By Bob Hertzel
For the Times West Virginian
It’s highly possible that sometime this year you are liable to walk by Oliver Luck’s Coliseum office and hear the West Virginia University athletic director singing away:
“The stars at night are big and bright,
Deep in the heart of Texas.”
Turns out, if this does occur, it is not as strange as it may seem, for Oliver Luck has designs on turning Texas into one of West Virginia’s key — if not prime — recruiting areas.
But even before we get into that, there is a piece of trivia that begs to be told concerning what could become a Mountaineers’ favorite state song outside of “Country Roads.”
“Deep in the Heart of Texas” was first recorded in 1942 by as non-Texas a Texan as you could find anywhere, Perry Como, from right up the road in Canonsburg, Pa., and it went to No. 1 in the country.
But even that is not the trivia that makes it fit with Oliver Luck and his plan to mine Texas. The flip side of that hit record — and for those of you not old enough to know what a flip side was, well, never mind — is as fitting a song as you will ever find to this topic:
“Ollie Ollie Out’s in Free.”
Honest, so really putting Ollie and “Deep in the Heart of Texas” together was thought of long before you read it here.
Now, let’s understand one thing. Oliver Luck is an intelligent, analytical type person, one who notes that a number of events have transpired to bring about this marriage between West Virginia football and Texas talent.
To begin with, Luck may have been born and raised in Ohio and played college football at WVU, but he went to the NFL in Houston and had made Houston his home since, save the time he spent with NFL Europe.
Add to that the decision to bring Texas into the Big East by including national powerhouse TCU followed by Luck’s decision to turn his football coaching over to Dana Holgorsen, who coached at Texas Tech and Houston and has strong Texas connections, and you have an inevitable tie.
Luck recently told the San Antonio Star-Telegram that one of the reasons used by athletic directors for the inclusion of TCU in the conference was that it would open up Texas for recruitment by the Big East.
But does it?
Certainly there is a lot of competition for players in Texas, what with the state alone having Texas, Texas A&M, Texas Tech, TCU, SMU, Houston, Baylor, Rice and any number of other mid-majors and smaller schools. What’s more, the Big East is getting a late start to go against all the Big 12 schools like Oklahoma and Oklahoma State, who regularly take players out of the state.
Is it really workable for WVU to go there and compete?
“I would argue that, yes, with limitations,” Luck replied. “I don’t see us getting eight or nine kids out of Texas. But if we could get two or three, it would be kind of like when we started in Florida. I think we can get two or three. There is a lot of talent there.”
You can’t argue with that. Texas’ population grew 20.6 percent from 2000 to 2010, to 25.1 million. By comparison, West Virginia grew just 2.5 percent, to 1.9 million. Two of the
Mountaineers’ biggest recruiting states — Ohio and Pennsylvania — had similar results. Ohio grew 1.6 percent to 11.5 million; Pennsylvania 3.4 percent to 12.7 million.
“I talk about demography,” Luck said. “We’re flat; Ohio is flat. I talk about the Rivals top 100, 75 percent of those kids come from the south. There’s been a shift. Pitt used make a living off Western Pennsylvania, as did Penn State, as did we. It’s not 1980 anymore.”
But it’s even more than numbers. Football is a way of life in Texas.
“I don’t want to be critical of Ohio, Pennsylvania or West Virginia, but it’s 12 months a year down there,” Luck said.
He saw that up close and personal with his son, Andrew, who is the best quarterback in college football as he returns for his senior year at Stanford.
“I know this from watching my kid go through high school football. A quarterback throws more passes in one summer with the 7 on 7 stuff than I did in eight years of playing junior high and high school ball in Ohio,” Luck said.
Luck believes we’ve already seen some of the fruits of recruiting Texas in freshman quarterback Paul Millard, who skipped his graduation ceremony at Flower Mound High to enroll early at WVU this spring and was impressive in spring drills.
“Here’s a kid who should be getting ready for his senior prom, and he’s looking as if he could step in here and play,” Luck said.
And that is as a young freshman who has 15 spring practices under his belt.
Millard will be joined in the fall by another Texan, running back Dustin Garrison from Pearland ... and the connection is growing.
Luck’s choice to coach his volleyball team was Jill Kramer, a former captain at TCU, and not to be forgotten is the fact that the best player Bob Huggins ever recruited was Kenyon Martin, a Cincinnati All-American from Dallas.
“It goes much further than signing up a few Texas kids because we all know there is great talent in the state,” Luck told the Star-Telegram. “It is sort of a fundamental shift in the way some of the eastern schools and some of the upper Midwest schools look at their programs. What do they have to do to remain competitive? You have to go where the talent is, and that’s not just players, but coaches as well.”
Email Bob Hertzel at firstname.lastname@example.org.