity. This staff oozes good chemistry, and its members are clearly pleased with the day's proceedings.
Blankenship stands in the lobby, happy that he successfully denied the call of bacon, sausage and cinnamon rolls. It's too bad, he says, that he began his usual post-recruiting diet two days prior, but he feels great - though he's eager for his late-morning snack.
The 2013 class, and the entire season, for that matter, will be put to bed Wednesday night at a private dinner at Southern Hills Country Club.
As his assistants head back to work, Blankenship rubs his hands together before stepping into his office.
"This is a good day," he says. "You guys did great. Being done by 9:20 is a big deal.
"It's a very good day."
Bill Blankenship looks at information on his phone while Stephanie Hall of the Media Relations staff watches her computer in the coaches' offices at the University of Tulsa on Wednesday. JOHN CLANTON/Tulsa World
Bill Blankenship (left) and graduate assistant Zak Bigelow look at information on their phones Wednesday. JOHN CLANTON/Tulsa World
Sam Lazarus (from left), a student on the Media Relations staff at TU, graduate assistant Zak Bigelow and A.J. Harrison of Media Relations check their phones for messages, tweets and information. JOHN CLANTON/Tulsa World