Tahlequah Daily Press

February 7, 2013

Neither flashy nor eye-popping, NSU's signing class a solid one

Sports Editor

— Knee-jerk reactions are all the rage nowadays. In today's wired-in, instant-access society, information becomes available every passing second, on any topic that suits your fancy.

The sports world is a perfect example.

One minute you're watching the Oklahoma City Thunder, and Russell Westbrook dribbles off his foot and the ball rolls out of bounds. Turnover. Ball goes back to the Spurs, the Heat, the Lakers, etc.

Within seconds, Westbrook's name is trending on Twitter and devout Thunderheads are screeching for Westbrook's one-way ticket out of town.

"Oh. My. Westbrook is terrible. The Thunder will never win with Westbrook. TRADE HIM NOW," one knucklehead says.

"Westbrook stinks, get him outta here," one numbskull tweets.

It happens on a daily basis. Sub out Westbrook and the Thunder for another player on another team in a different sports league halfway around the world, and it's still the same thing.

Something tells me that Europeans would be vicious during Premier League games.

Heck, even I can admit to having over-reactions to games I watch. We all do it.

Sometimes, it doesn't have to be a game. National Signing Day and the entire yearlong recruiting process has taught us that.

One second a five-star quarterback is signing with Oklahoma, Alabama or Southern Cal and those fan bases lose their minds with excitement. At the same time, Oklahoma State, Texas, Auburn and Notre Dame fans are belittling the same player for flaws that may or may not be there.

Gotta love recruiting. High school and college football junkies go head over heels or are up in arms in a moment's notice.

That's where this year's signing class at Northeastern State comes in.

Once the RiverHawks' closed out a 4-6 campaign in November, the focus shifted to recruiting and who NSU was going to pick up in a matter of three months.

The commitments were slow to trickle in. Meanwhile, Central Oklahoma — who is attached to NSU's hip at all times, while, at the same time, the RiverHawks' archrival — was snatching up local and area talent left and right. In the blink of an eye, Jake Gandara (Fort Gibson), Braden Calip (Jenks), Trey'Vonne Barr'e (Jenks), Brandon Waggoner (Jenks), Chas Stallard (Cleveland) and Sam Noble (Oologah) were headed to Edmond.

It was almost as though the RiverHawks were content with letting a slew of talented players from the area go elsewhere. I even started to wonder, "what is NSU doing? Why are they not in on these guys? How much will this cost the RiverHawks?"

Sure enough, my knee-jerk reaction had morphed into more of an elbow-jerk with whiplash — because I was up to my eyeballs in over-reaction.

And now that Signing Day has come and gone for another year, it's hard to argue with what NSU brought in. Carson Smallwood (Pryor), T.J. Ponds (Wagoner), Tre Locust (Vian), Jordan Cunningham (Claremore), Mason McMillan (Tahlequah), Tanner Sheets (Sequoyah), Blake Maxey (Keys) and JJ Ozturk (Keys) all add some local and area flavor to the group that's Doc Wadley-bound.

"To be honest," NSU head coach Kenny Evans said, "we feel like we got the best players from this area."

That's not a wild assumption.

Sure, Gandara would have been a nice piece to have from just down the road on Highway 62, but Smallwood is just as good. And where NSU passed on guys like Stallard (a quarterback) and Calip (a cornerback), the RiverHawks are already set for years to come at those positions.

"We turned some players down," Evans said, "because those players didn't fit a need."

NSU's recruiting battle against UCO also took a turn toward green pastures when the Bronchos lost Barr'e to Iowa Western, a junior college in the northern plains. It's safe to say — without being knee-jerk reaction-ish — that losing Barr'e is a major punch to the gut for the Bronchos.

Then, when you lump in NSU's signees — Star Spencer's Kenneth Davis, Douglass' Chavez Wyatt and Norman North's Beau Proctor — from UCO's backyard, it appears as though the RiverHawks' put the clown suit on the Bronchos.

OK, I'll say it: that's a bit of a knee-jerk reaction. But, now that the dust has settled and all the ink has dried on all the letters of intent, it's hard to hate NSU's haul of in-state players.