MUSKOGEE, Okla. — There is a feeling among Oklahoma high school coaches that the state’s biggest college football program sometimes takes in-state prospects for granted.
“OU does sometimes slow play the Oklahoma kids,” Muskogee High coach Rafe Watkins said. “They wait and they wait, and it works a lot of the time. But I do think it creates opportunities for schools like Arkansas, Missouri, Texas Tech and Kansas State.”
Arkansas signed three players from the Sooner State last month and is looking to expand its reach there — especially in eastern Oklahoma.
In 2012 — Bobby Petrino’s last signing class — Arkansas also signed three Oklahoma natives. Owasso wide receiver Keon Hatcher and Tulsa Booker T. Washington cornerback Jared Collins became multiyear, reliable starters in Fayetteville.
Bret Bielema signed one Oklahoma player in his first four recruiting classes as Arkansas coach. And that player — 2015 tight end signee Austin Cantrell — came from Roland, a city located a mere eight miles from the Oklahoma-Arkansas border. One could reasonably consider Cantrell an in-state signee.
During his media conference on National Signing Day last month, Bielema said he want increase recruiting efforts in Oklahoma.
“I’ve been trying to get that recruited since I came here,” Bielema said before laughing and adding that he didn’t realize at first how close Tulsa is to Fayetteville.
“We got good players from Oklahoma from good programs. That speaks volumes about what we’re trying to get done and lay inroads into that area, for sure.”
The Hogs also snagged defensive back Kamren Curl from Muskogee, despite Curl’s November offer from the Sooners.
Before Watkins became the Muskogee coach, he won 4 Class 5A state championships at Guthrie (Okla.), which is about 40 minutes north of Oklahoma City. He sent a handful of Guthrie players to Division I programs, including linebacker Kentrell Brothers, who became an All-SEC performer at Missouri.
“Arkansas is a great program, in the SEC,” Watkins said. “And then just with the location, they ought to be able to come into this part of the state and compete with anybody. It’s closer to go to Fayetteville than Norman.”
Arkansas seems to be trying to expand its reach beyond just the eastern part of the state, too. For example, the Hogs have offered Bishop McGuinness (Oklahoma City) offensive lineman Owen Condon, who likes what he sees from Bielema and his staff. Condon has an offer from Oklahoma State, but not Oklahoma.
It also doesn’t hurt that E.K. Franks, Arkansas’ director of recruiting, has deep ties in Oklahoma and once was a high school coach in Oklahoma City.
Hatcher — who chose Arkansas in 2012 despite an offer from Oklahoma State — said that while the in-state schools will likely always hold sway over Oklahoma high school football players, there is no reason why Arkansas can’t compete for many of them.
“I feel like it is big if Arkansas keeps recruiting out of that area,” Hatcher said. “Tulsa is not a small city, but a lot of people sleep on the talent that we have in Tulsa.
“I encourage more schools to go out there. We have some nice young talent.”