Recruiting Momentum is Like a Freight Train, and OU Has it in Spades

[USATSI]
Written by Kyle Boone

Momentum on the recruiting trail is a lot like a freight train: Once it starts rolling, it’s nearly impossible to stop without either the conductor’s own blessing or an immovable object that derails it.

Unlike a freight train, however, the momentum of recruiting is borne out of commitments from teenagers, fueled by peers on social media, and delivered free of charge with some hard-earned sweat equity from the coaching staff that set the sequence in motion.

Like clockwork, the cycle of success in recruiting repeats itself over and over again. If you’re doing it at an elite level, it repeats itself often.

For Oklahoma State, momentum looks a lot like the month of June. During the calendar month, the Cowboys reeled in eight commitments — more than half of the 15-man class that’s currently assembled.

Those commitments came from linemen to linebackerdefensive back to quarterback, but mostly it was Josh Henson’s time to shine. In a six-day span during the month (June 15-20), Oklahoma State landed four offensive line commitments. The momentum was tangible for the Pokes as each commitment, stacked one on top of the other like a fresh batch of IHOP pancakes, sent out a wave of excitement both across the fanbase, and among the recruits committed to the program.

The freight train was a-rolling.

At a program like Oklahoma State, you take the momentum when you can. Not every month produces June-like results. In recent years, waves have helped carry the staff to help build its recruiting class. Like OSU’s eight-commitment June, OSU had a similar stroke of success last June, landing a cycle-high five commitments during that month from Gabe Lemons, Jarrick Bernard, Jonathan Shephard, JayVeon Cardwell, and Jacob Farrell.

That momentum is hardly comparable to upper echelon programs that regularly have June’s from January through December — (I talked to Kyle Porter about this recently, and he said: Can you imagine getting to cover a program that recruited 15 Dax Hills a year?) — but it’s still an example of success, albeit in a slightly smaller dosage. That train only fuels up once a year, and goes nonstop for a few hours before running out of gas.

On a bigger scale, a look at OU in the 2019 cycle is success defined in recruiting. The Sooners have the holy trinity mixture of momentum, a cool factor with social media influences, and upper-tier prospects flooding in to man the station for Lincoln Riley and his staff. In April alone, they reeled in a combined twenty-three stars from six commitments. That’s basically averaging a four-star recruit per pledge — and OSU has one! 

“Lincoln takes the head recruitment on every single prospect,” said Kegan Reneau, editor at OU Daily Sports. “Add in the [on-field] success, Baker, Jordan Brand, the facilities, and everything else and Riley is just riding the wave of momentum to go after whoever he wants.”

OU’s relevance in recruiting is noteworthy every year, if only because they are OSU’s biggest rival. But their success is magnified even more so this year given the head-to-head battle for in-state star Daxton Hill. For example, here’s a summation of OU’s class….

  • One five-star
  • 10 four-stars
  • Four three-stars
  • Nationally ranked fourth
  • Ranked first in Big 12

For comparison’s sake, here’s OSU’s class…

  • One four-star
  • 13 three-stars
  • One two-star
  • Nationally ranked 34th
  • Ranked fifth in Big 12

Does Dax Hill care about which program has better recruits? He has publicly said the answer to that question is no. But momentum is a very real thing both behind the scenes, on social media, and in public. #Dax2Norman is a hashtag that hasn’t lost any steam on Twitter, and with each new four-star commitment Lincoln Riley reels in, there’s a multitude of OU fans mentioning Hill on Twitter with an obligatory “you next?!” retort.

“Lincoln Riley gets a lot of credit for making Oklahoma cool to teenagers. I think what a lot of people miss is how good he is at not just recruiting individual athletes, but building classes,” said John Jennings, publisher of an OU website called BennieAndBuds.com. “He can lock down an elite athlete and use that as leverage to get the next guy, and then the next guy, until the athletes on the fence will feel like playing elsewhere is a missed opportunity.”

“In this class, Lincoln Riley locked down an elite quarterback in June 2017 – a full 18 months before he could possibly sign. Next he reeled in a top wide receiver. He then used those guys as leverage to score the biggest recruiting haul in program history at the spring game. He just uses snowballing momentum to build classes.”

Maybe momentum matters because OSU fans doing the same with, say, a three-star linebacker, doesn’t quite elicit the same rush of excitement OU fans have experienced over the last few months. Maybe it matters because Dax Hill, the player at the crux of this discussion, might be the best player to ever come out of Oklahoma. Or maybe all of it is enhanced because of the Bedlam-like nature Hill’s process has taken, and the seemingly opposite end of the spectrum approach each school is recruiting on merely exacerbates it.

But make no mistake that whatever the reason is, it matters. When Hill announces his college commitment, whether it be today or three months from now, he’ll either set a cycle of excitement into motion for OSU fans the likes of which may never have been seen before, or he’ll hop aboard the OU momentum wave that hasn’t stopped crashing other program’s plans since Lincoln Riley took over in Norman. Then we’ll write about it, and just like recruiting, the cycle will again repeat itself.