A lot of great recruiting stories start out this way. A school is watching a high school game to see one prospect and then gets blown away by another.
OKC Putnam City defensive end Ron Tatum is the latest example of this. Putnam City coach Preston Pearson said Kansas was watching Week 1 to scout a kicker and left knowing they had to offer Tatum, who was just beginning his first season at Putnam City as a junior.
That feels like forever ago for Tatum, who has established himself as one of the top names in the state and solidified his ranking in the Scout 300.
Even if he has no clue how good he can be.
“Some kids are who they are right now,” Pearson said. “Not Ron. He has a great upside. He’s a big kid, long, lean and can run. Everybody likes Ron because he’s still green. The upside, the potential is tremendous.”
The likes of everybody include Oklahoma, Oklahoma State, Texas and Alabama, among others, as Tatum has gone from a regional name to a legitimate national prospect.
KU was there first, but it wasn’t too long until the Sooners got involved. Defensive line coach Calvin Thibodeaux invited Tatum to OU’s game against the Jayhawks in late October, and Tatum left offered by the Sooners.
“I didn’t know for sure if the offer was coming,” Tatum said. “Coach Thibodeaux was really showing me love so in my mind, I thought I was getting an offer. It was a great moment.”
A moment Tatum is trying to get accustomed to as the offers pile up. Simply not a spotlight seeker, it’s hard to know Tatum is such a high-profile recruit. He doesn’t boast about his big offers. He doesn’t shine light on major visits. He just goes about his business.
Tatum transferred from Putnam City North to Putnam City in spring 2016, and it didn’t take long for Pearson to realize he a budding star in his defensive huddle.
“It was at a team camp last year, and he was just everywhere making plays,” Pearson said. “He was still flying to the ball even when the play was away from. He was pursuing and chasing from the other side of the field.
“With his size, his speed, his effort, you knew it was only a matter of time before things started coming.”
Tatum has started to focus solely on football this offseason, deciding it was in his best interest to stop playing basketball. Listed at 6-foot-5 and 270 pounds, Tatum said the work has paid off in the weight room, and he feels faster and stronger.
He’ll get a chance to show those skills and show he belongs on the national stage next weekend at the Dallas Opening regional.
“I’ll compare my highlights to other guys and know that I’m better than them or just as good as them,” Tatum said. “I want to show them I’ve gotten way better than I was last year.”
If you think Tatum is raw now, it pales in comparison to where he was a year ago. It took Tatum a while to trust the process, to become coachable. Once he started to believe in what his PC coaches were telling him, everything else took care of itself.
When Tatum was initially offered by the Sooners, OU was utilizing a 3-4 defensive front. It’s no guarantee it’s a full scale change, but Bob Stoops confirmed the Sooners will definitely be using a 4-3 front as well.
Add that as another reason why the Sooners are sitting as pretty as you can at this point. Tatum was back in Norman for OU’s wins vs. Baylor and Oklahoma State and once again for junior day last month where he was “this close” to ending his recruitment.
“When I went to junior day, I did think about it,” Tatum said. “But I decided to take my time and look at other schools. The atmosphere there and the coaches were showing so much love. They showed us around the facilities, and everything is so top-notch.”
Tatum followed that OU trip with a trek to Texas last week as it seems right now to be another Red River Rivalry showdown between the Sooners and Horns.
The move to a 4-3 fits Tatum, he said, because he believes his speed coming from the outside is the perfect role for him in that defense.
By being in Norman the final three home games of the season, Tatum got to see the steady improvement of the Sooners defense and how much better a grasp of things Thibodeaux has in Norman now compared to this time last year.
Thibodeaux has found his footing. Now Pearson is hoping Tatum will find his. Tatum does his job and handles his business, but when you’re literally and figuratively the biggest guy on campus, everybody is going to follow your lead.
“We’re looking for him to be a little more vocal and assert himself a little more,” Pearson said. “He has a great grasp of things he needs to work on. His work ethic is good. He’s coachable. All those things you want to see are happening.
“The recruiting hasn’t changed his temperament. I don’t think he realizes how good he can be. If the stars line up for him a little bit, he could be playing on Sunday. The size, the speed, the strength, the character – he really has it all.”