East Central’s final football game as a member of the Lone Star was a little too much like so many games that had preceded it over the past 13 years. But as he and his staff hit the recruiting trail over the next two months, Tim McCarty will have an entirely different product to sell to prospective student athletes than any Tiger head coach in recent memory.
Saturday’s 52-21 loss at 19th-ranked West Texas A&M notwithstanding, the 2010 season was an historic step forward for ECU football. The Tigers bounced back from a distrastrous 2009 campaign and an 0-3 start this fall to win five of their next seven games, and before they climbed onto buses headed off to the season finale Friday, the school’s first-ever LSC North Division championship trophy had already been delivered to the office of ECU athletic director Brian DeAngelis.
Consider that the ECU coaches lured arguably the most talented recruiting class in school history to Ada last winter with nothing in their sample cases except the promise that things would get better on the heels of an 0-11 campaign in 2009 and it’s easy to understand why McCarty is so confident his haul of high school and junior college talent will be an even bigger one for 2011.
“We didn’t do a lot of losing in the recruiting business last year — we did a lot of winning,” McCarty said. “There’s been some validation in what we’re doing, and some of the invitations from us (to recruits) will be a little harder to get, too.
“In reality, (2010) was our first recruiting class (McCarty and his staff got a late start on their recruiting for 2009 because he wasn’t hired until January), and we’ve still got a lot of work to do,” he added. “We were able to accomplish something this year that hadn’t been done since (ECU) went to the Lone Star, but we’re not going to be comfortable and relax. We’ve still got a lot to accomplish.”
Among the negatives from Saturday’s game were (1) a school record 735 yards (including 605 through the air) rolled up by the WTAMU offense against an ECU defense that had been one of the best in the LSC over the previous seven weeks and (2) the Tigers’ second blowout loss this season to a team from the South Division (which won 23 of 28 crossover games against the North this fall).
On the plus side, the game showed McCarty, his staff and his players that ECU still has a way to go before challenging the top programs in Division II, and it also identified some possible target areas for recruiting this winter.
“The kids had fought hard and had been in every game we had played from a battle standpoint, and we just looked tired out there (Saturday),” McCarty said. “We just didn’t click. We hit some good plays and had some good stops, but the reality was there weren’t enough of them.
“We had some field position issues, and we weren’t in sync offensively,” he said. “We have to play and beat teams like them to get where we’re going.”
One of the youngest teams in the LSC this year (only one starter on each side of the ball Saturday was a senior), the Tigers figure to have a lot of upperclassmen in key positions next season — their first in a new nine-team conference made up of three schools from Oklahoma (ECU, Southeastern and Southwestern) and six from Arkansas. That fact should have the ECU coaches not only looking for help in 2011 but for potential starters in 2012 as they hit the road to watch playoff football games over the next few weeks.
Eight of Saturday’s starters on offense — including quarterback Tyler Vanderzee, four of his five offensive linemen and tailback Charles Opeseyitan — will be seniors next fall, and although the defense won’t be nearly as old, the secondary figures to take a hit when Austin Daniels and LSC interception co-leader Dontae Smith — the best set of cover corners in the North this fall — graduate after the 2011 season.
“You have to look at your age at certain positions, you also make some adjustments during the course of the season and you run with that this last two and half months before the signing date (in early February),” McCarty said when asked about his recruiting priorities. “We’ve got a lot to sell here at East Central. Ada is a football town, and people love football in this part of Oklahoma.
“This recruiting class is huge for our program,” he said. “Obviously we want to attract great players, and we think we have a lot to attract them. The most important thing we have here is a ‘human’ resource. We have some great facilities, but we also have a lot of great people at East Central and at Ada that you don’t know about unless you’re here, and that’s important.”
McCarty said another good recruiting class coupled with the momentum from ECU’s first North title in its final season in the LSC should enable the Tigers to make an immediate impact in their new league next year.
“I’m very proud of this team — they fought hard and they were able to accomplish some things that hadn’t been accomplished here; as a result, they’ve put themselves into a good position heading into the new conference,” he noted.
The new conference (which should have a name sometime in the next month) obviously won’t have the prestige of the Lone Star, but McCarty said the move makes a lot of sense for ECU athletics.
“There is some history between the programs, regionally it makes sense as far as travel, and it’s exciting to go in on the ground floor,” he explained. “We took a step this year, and that step is over now. It’s on to the next step.
“A lot of this season was fun, but a lot of it wasn’t fun, too,” McCarty said. “We don’t have time to look back and say, ‘hey, that was good.’. We’re happy we won the North, but we left a lot of business out there that wasn’t finished.”
Recruiting season doesn’t get into full swing until Dec. 1, when college coaches can officially begin visiting with high school players. McCarty said he and his staff will have seen almost 150 games by then.
“We’ve been to 120-plus games already,” he said. “We’ll starting getting into the schools now and start turning up the RPMs and learn more about these kids. It’s just a matter now of finding guys we want to be on our team.
“It’s still an evaluation period right now,” McCarty added. “We’ll be at all the playoff games. We’ll be everywhere we can be, I’ll promise you that.”
And, he said, talent will be only part of the equation where prospective recruits are concerned.
“When our players leave here, I want them and their parents to know they had people who cared about them, not just as players but as people,” he said. “I want everybody who comes in contact with our football program to feel that way. I thank God every night for the ones who came here, and it’s always my prayer that God will bring us the ones we’re meant to have.”