State of the Hogs: Hidden Gems

Surprises on signing day don't happen all the time, but sometimes they can be hidden gems. The Selmon brothers at Eufaula, Okla., are the most notable examples.

The headliners were obvious Wednesday. The names jumping off the page on the Arkansas signing day haul were Joseph Adams, Ryan Mallett, De'Anthony Curtis, Jarius Wright, Tyler Wilson and Jim Youngblood.

Bobby Petrino's first class was heavy with talented "gets" in the area of offensive skill. It's the kind of bluechip gets that all fans love. Toward the bottom of the list at Hogwired.com was this:

Brian Christopher, defensive line, 6-4, 240, Camden Fairview High School.

The serious recruitniks recognize the name as a player Texas Tech had committed, but Houston Nutt's staff did not recruit or offer despite Christopher's trips to summer camps in the Ozarks.

When Arkansas lost Georgia defensive linemen Stephen Fowlkes to Tennessee on signing day, Petrino called Christopher with an offer despite the fact the Camden player took no official visit to campus. It took Christopher just a few minutes to say yes.

Petrino had watched film of Christopher the night before and decided to take a chance because of his "tough, physical presence" on the film he watched in the 24 hours leading up to signing day. He'll get bigger and might grow into an end who can play over the tight end, or maybe even move inside at tackle.

No doubt, it's a projection. Scout.com rates Christopher as a two-star prospect. But the college football landscape is full of just these kinds of success stories.

Lucky Find
My favorite of all time happened in January of 1970 in Eufaula, Okla., where neither Oklahoma, nor Oklahoma State nor Arkansas thought a short, squatty fullback was worth a scholarship in the days when more than 25 were given out at each school. Lucious Selmon was headed to Colorado based on a solid evaluation by Muskogee native Eddie Crowder and an early offer. In Oklahoma, they still say, "Thank God for Mr. and Mrs. Selmon."

Oklahoma ended up with Lucious, then younger brothers Leroy and Dewey, in what may be the luckiest late get in the history of football recruiting. I'd have a hard time believing that any other projection meant as much as the three Selmon brothers did to Oklahoma in winning two national titles. They anchored what may be the best defense ever to play college football.

It all happened when Barry Price picked OSU over OU on the final weekend. Larry Lacewell was the man in charge of Price's recruitment for OU. He then talked OU brain trusts Chuck Fairbanks and Barry Switzer into a trip to Eufaula for Lucious Selmon.

Switzer said it was a case of doing a projection because Selmon fancied himself "as Jim Brown and we knew he wasn't a running back. He also played on defense, but he wasn't in shape to play both ways. And, when we watched film, he'd stand up and it looked like he was directing traffic. Kids played the whole games back then and it was hard to get great effort. Lucious never looked good on defense, but that's where we projected him to play. He was playing out of position and we were luke warm to recruiting him."

But when Price, the Oklahoma player of the year, wasn't available, Lacewell convinced his bosses that Selmon was the next best available player.

"I didn't even know that much about the two brothers until I got over there the day before signing day," Lacewell said. "And, you couldn't sit there and look at those two sophomores (Leroy and Dewey) and say they would for sure be players. No one could sit there and claim to see that.

"I'm telling you, it was just strange fate that we got all three. It was almost the biggest screw up of all time. It was 99 miles from Norman and we almost missed.

"Give Eddie Crowder credit at Colorado. He had done his homework. He had been recruiting there and he was the head coach.

"It wasn't obvious to anyone else. We hadn't been there and Oklahoma State wasn't there either."

Understatement
Lacewell had been to Eufaula early in the fall. He'd seen the oldest Selmon in the locker room after a practice.

"Lucious came in there, took off his jersey and pads and he looked like Godzilla standing there," Lacewell said. "But he was so short. He just wasn't a fullback. He didn't make any big runs. He'd just hit it up in there and go down. He was so short you knew he'd have to be a noseguard, but it was a tough call."

Lacewell remembers sleeping in his car outside Price's home in Oklahoma City only to discover the prospect hadn't come home and was probably safely hidden out by the O-State coaches.

"I never got to talk to Price," Lacewell said. "You could hide out players in those days. I called Fairbanks, told him we'd lost Price to OSU. I told him I was going to Spiro anyway and the thing to do might be to stop off and see Selmon in Eufaula along the way. I told him, ‘You know, maybe those two younger brothers would turn out to be players.' That may be the understatement of all time. I hadn't even paid too much attention to the brothers at that point."

