Phoenix Staff Reports
Lori Jefferson got a blast of the whirlwind that can be college football recruiting, and it began with a phone call from the Naval Academy just days after her son, Muskogee offensive lineman Dexter McGriff, had returned from an official visit to Central Oklahoma.
“I didn’t think he would be interested,” she said. “This is a God thing because in a week, I can’t contemplate how fast things changed.”
Her husband, Elsworth Jefferson, heard about the call and his first thought was it was THE Navy, not the academy.
Five days later he was on his way to Annapolis, Md., for an official visit. By Monday morning this week, he had committed, and the differences are vast. There’s the five-year commitment as a Navy officer of all graduates. And, while UCO is a part of what’s known as the SEC of Division II, McGriff will find himself, following a redshirt year, on a team that will play two nationally televised games — Notre Dame and the Army game.
The 6-3, 255-pound, three-year starter as a Rougher has Navy family roots, though through the service itself, not the acad emy.
“My dad was a Naval vet from World War II and I have two brothers, his uncles, one who served in Vietnam and the other a retired Navy vet,” said his father, Dexter McGriff Sr.
Rise and surprise
When Wagoner High School students arrived for Tuesday’s national letter of intent signing ceremony at the school’s events center, little did they know a change was in store.
The change was Kerwin Thomas, who had verbally committed to Wyoming, signing his national letter of intent to play collegiately at Tulsa early Tuesday morning and telling no one.
“When the process began last spring, Tulsa is where he really wanted to go,” said Wagoner coach Dale Condict. “Things weren’t matching up at Tulsa so Wyoming made an offer and he took it. But they called on Friday saying they wanted to gray-shirt him.
“If that’s your offering from the beginning, I’m OK with it. To me, what Wyoming did was going back on their word.”
Gray-shirting is a process where an athlete commits to a university but the scholarship offer doesn’t take effect for two years. Thomas would have to sign his NLI in June and could not attend the university or practice with the team until the spring of 2014.
“I had been in contact with coach Blankenship at Tulsa the past two days,” Condict said. “Then last night or early this morning, a recruit de-committed from Tulsa, opening up a scholarship opportunity. Tulsa offered and Kerwin signed.”
So after Condict had announced that T.J. Ponds was headed to Northeastern State and Dylan Cantrell and Lateze Clayton would be playing at Central Oklahoma, Condict began expressing what Thomas meant to the team and what had happened. When the time came, Thomas, who was wearing a Wyoming sweat shirt when he entered, stood up and removed the sweat shirt revealing a Tulsa t-shirt underneath, much to the loud approval of the crowd.
“It was crazy,” Thomas, surrounded by his family, said. “I’ve always wanted to go to Tulsa. It’s like a dream come true.”
Cantrell and Clayton are excited to continue as teammates when they begin fall practice next fall in Edmond. Cantrell is glad there will be a familiar face at a new location.
"We’ve played together so long,” he said. “We might even room together so I’m glad.”
His TU “family”
When Rob Boyd talked to friends and family about University of Tulsa football program on Wednesday, he kept using words like “we” and “our.”
That’s understandable. Tulsa is his new family. The 6-4, 305-pound offensive lineman officially a part of the program after signing his national letter of intent with the Golden Hurricane.
“It’s kind of a relief to have this whole process over with and I’ve signed with the school of my dreams,” Boyd, listed as a four-star recruit by Rivals.com, “I also know I’ll be taken care of at Tulsa. It was place that really felt right to me.”
Boyd’s belief in Tulsa was so strong that he verbally committed to the program last March.
“They really pushed for me and that goes a long way in my book,” he said. “If you really want me, then you have to make effort to show me that you do want me. Tulsa made the best effort.
“They kept in contact with me constantly. I was recruited by University of Oklahoma by one day and maybe not hear from them for a month after that.”
Boyd graded out 98 percent in his senior year in leading the Wolverines to the Class 2A state semifinals. He graded 94 percent for his career at Vian.
Vian coach Brandon Tyler said Boyd is likely moved to guard from tackle when he begins his Tulsa career.
“They’re guard-heavy now and they’ll probably redshirt Rob,” Tyler said. “That’s fine as it’ll give him another year to get bigger and learn their system a little bit.”
Wide receiver Tre Locust signed with Northeastern State, kicker Tyler Cortez with Northeastern A&M and linebacker Rowdy Simon will be a walk-on at Tulsa.
“Those three guys have a chance to be impact players at their schools,” Vian coach Brandon Tyler said. “Tre had a great career for us and was our go-to receiver. Tyler didn’t come out for football here until his sophomore year and he’s only going to get stronger. They’re really high on Rowdy at Tulsa. He’s got the heart and desire to play.”
Another late surprise
Preston Soper got a call last night from Missouri and this morning, donned a Missouri cap rather than the Tulsa cap he had initially decided on, nixing a full-ride offer from FCS school Fordham University.
For a kicker, it’s as close to a scholarship as many get in the early going at the top level.
“They tell me they think they’ll be in need of a kickoff kicker bad,” he said. “I’m going to go up there in mid-June, take classes, work out and kick, punt, do whatever I need to do to show them what I can do.”
