Eric Striker became one of the faces of Oklahoma football in 2015.
Whether he was navigating bumpy waters during the incident involving Sigma Alpha Epsilon or sliding past offensive linemen en route to the quarterback, Striker seemingly was at the center of everything the Sooners did during their journey to their first College Football Playoff appearance.
And he did it all more than 1,200 miles from home.
Striker, a two-time All-Big 12 first-team linebacker, is a Florida native and sterling example of the ways Bob Stoops’ program has expanded its national reach on the recruiting trail in recent years. California has become a prominent piece of Oklahoma’s recruiting grounds and the Sooners’ reach is expanding further toward the East Coast with each passing recruiting cycle.
The raw numbers reveal the shift in Oklahoma’s recruiting in recent years with the Sooners taking advantage of their brand on a national stage more often than they had in the past. Since 2012, Oklahoma has signed at least one player from 24 states along with Canada and Washington D.C. In the previous six classes, Oklahoma signed at least one player from 20 states and signed an overwhelming majority from Texas (68).
Here’s a closer look at the numbers:
Oklahoma signees by state since 2012
Florida, Louisiana: 6
Ohio, Kansas, Mississippi: 4
North Carolina, Maryland, Utah, Arizona, Virginia: 2
Missouri, Washington, Michigan, Georgia, New Jersey, Alabama, Tennessee, Canada, South Carolina, Pennsylvania, Washington D.C.: 1
Oklahoma signees by state from 2006-2012
California, Georgia, Missouri: 4
Florida, Louisiana, Nevada: 3
Illinois, Pennsylvania: 2
Michigan, New Jersey, Tennessee, Virginia, Michigan, Colorado, New Mexico, South Dakota: 1
The Sooners’ expanding coast-to-coast reach should only help in the future. For example, since Oklahoma signed the “Cali Trio” (Tony Jefferson, Kenny Stills, Brennan Clay) in 2010, the Sooners have signed at least one recruit from California in every recruiting class except the Class of 2011. And with the success of East Coast recruits such as Striker, Charles Tapper and Ahmad Thomas, Oklahoma’s East Coast appeal is sure to grow.
“It helps,” coach Bob Stoops said. “People out there are very aware of the success Eric Striker and Charles Tapper. Look at the number of guys we’ve got from out east, even in the coming class.”
Oklahoma’s Class of 2016 features multiple players from the East Coast, including North Carolina native Austin Kendall, an ESPN 300 quarterback, and Washington D.C. native Parnell Motley. The Class of 2017 features a commitment from Miami (Fla.) Christopher Columbus cornerback Trajan Bandy, the No. 300 player in the ESPN 300.
Even as Oklahoma’s recruiting reach expands, there’s no scenario that includes the Sooners no longer making Oklahoma and Texas their top priority in the search for players. But the option to cherry-pick elite prospects from coast to coast is an intriguing one. Because even if a player didn’t grow up with Oklahoma at the forefront of his mind, the Sooners’ tradition of success opens doors that may have been closed otherwise.
“My reaction wasn’t like, ‘Oh man, OU is recruiting me!’ but everybody else was like, ‘That’s OU, what are you waiting on?’” said Miami native Ahmad Thomas, who was enthralled with the thought of going to Miami when the recruiting process started. “I didn’t know, I was young, still one-sided and didn’t want to listen to anyone else. But it wasn’t random people. It was like my head coach, my mom, my auntie. I knew they had my best interest at heart.”
Now, as Thomas enters his final season in crimson and cream, he is one of six Sooners who earned first- or second-team All-Big 12 honors in 2015 who decided to play football at Oklahoma despite spending their prep days outside Big 12 country.
“It helps you recruit, players recruit players,” Stoops said. “They see those guys having success and/or speak to them on recruiting visits and say, ‘I’ve got the chance to come out here and do the same thing.’”