The Oklahoman

Sanders, Thompson finally face off

- OSU Insider Jacob Unruh The Oklahoman USA TODAY NETWORK

STILLWATER — Five years ago, Oklahoma State coach Mike Gundy went heavy into a quarterbac­k recruiting battle.

He gave one a certain pitch. The other heard a different message.

Gundy would like to pretend his message was the same. Overall, it wasn’t. But a few things were repetitive.

Gundy told Denton (Texas) Ryan’s Spencer Sanders he was the best player and the guy the Cowboys wanted.

Gundy told the same thing to

Southmoore’s Casey Thompson.

An Interstate 35 battle split by the Red River was forming.

“We went after both of them,” Gundy said this week.

On Saturday, both quarterbac­ks will take the field in Austin, Texas, with a bit of a twist. They flipped their Red River homes.

Sanders leads No. 12-ranked OSU against Thompson’s Texas at 11 a.m. in a battle of former four-star dual-threat recruits.

“I’ve never been scared of competitio­n,” Sanders said. “I don’t remember really who they were recruiting at the time. I just remember that I wanted to go here, so go here.

“It was just all about competitio­n. I’ve competed my entire life, so I won’t stop now.”

In 2016, the journey both quarterbac­ks would embark on was unpredicta­ble. But some things were known.

Sanders was regarded as the best quarterbac­k prospect in Texas. Thompson was the top quarterbac­k in Oklahoma.

Sanders started as a freshman at Ryan High, tearing his ACL seven games into the season. He had a strong sophomore season and was better as a

junior — when he ultimately chose the Cowboys — before tearing his ACL in the state semifinals, ending his team's undefeated season. Sanders returned stronger and was voted as Texas' top offensive player as a senior.

Thompson was a dynamic passer and runner for the SaberCats as a freshman. As a sophomore, he dominated with a 3,000-yard passing and 1,000yard rushing season. He had a back injury as a junior, limiting his running. He ultimately transferre­d to Newcastle before his senior season and shined there. Both were set to be stars.

And Gundy was highly interested in both.

“Obviously, we weren't going to take both,” Gundy said. “So, it was kinda first come, first serve.”

Thompson first attended an OSU camp. Gundy started his recruitmen­t by checking with Thompson's father, Charles, a former OU star quarterbac­k. Would that be an issue for Casey choosing a Bedlam rival?

Charles assured Gundy it would not. The Cowboys started pushing harder. The timing wasn't right and Casey was concerned about OSU's offensive scheme.

“The biggest thing with Casey was — and this is really the real reason why he's at Texas, if you're honest — everyone wants quarterbac­ks to commit as a sophomore and junior, OU included,” said Newcastle coach Jeff Brickman, who was Casey's offensive coordinato­r at Southmoore. “He didn't want to do that. He wanted to take his visits.”

And Casey was unsure OSU would commit to letting a quarterbac­k run. It rarely happened in previous years.

“With Casey, a lot of it came down to scheme,” Brickman said. “He really liked Urban Meyer's scheme at Florida and Ohio State. Whenever Tom Herman went to Texas, he was the offensive coordinato­r for Urban Meyer. He brought that offense to Texas. That's part of the reason why he ended up going to Texas.”

But Sanders never had a doubt about OSU.

He visited his junior season. At that point, he was blowing up on the recruiting circuit.

There was no better quarterbac­k in Texas' 2018 class. Ole Miss, Penn State, TCU, Texas Tech and Texas A&M were among his suitors.

But during that visit he sent a text message to his high school coach Dave Henigan and quarterbac­k coach Conroy Hines saying he was going to commit then.

“And he did,” Henigan said. “He never wavered. There were other schools that came in on him later on but he would always say he doesn't want to talk to anybody.”

The Cowboys stuck with Sanders after his second ACL tear. He was the quarterbac­k of the future.

In 2019, he was named the starter as a redshirt freshman. There have been ups and downs along with injuries, but the Cowboys in turn have not wavered on Sanders.

And coming off a bye week following the Cowboys' win over Baylor in which Sanders threw three intercepti­ons, he's looking to rebound in a big way across from Thompson.

The two actually attended one camp together in their high school days. Their paths haven't really crossed since. But Sanders is excited for Thompson. “He's got unbelievab­le athletic abilities,” Sanders said. “He's got a great touch with the ball, he's got great rotation on the ball. I believe he's a great quarterbac­k.”

It just took Texas some time to truly discover that.

Thompson's path is one of grit. He redshirted his first season but was then stuck behind star Sam Ehlinger for two seasons.

Thompson was able to study under Herman and former OSU offensive coordinato­r Mike Yurcich, who recruited Thompson at OSU.

Thompson was effective when he did play — he starred in the second half of last season's Alamo Bowl. Still, Gundy said this week that Thompson entered the transfer portal three times before electing to remain in burnt orange.

Another entry into the portal could have been in the future this winter. Thompson did not win the starting job under new coach Steve Sarkisian, but took over during the game in Week 2's loss to Arkansas.

He's shined ever since, including passing for 388 yards and five touchdowns in last week's wild loss to OU.

“I was happy for him,” Gundy said. “He's hung around and getting to play. He's obviously playing really well.”

But there are no regrets with how the recruiting battle turned out for the Cowboys.

They got their man. Texas got theirs. “When Yurcich ended up at Texas,” Sanders' former coach Henigan said, “he used to tell me, 'I don't know how everybody drove past Spencer to get to Oklahoma to get Casey. (Texas) drove through Denton to get to Oklahoma to get Casey to Austin.'

“It's an inexact deal, but it seems to be working out for both groups.”

 ?? SARAH PHIPPS/THE OKLAHOMAN ?? OSU quarterbac­k Spencer Sanders has passed for 781 yards and five touchdowns this season.
SARAH PHIPPS/THE OKLAHOMAN OSU quarterbac­k Spencer Sanders has passed for 781 yards and five touchdowns this season.
 ?? ??
 ?? BRYAN TERRY/THE OKLAHOMAN ?? Texas quarterbac­k Casey Thompson (11) has thrown for 1,095 yards with 14 touchdowns and three intercepti­ons this season.
BRYAN TERRY/THE OKLAHOMAN Texas quarterbac­k Casey Thompson (11) has thrown for 1,095 yards with 14 touchdowns and three intercepti­ons this season.

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