Oklahoma going national for 2012

NORMAN, Okla. -- The blueprint for an Oklahoma recruiting class has been simple. Secure the in-state stars while plucking the best possible players out of Texas. It's a formula that has produced numerous conference and national championships.

But for this recruiting class, the Sooners have gone with a different game plan. A national game plan.

OU's signing class will include players from California, Florida, Maryland, Ohio and Illinois.

Sure, the Sooners have recruited outside the traditional pipelines before. But nothing like this.

Last year, OU signed only three players outside of Texas and Oklahoma -- and two of those were from the border states of Kansas and Missouri.

This year, the Sooners could end up with more players from Florida (four) than Oklahoma (three) if St. Petersburg cornerback Gary Simon signs OU. And only two fewer high school players from California (three) than Texas (five).

Why the shift in philosophy?

Going national "gives you a chance to get a quality individual that you might not have nearby," said Merv Johnson, OU's director of football operations. "Gives you a chance to find a specific type player for a specific position that you might not find regularly."

Going national can be tricky, even for a program like OU.

"It can be risky," said Johnson, who was also an OU assistant from 1979-1997. "If you set your sights on that special somebody and know you're going to have to wait until end, and then you don't get him? You don't get the next best guy, or even the next two best guys. You might have to take what's left."

To avoid ending up in such a critical situation, Johnson said it's crucial to find players with a "real interest" in the program.

"If you have the stature and that kind of a program, and you want to out there and find that great athlete, you should take a look at doing that," he said. "By the same token, you need to locate someone that has a real interest in the program. Maybe because of position or family background or style of play. You need to find something other than hard work and salesmanship, otherwise you're probably going to get your heart broken in the end."

The Sooners have had their heart broken some. Just this week, four-star offensive tackle Zach Banner (Lakewood, Wash./Lakes) decided to stay on the West Coast and committed to USC despite a strong recruiting push by OU. But the Sooners have won as many battles as they've lost.

They snagged Midlothian, Ill., running back David Smith over West Virginia. They convinced San Diego tight end Taylor McNamara to leave the West Coast and enroll early. And this week, they swiped a commitment from North Royalton, Ohio, tight end Sam Grant, who seemed destined to sign with nearby Michigan.

Such an aggressive national recruiting strategy could pay off down the line, too. The Sooners still are reaping the benefits of luring the California trio of Brennan Clay, Tony Jefferson and Kenny Stills to Oklahoma in the class of 2010. The Cali trio played a role in the recruitment of both McNamara and Inglewood, Calif., wideout Derrick Woods, who had offers from virtually every Pac-12 school.

"When (recruits) see guys that have done well at your place, it certainly pleases them," Johnson. "Makes their chances a lot better."

Of course, this is hardly the first time OU has experimented with a national recruiting approach. In the early 1980s, the Sooners began hammering the state of California.

"I asked coached (Barry) Switzer to go to California to recruit Stanley Wilson because we needed a fullback," said Scott Hill, OU's recruiting coordinator in the 1980s. "From there, it blossomed."

Over the next five years, the Sooners signed a number of blue-chip players from California, including Elbert Watts, Greg Sims and Glyn Milburn.

"All of a sudden, a fifth of your group of kids is from California," Hill said. "And five-star players, who everyone wanted."

Many of the California Sooners, however, didn't pan out. Some ran into trouble. Others got too homesick.

"We looked back at five, six year period, and were like, 'Wow, guys, our production ratio is nowhere close to where it should be overall,'" Hill said. "After that, we made a concentrated effort to recruit players around our area, instead of going off places."

Hill said a national recruiting philosophy could work better for the Sooners 30 years later. Cell phones allow players to check back with friends and family back home on the hour. With social media, the minute.

"The world is smaller, it makes it so much easier for communication with families," Hill said. "But you still have to sit back and evaluate the productivity. If you're getting the productivity you need, by all means continue. If not, you have to make adjustments."

Jake Trotter covers University of Oklahoma football for SoonerNation. He can be reached at trotterjake@gmail.com. and look for answers every Friday.

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