Soper, who was the All-Phoenix kicker and punter as a sophomore, then as a punter his senior season, said he gave the New York City school in what used to be known as the I-AA level some serious thought.
“In the end, it’s too far from home,” he said. “And of the guys on the team, I think I found three who actually drive a car. You don’t do that in New York City.”
Nothing for granted
Muskogee lineman Dillon Rice wrestled with the notion of one step back to take two steps forward, then it occurred to him. Just go play. And he will, at Central Oklahoma rather than opt for two years of junior college at Northeastern A&M before taking another shot at Division I.
“Division I is every kid’s dream and some don’t make it. I’m just ready to play football. The coaches at UCO tell me I’ve got a chance to make an immediate impact as a freshman, which is something I wanted. And it’s a good conference,” he said.
The 6-3, 295-pound Rice was a two-time All-Phoenix selection on the defensive side, including this season.
Phoenix Player of the Year Jake Gandara leaves Fort Gibson with nearly all the single season and career rushing and scoring marks there are to be had.
“It’s exciting to be playing 4-5 more years and I think I’ll probably get to play both of these guys,” he said, pointing to tight end Ned Adair and two-way lineman Andrew Brestel.
Gandara, who chose UCO over Southern Nazarene, never shifted from his commitment last summer. He leaves FGHS after a season where he rushed for 2,234 yards on 243 carries and scored 30 touchdowns.
Gandara may get hit by Brestel, an All-Phoenix selection as an offensive lineman, who will play on the defensive front for Pitt State, like UCO a member of the Mid-America Intercollegiate Athletic Association. The traditional national power was sold on the 6-3, 280-pounder after his game with Anadarko.
“It was his athletic ability and how he showed he could run down a tailback,” FGHS coach James Singleton said. “Not that he didn’t have a great career as a blocker, but it just took that game film for them to know what they wanted.”
“For Division II, it’s a really big-game atmosphere up there,” Brestel said. “I’m looking forward to it.”
Adair wanted to hold out to see what baseball brought for the Tigers’ starting pitcher. But a lingering sore shoulder on his throwing arm gave him pause. He’ll play tight end at East Central after signing with the Ada school on Wednesday.
“I talked it over with my parents and it was like they said, if you end up having surgery on the shoulder you can still play football because you won’t be throwing, but that surgery could mess up your chances of getting recruited,” he said. “I don’t know if I’ll need it but this way, I can focus on football and they say I’ll get the chance to play baseball there.”
East Central is not on UCO’s football schedule, though.
Tahlequah’s Mason McMillan had only one thing that mattered to him when he was being recruited. The running back signed with Northeastern State.
“My dad (Muskogee assistant coach Josh McMillan) played for NSU and he was there the year after they won the national championship,” he said. “He played on a couple of good teams. I wanted to follow in his footsteps. He was happy when I signed.”
Mason McMillan said he talked to other schools, but not “seriously.”
“I’m really excited about going over to NSU and see what I can learn from those and try to contribute,” he said.
Giant step up
Midway’s Roper Selby realizes he’s making a giant step in how he plays football, going from 8-man high school ranks to Division II NSU.
“I know there’s a lot of good players out there and they play at a different speed at NSU,” he said. “It doesn’t matter if you’re in 8-man or 11-man, you’re going to get noticed. I didn’t know I was being recruited and I was shocked when NSU called. I was glad the same time.”
Selby, who may be the first Midway football player to sign a scholarship, believes he’s ready to play in college.
“I’m ready to go to work hard and earn my spot on the team,” he said. “I don’t think any task is too big if you set your mind to it.”
Twins Cade and Colton Shearwood of Stigler began playing football together in fourth grade. Those days as teammates are not ending any time soon as both signed with UCO on Wednesday.
“At least we’ll get to see them both play,” Marty Shearwood, Cade and Colton’s dad, said.
Cade said Northwestern in Alva and Tabor College in Kansas were the other schools that recruited both of them. Cade was the Phoenix’s Large School Offensive Player of the Year the past two seasons.
“Toward the end of recruiting, we wanted to be together,” he said. “We’re stoked about this. It’s a good deal. We’re pumped up about it right now.”
The MIAA landed another pair who will become rivals now — Sequoyah’s Tanner Sheets to NSU and Mvhayv Locust to UCO.
Sheets, a 6-0, 260 four-year starter with the Indians, chose the RiverHawks with an eye toward staying close to home.
“I like the coaching staff a lot,” said Sheets. “They’re going to work me around and see where I’m best fit. I’ll play anywhere they need me.”
Locust is, by most accounts, a raw prospect, but a player with imposing size and intriguing potential. Long since coveted by the coaching staff at UCO, the 6-5, 255 tackle found a comfortable landing spot with the Bronchos.
“It wasn't too far away from where I live,” said Locust. “I have family in Norman and they can come watch me play.”
Missing from Sequoyah’s signing day festivities was wide receiver/defensive back Niko Hammer, who will reportedly walk-on at Oklahoma State.
Contributing writers were Mike Kays, Kenton Brooks and Ronn Rowland and Kolby Paxton of the Tahlequah Daily Press.