VERMILLION — Naturally, when you think of Oklahoma, you instantly think University of South Dakota football, right?
Until this year, there wasn‚t a pipeline between the two states. However, the latest recruiting class for USD shows that the Coyotes are making a serious effort to hit an area virtually untouched by fellow FCS schools.
Among the 19 recruits announced Wednesday as part of National Signing Day, three hail from Oklahoma. All three are defensive backs, and two are from the same high school.
How was USD able to hit Oklahoma in such a way?
First-year defensive coordinator Jason Petrino previously coached at Central Oklahoma and brought with him to Vermillion an intimate knowledge — and relationships — of high school talent.
"He had a head start knowing about these kids, and obviously he knew what he was talking about," coach Joe Glenn said. "There aren't any schools at our level down there, so it's kind of an untapped spot."
In all, USD signed five recruits from Iowa, three each from South Dakota and Oklahoma, two from Missouri and Florida, and one each from Nebraska, Wisconsin, Wyoming and California.
The fact that USD signed as many kids from a state nine hours away than from South Dakota is telling, though only in the sense that the competition for Oklahoma recruits does not involve other FCS schools.
"In my short time there, I noticed that there are no FCS schools within the state, and none in Nebraska or Kansas," Petrino said. "That stuck in my head. There are a lot of talented kids there, and most are getting over-looked."
Saying that USD "set the trail" for recruits in that area, Petrino said the Coyote coaching staff literally compared some of the kids they were already pursuing to some of the available talent in Oklahoma.
Chief among their targets was Ricky Reeves, a 2-star rated defensive back. Reeves was on the radar of a lot of FCS schools and got late interest from Big 12 schools to be a walk-on, Petrino said.
"For us, it's awesome that we can get a guy of his caliber," Petrino said. "The secondary was definitely a need for us. Being able to fill in needs like that is what I get really excited about."
Zeke Lewis, another defensive back, was teammates with Reeves at Midwest City High School and led the state in tackles, while Will Armstead — another defensive back — hails from Broken Arrow, Okla.
Though it comes from a player without any national rankings, one of the notable gems in the class is Roberts, who led the state of Wyoming in rushing yards (2,688) as a senior.
Roberts, the Wyoming Gatorade Player of the Year, scored 38 touchdowns for Sheridan coach Don Julian, who was on Glenn's staff at Wyoming from 2002-06.
His sister Madisen is a senior on the Coyote women‚s swim team, while his older sister, Christin, swam for USD two seasons ago.
"I've spent a lot of time the dome, watching my sisters swim, so it's always been a school I wanted to be interested in," Roberts said by phone. "I was never sure if I'd ever get a chance at a place like that."
The clincher, as Roberts put it, was talking with Glenn, who sold him on the idea of coming east.
"Coach Glenn is a great guy. As soon as I talked to him on the phone, I knew he'd be a great coach to play for," Roberts said. "I always liked South Dakota, they're definitely on the rise."
Going by national rankings, the biggest prize for the Coyotes was Chris Wiseman, a 3-star rated defensive end from Lee‚s Summit, Mo.
Wiseman was an early verbal commit to USD, but pulled that commitment after Ed Meierkort was fired in late November. However, in mid-January, Wiseman recommitted to new coach Glenn.
USD signed three other recruits who garnered national recognition — Matt Miller, a 2-star tight end from Omaha, Neb., Jasper Sanders, a 2-star transfer running back from Butler (Kan.) Community College, and Mike Meinert, a 1-star offensive lineman from St. Joseph, Mo.
The three South Dakota recruits include Sioux Falls Washington teammates Devon O'Farrell (LB) and Keyen Lage (SS/LB), as well as walk-on Jeremy Henderson of St. Thomas More.
In all, the Coyotes got National Letters of Intent (NLI) from all but two of their verbal commitments. One exception was Florida linebacker Marquise Piton, who instead signed with Eastern Kentucky.
"I'm totally happy with the guys we got," Glenn said. "We didn't get them all, but that‚s all right. When you have a lot of plates spinning, once in a while one falls off."
Saying that USD likely won't sign any additional recruits in the spring, Glenn pointed out that the process still does not stop.
"Recruiting is like shaving. If you don't do it every day, you look like a bum," he said. "We recruit every day. We'll get started on next year already."