Talent at Broken Arrow turns heads

BROKEN ARROW, Okla. -- It wouldn't be fair to credit just one person for the rise of Broken Arrow football. Many people have been a part of it. But one man who never worked for the school might have been as valuable as anybody else.

His name is Kevin Wright. He made his name as a great coach in the Indianapolis area, winning three straight Class 5A state titles at Warren Central. But when he was hired to be Tulsa Union's head coach in 2006, many people were stunned. And because of that, Steve Spavital went looking for another job. Spavital was the defensive coordinator at Tulsa Union from 1992-2005 under Bill Blankenship, who is now the head coach at Tulsa.

Following Blankenship's resignation after a third state championship in four years, the natural assumption was that Spavital would get the head coaching job.

"It was extremely disappointing to not get that spot," Spavital said. "But everything has worked out in the end."

Spavital stayed at Tulsa Union as an assistant principal in 2006 before deciding Broken Arrow would be his next destination. He became the coach-in-waiting for the program for the next three seasons before officially taking over in 2010.

In the state of Oklahoma there are considered to be two top tier football powerhouses, Tulsa Union and Jenks. But now there might be a third school. And it might be a new hotbed for the Oklahoma Sooners.

OU and Broken Arrow don't have much recent common history. The last Broken Arrow product that signed with OU and made it to campus was Brian Zimpel in 2003. By 2004, Zimpel had been kicked off the team.

Gradually the talent at Broken Arrow has improved, and the results are paying off on the recruiting trail. Offensive lineman Alvin Baileywas ranked No. 19 in the state for the 2009 class and has had a solid career at Arkansas.

The Sooners first made a real run again in Broken Arrow with Archie Bradley for the 2011 class. Bradley was a three-star quarterback prospect and also one of the best high school pitchers in the nation. He signed with OU to play to both sports, but he never made it to campus after he chose a professional baseball career and was drafted by the Arizona Diamondbacks as the seventh overall selection of the 2011 MLB draft.

But OU's door to Broken Arrow opened, and it's not going to close anytime soon.

"We have a great relationship with the OU coaching staff," Spavital said. "We respect what they do. We respect their honesty and how they handle things."

Spavital's son, Zac, was a graduate assistant at OU from 2005-07. He is now in his fifth season coaching defensive backs at Houston. Spavital also has another son, Jake, who is the quarterbacks coach at West Virginia. It's safe to say the Spavital family understands the recruiting business, and Steve Spavital understands how important it is to try to get his players' names out there.

Such as Coleman Key, a 2014 quarterback prospect who camped at OU, Texas, Michigan and Notre Dame this summer. It's too early for Key to list favorites, but the Sooners and Wolverines appear to stand out at this point. OU quarterbacks coach Josh Heupel has been interested in Key for a while.

But Key is not a Broken Arrow kid. He played sparingly last season at nearby Owasso, Okla., sitting behind his older brother, Kason, who was the starting quarterback. When his family elected to move, he could have transferred to Tulsa Union or Jenks. Nobody would have blamed him. The two schools have won the last 16 Class 6A state championships. Jenks has nine, while Tulsa Union has seven and is the four-time defending champion heading into 2012 under head coach Kirk Fridrich. Those schools have also sent several players to OU, including Rocky Calmus (Jenks) and Dominique Franks (Tulsa Union).

Key, however, decided to lead the charge at Broken Arrow.

"I could have gone anywhere around the Tulsa area, but it's this coaching staff and how they treat everybody," said Key of transferring to Broken Arrow. "Ever since I got here in the spring, everything has been so smooth. We're trying to create a new era."

An era that almost officially started last season. Broken Arrow was minutes away from winning its first state championship before Tulsa Union turned a late fumble into the championship-winning touchdown in a 23-22 victory last December.

There was no moral victory in that one. Broken Arrow knows it belongs on the big stage. It also knows it has to finish the job.

"We had to stop seeing everything as Union-Jenks," said 2014 running back Devon Thomas. "We had to start paying more attention to ourselves and what we're doing. Coach Spav brought in a great staff that has stepped everybody's game up."

Thomas is another Broken Arrow prospect expected to be a big-time recruit. He already has offers from OU, Oklahoma State and West Virginia, among others. The OU coaches don't usually offer in-state recruits before their junior seasons but knew they had to with Thomas.

He was one of only two sophomores at the time invited to OU's junior day in February. Both Thomas and Olathe (Kan.) South offensive lineman Braden Smith left with offers. Thomas said OU running backs coach Cale Gundy is the college coach with whom he has the best relationship.

"It's exciting to see the kids get the attention because they're putting in the work," Spavital said. "Jenks and Union have set the standard. We want to be in their position and that's what we're trying to do."

Broken Arrow had two recruits head to BCS conferences in the 2012 class. Tight end Zac Veatch signed with Oklahoma State, while wide receiver Levi Copelin has fared well through the first few weeks of camp at Missouri.

Although OU has its eyes set on a few 2014 prospects, the Tigers have two senior players who have picked up national interest. Cornerback Cre Moore has offers from Tulsa, Kansas and Kansas State, among others, but his stock will likely soar with a stellar season. Defensive end Frankie Davis also has offers from Tulsa and Memphis and several others.

Despite missing all of the 2011 season with a torn ACL, 2014 linebacker Gyasi Akem has an Arkansas State offer and is poised for a big junior season.

The recent success is nice, but Broken Arrow knows it's about consistency if it wants to be mentioned in the same breath as Tulsa Union and Jenks.

"We want to build a dynasty here," Key said. "I'm sure that's how all the other teams feel, too, but we know it's a realistic goal. We're building something special here. It's going to start with us, and we're going to pass it on."

Said Akem: "This is BA football. This is what we do, and we're not going anywhere."

And if Broken Arrow keeps producing talent, neither will OU.