DALLAS — Growing up in Plano, Texas, Chris Engles couldn’t help but be a Texas Longhorn fan. All of his friends bled the burnt orange and decorated their trapper keepers with Longhorn stickers while both his parents are alumni.
Engles was destined to move to Austin and join the Texas family.
However, Engles’ plans took a different path after attending the annual Red River Rivalry game seven years ago. Even though the Sooners lost 45-12, he had an epiphany of sorts.
“As so many of my family attended UT, I had no choice but fall into being a UT fan,” Engles said. “I didn’t know any better. That is until my junior year of high school, I knew that at that point I was ready to make the jump and no longer be a Texas Fan. It was that Oklahoma-Texas game in 2005 that changed my loyalty and allegiance forever. It was then that I began thinking on my own about colleges and sports and not listening to the rest of my family.”
Engles went on to become one of the thousands of Texans who have left their Texas roots to make a new home in Norman as students of the University of Oklahoma. While the Red River Rivalry is known for its gridiron battles, the one that takes places between the schools’ recruiting departments is just as fierce.
“Obviously, our first mission is to serve Oklahoma,” said Matt Hamilton, Vice President for Enrollment and Student Financial Services. “There are so many family and students in Texas, that Texas is absolutely a very important and fertile recruiting ground for us. We are delighted to come down here.”
There are currently 27,292 students enrolled at Oklahoma’s campus in Norman. While more than 14,000 are from Oklahoma, 4,507 of the school’s 7,600 out of state students hail from Texas. In fact, 18 percent of this year’s freshman class comes from the Dallas-Metroplex, according to Hamilton.
The numbers are not the same at UT.
“I personally think that Texas does have some interest in attracting kids from Oklahoma,” Engles said. “However, with Texas having the top 10 percent rule in effect for Texas High schools, they are kind of limited with how many people they can accept outside of this rule, due to the overwhelming amount of people that are in the top 10 percent that apply there.”
Yet, Thomas Hanks was one Texan who never had any interest in going to UT. He grew up in Houston and graduated from Langham Creek High in 2005. He could tell right away there was a difference in the schools and what they offered.
“I wanted a big school with a diverse climate and well developed business school,” Hanks said. “They offer a lot of opportunities for their students, President (David) Boren really impresses parents with the speeches he gives at recruiting events as well as Sooner Saturday. The University of Oklahoma also offers a chance for Texas students to go off to college without being more than an hour flight from home.Texas has no interest in Oklahoma kids. Not in the slightest, unless they are athletes.”
Mathew Carpenter applied to both Oklahoma and Texas while attending Central Catholic High School in San Antonio and visited both institutions before making his decision to become a Sooner.
"I visited OU in the fall of 2005 on Sooner Saturday, the University's big recruiting weekend that takes place on an away football weekend," Carpenter said. "Seeing the campus, something clicked inside my head. As my mom said, "You could just tell that it felt right". I filled out my application for OU within a week of being on campus. I also visited the University of Texas campus early in the spring of 2006. Walking through their downtown campus, it struck me then hat Texas didn't have that "campus feel" to it that OU did. When I was on the OU campus, it fit my mold of what a college campus should feel like. I knew then that OU was where I was going to be."
For the past 10 years, Hamilton said Oklahoma has held a special dinner in Dallas the Thursday before the OU-Texas game. Prospective college students targeted by the university are invited. This year the ballroom at the Omni Mandale Hotel was filled with 700-800 high school kids and parents out of Texas as they listened to Boren speak about the benefits of attending Oklahoma.
It’s just one of the many things the school does to attract students in Texas.
“We kind of use that extra bit of publicity to have a recruitment dinner that is academically based,” Hamilton said. “It was a fantastic event.”
Hamilton said the event had such an impact, that 10 to 12 of the high school kids in attendance tweeted that they were going to go to OU because of what they heard at the dinner.
"I was never recruited by Texas, and I think it was because I was not in the top 5 percent of my class," Denton native Lauren Burkholder said. "OU offers students a chance to grow as adults and not be overwhelmed by the college experience. OU really does feel like a family, and that is something Texas cannot offer."
None of that will help decide which team will prevail today. However, the winner on the gridiron may boost recruiting for its school next year.
“We’ve never tracked data that shows whether OU will have a larger enrollment from Texas in years after OU wins the Red River Rivalry game,” Hamilton said. “But it sure feels better.”
Michael KinneyFollow me @firstname.lastname@example.org