It was the day before signing day at 4 p.m. when Lacewell arrived at the Selmon home, nine miles outside Eufaula.

"Lo and behold, there was a brand new car there," Lacewell said. "It was Crowder. He was standing on the porch going in. I got out and Eddie said he'd come by the only restaurant in Eufaula when he was done and I could have my turn. I was worried that I was too late. I was an assistant recruiting against a Big Eight head coach. We had good connections at Eufaula with the high school coach and normally we'd know if someone else was on an in-state player, but we had no idea.

"We had been beating Crowder for a lot of kids in Colorado, so in my mind I figured he thought he was going to get us back. But I have to also say that he saw way more than we saw."

Lacewell waited at the cafe in town. When Crowder arrived, he handed him some school books that Lucious had left in his car on the ride from school home.

"He said to take them back to the house on my visit, then he went to use a pay phone," Lacewell said. "I knew he was calling out to the house, so I went into the bathroom. The pay phone was on the other side of the wall. I stood in there and could hear every word Eddie said."

The conversation was quick and to the point. Crowder told Lucious Selmon that an OU recruiter was coming next and he warned of the coming sales pitch.

"First, he said that Oklahoma must not think he was important to send just an assistant coach and not Fairbanks to his home," Lacewell said. "Then, he said, ‘He is going to tell you that you are an Oklahoma kid and that you owe it to the state to stay home.' Really, that was good by him. He preached it good, too. I had a sinking feeling. I was dreading that call back to Fairbanks telling him I'd lost this one, too."

The Sales Pitch
Lacewell came up with a plan. It included a few stretches.

"Well, like all good salesmen, I told a few lies," Lacewell said. "First, I told Lucious that I bet Eddie Crowder had told him a few things just before he left, like I would say that Oklahoma boys should stay home. And, the truth is, he's right, they should. I told him I bet Eddie told him that if he was really important Chuck Fairbanks, the head coach, would have come to his home instead of an assistant. I told him the truth is that we felt sure that he would come to Oklahoma and it would be important for the head coach to be in Texas that week because we needed more good players to go with him.

"I emphasized that Crowder was right, that he did owe it to Oklahoma to go to OU."

At that point, Mrs. Selmon stopped him. Lacewell said, "She looked at Lucious and said, ‘These are exactly the things Coach Crowder said. You have repeated them. You know, Lucious maybe you ought to stay closer to home.' At that point, I just talked and talked and apologized again for not being there more. The two brothers were asleep on the couch, but Lucious was listening and he said he'd come to Oklahoma. He was a sawed-off fullback who couldn't play there in high school, but he was a great noseguard at Oklahoma."

At that, history was changed.

"You bet it was," Lacewell said. "In today's Internet recruiting rankings, no one would analyze and rate Lucious Selmon as a four star or a five star. He would have been unranked. But he and his brothers were three of the greatest to ever play the game. And, they were great people, too. The folks in Eufaula still credit Lucious for making integration happen there. There is great respect for him and that family there.

"I was at the Super Bowl with Jerry Jones this past weekend. I was visiting with Wade Phillips. He'd coached at Oklahoma State during that time. We got to talking about the Selmon brothers. Wade didn't even hesitate when Leroy Selmon's name came up. He said, ‘He was the best to ever play the game.' I agreed. They were all three All-Americans, just great, great players.

"There are a lot of stories like that one, but not dealing with three brothers. This one is the best."

Rod Shoate is next on Lacewell's list of recruiting near misses. Shoate was a three-time All-American at OU from Spiro.

"Shoate was a fullback, too, and really couldn't play there," Lacewell said. "His high school coach had given me a film, but I never took it out of my trunk. His coach called me over Christmas. I was down at Fordyce. I told him Shoate couldn't be a college running back. He said, ‘He's not a running back, he's a linebacker. Look at the tape. We just use him at linebacker on the goal line.' It took me about two minutes of film to see he'd be a great player. I called Switzer and Fairbanks and we took him at the end. He was a great, great player and another one the Internet services wouldn't rate now."

No one is saying Brian Christopher is a Selmon or a Shoate. But he might be another in a long line of productive college players who were missed by the Internet recruiting gurus and plenty of college coaches.


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