By BRIAN LESTER
Hanging out in the football office inside the Gardner Center on national signing day has become a tradition for University of Findlay head coach Rob Keys and his staff.
The coaches get together early in the morning, set up a nacho bar in a conference room and then relax and enjoy the day while waiting for the national letters of intent to roll in off the fax machine. (VIDEO: Signing day at The University of Findlay)
Keys, entering his fourth season as the head coach of the Oilers, almost didn’t make it to the office Wednesday because of the latest snow storm.
“I had an interesting start to my day because I couldn’t get my car out of the driveway,” said Keys, who planned to head out the door before the sun even came up. “I started walking to the school from my house at 5:30 a.m. and (offensive line) coach (Kory) Allen picked me up about half-way there.”
Keys did make it work and so did 27 letters of intent as the Oilers unveiled their 2014 recruiting class.
Four or five more players are expected to send in letters today. The storm closed most schools, which prevented those players from getting to a fax machine.
The class, which features seven linebackers, five wide receivers and five defensive backs, is the culmination of months of hard work by the staff to put together the class. Because of the countless hours spent on the recruiting trail, signing day is a chance for the coaches to see their hard work pay off.
“We just enjoy the day and seeing those players sign is a reward for all of the hard work we have put into the process,” Keys said. “My staff does a tremendous job of getting out there and identifying prospects. I am definitely happy with the class we have signed.”
Included in that list are three local players, including two from Pandora-Gilboa.
Wide receiver Alex Osborn, who led the Blanchard Valley Conference in yards per catch (22.4) last season while catching eight touchdown passes, and defensive end Jared Tousley, a three-year starter and team captain, are both standouts for the Rockets.
Ottawa-Glandorf linebacker Cody Alt is the other local athlete who signed with UF. Alt tallied 78 tackles last season.
Osborn said he was determined to be a college football player. He was a ball boy for the Rockets when current UF defensive lineman Josh Lee was a senior at P-G and always dreamed of having a chance to take his game to the college level.
“It’s a dream come true,” Osborn said. “I’ve put in a lot of hard work to get this chance and I wanted to put myself in a place where I could be successful. I see a lot of potential for our team and I’m excited to be a part of it.”
Just as UF was successful recruiting players from a school 20 minutes or so down the road from campus, the staff also stretched its reach to as far as Georgia and Louisiana.
The Oilers landed defensive end Laceem McCall out of Peachtree Ridge High School in the Atlanta area and also took Mike Campbell Jr. out of Vermillion Catholic High in Abbeville, La.
McCall was the MVP of his team and tallied 45 tackles a year ago. He was rated as the 22nd best defensive end in the state of Georgia by MaxPreps.
Campbell helped lead his team to a state championship and rushed for 1,867 yards and 33 touchdowns as a senior.
One of the other more notable out-of-state recruits is Ta’Vaughn Morton from Butler High School in Louisville. Morton helped lead his team to three consecutive state semifinal appearances and was an all-state selection.
Being able to sell players on a program that has risen over the last three seasons doesn’t hurt in the Oilers’ bid to bring in the best possible players.
UF is coming off its third consecutive winning season, going 8-3, and the expectations will be just as high in 2014 as the Oilers will be seeking their first Great Lakes Intercollegiate Athletic Conference title and first-ever bid to the NCAA Division II playoffs.
“When I got here, we were selling kids on a vision of what we could do as a program,” Keys said. “Now, we can legitimately go up to players and show them concrete evidence of success. Competitive players are going to want to go to a winning program, and we can offer that to them. The talent level continues to go up.”
Making sure that happens involves a lot of time recruiting. Keys and his staff hit most of the schools in the state once the season ends and then spend hours watching film on potential recruits.
“Our coaches go through hours of film and put together a list of 10-15 guys that we want at each position,” Keys said. “I give a lot of credit to my coaches for their efforts,” Keys said.
“We have a deeper talent pool to choose from now, and while we might not get the No. 1 guy on our list, the No. 2 guy is just as good.”
The Oilers have spent the last three years building depth at all positions, reducing the need to rely heavily on newcomers.
But Keys told each recruit to come in ready to challenge for a starting job. If they are good enough to play, he will have them on the field in some capacity.
Osborn is ready to accept that challenge, but realizes it will take a lot of work to make the jump from high school to college.
“I’m going to have to put in a lot of time to be successful at the next level, but all of the work is worth it,” Osborn said.
“I have to hit the weight room more, eat right and just get in the best shape possible. I’m looking forward to the opportunity in front of me.”
2014 UF Recruiting Class
Jake Allton, wide receiver, Ashland; Rhonald Houston, wide receiver, Orange; Mike Campbell Jr., running back, Vermillion Catholic (La.); Terrance Cole Jr., defensive back, Toledo Springfield; Forrest Boyd, quarterback, Vermilion; Dorian Hunter, linebacker, Springfield; Andrew Alten, offensive line, Loveland; Aaron Ivory, defensive back, Glenville; Alex Osborn, wide receiver, Pandora-Gilboa; Jared Tousley, defensive end, Pandora-Gilboa; Cody Downs, defensive back, Otsego; Nikolas Ricks, linebacker, Canton McKinley; Josh Pennington, quarterback, Oregon Clay; Kyle Shreves, linebacker, Vermilion; Thomas Smith, linebacker, Lorain Clearview; Dylan Belcher, linebacker, Angola (Ind.); Chauncey Bridges, running back, North Farmington (Mich.); Laceem McCall, defensive end, Peachtree Ridge (Ga.); Daouda Sylla, athlete, Ypsilanti Community (Mich.); Rico Lewis, defensive back, East Village (Mich.); Ta’Vaughn Morton, wide receiver, Butler (Ky.); Cody Alt, linebacker, Ottawa-Glandorf; Brian Zawicki, fullback, East Detroit; Justin Short, linebacker, Grand Blanc (Mich.); Jalen Parker, defensive back, East Detroit; Mat Buntin, quarterback, Benton (Ill.); Jared Peters, wide receiver, Norwood.