By BEN JOHNSON
Northeastern State has always been attractive to high school football players in eastern Oklahoma and Texas. Not too long ago, you could draw a circumference area around Tahlequah or around certain Texas communities, and that would make up roughly 85 to 90 percent of NSU's roster.
The RiverHawks' success in their last three seasons — going 17-16 during that time — has allowed them to expand their recruiting area into enemy territory in central Oklahoma.
"There's no doubt," NSU head coach Kenny Evans said recently when asked if his club has made recruiting strides in the most populated part of the state.
"I think Coach (Steve) Patterson and the addition of him, and Coach (Bradley) Thomas, both of those guys have recruited those areas hard in the past. Also, now we have former players who are coaching in that area that are helping us."
In February, NSU signed its normal slew of players from northeast and eastern Oklahoma, including Claremore's Jordan Cunningham, Vian's Tre Locust, Pryor's Carson Smallwood and Poteau's Jay Warner — just to name a few. Then there were some local products brought in: J.J. Ozturk and Blake Maxey of Keys, Jordan Colburn and Tanner Sheets from Sequoyah and Tahlequah's all-time, single-season rushing leader Mason McMillan.
NSU also made its presence felt in Texas, bringing in 10 players from the Lone Star State.
Then, for the second straight season, the RiverHawks ventured into the Oklahoma City area and snagged some players not too far from the Central Oklahoma campus in Edmond. Kenneth Davis (Star Spencer), Aaron Patterson (Stillwater), Beau Proctor (Norman North) and Chavez Wyatt (Douglass) all opted to head east instead of staying in close proximity to home.
"Putting on a football camp the last two years in Norman — for kids that were interested in Northeastern State — has helped tremendously," Evans said. "It's allowed us to get some Oklahoma City area players."
Compile this year's list with the 2012 signing class — Devin Crisp (Midwest City), Steffon Herd (Del City), Trevon Lawson (Ardmore), Dakota Moran (Midwest City), Ashdon Perry (Ardmore), Tank Richmond (Carl Albert), Josiah Reed (Ardmore), Darrian Winston (Carl Albert) — and NSU has hauled in 12 players from central and southern Oklahoma in two years. Such was not the case three to four years ago when NSU's roster was littered with mostly players from the Tulsa area and the far-reaches of Texas.
"Our main area is still northeast Oklahoma," Evans said. "We feel like we've identified and done very well in this area, but we did want to expand in the state a little bit. The bottom line is, wherever they are, we want to get the best players we can get."
If Northeastern State can improve upon its 4-6 record last season in the Mid-America Intercollegiate Athletics Association, don't be surprised if more high school players from all over Oklahoma are making NSU their top Division II choice in the state, Evans said.
"Those guys are checking your records and uniforms and helmets and everything else," Evans said. "Sometimes, they seem to know more about us than we do. They often have pretty good questions, too. But they certainly want to go where they have a chance to play and win.
"And the fact that we've won more Division II football games than any other school in the state of Oklahoma at the Division II level, those kids know that. And it's allowed us to get better and better players — and reach out a little bit farther."