National Signing Day arrives for OU football commit Haywood 

While the overall recruiting experience can be a mixed bag for many young players hoping to impress coaches enough to earn a college football scholarship, occasionally, everything falls perfectly into place.

Such is the case with Austin Haywood, a tight end prospect from Southmoore High School.

As National Signing Day approached and the pressures of finalizing what amounted to a life-changing decision intensified, Haywood calmly went about his daily routine as if his childhood dream was not dangling at his fingertips.

He had announced his intention of attending the University of Oklahoma back in November, and although his cell phone never seemed to stop ringing, his message remained the same: "Thanks, but no thanks. I'll be playing for the Sooners next season."

The talented, 6-foot-4, 245-pounder saw his recruiting stock shoot through the roof over the last few months, as his senior season unfolded with the SaberCats, and it became more and more apparent he was a major presence whenever he stepped onto the field. Not only did Haywood haul in 11 touchdown passes this past fall, but he showed his diversity by running for five scores and throwing for another.

"The upside for Austin is tremendous," said Southmoore coach Chris Jensen. "Just looking at the combination of his size, speed and agility, he's one of the best athletes I've ever coached, and really, he's just begun to tap into all of the things he can do on a football field."

When Haywood visited Norman in early November, he was the 15thranked player in the state " not yet the hot commodity he would become. But coach Bob Stoops' program saw his potential and offered him a scholarship, which he accepted.

"I've followed OU football as long as I can remember. I grew up watching the Sooners, so that's always been kind of a dream of mine to play there," said Haywood, the No. 7-ranked tight end prospect in the country.

Although OU is where his heart belongs, the truth is Oklahoma State was first to recognize his talents and seemingly had the inside track on getting an early verbal commitment from him. Haywood admittedly liked what he saw in the Cowboys program, but decided his best opportunities were with the Sooners.

"Just looking at (OU's) tight end situation right now, I felt like I have a chance to go in and potentially have an opportunity to play early if I work hard," Haywood said. "Plus, if you look at the history of how their receivers have gone on to have success in the (NFL), that's something I looked at, too."

His talents have been compared to those of All-America tight end Jermaine Gresham, and he would like nothing better than to enjoy the success his OU predecessor had while setting several school records during the 2007-08 seasons.

But Haywood knows he still has a lot of work ahead if he expects to be considered a Gresham-type player at the college level.

"It's nice to hear that sort of stuff because Gresham is such a great player, but there's a big difference between high school and college football, and I realize I've got to get stronger and work on becoming a better blocker," said Haywood, also considered one of the state's top prep basketball prospects. "I'm going to work hard in the off-season to do the things I need to do to make an impact as soon as possible."

As for the recruiting process, Haywood has been on cruise control since committing to the Sooners. Although he did consider Oklahoma State, and looked at other programs like Arizona, Syracuse and Louisville, he has never wavered on where he ultimately wants to play the college game. While the recruiting process can be an almost agonizing experience for some prospects, Haywood really never broke a sweat.

"The whole experience has been good for me. None of it bothered me, not even all the phone calls and stuff like that," he said. "I was pretty much focused on playing football and having a good senior year, and that's what I did."

Haywood, along with Southmoore teammate Julian Wilson, is expected to sign a National Letter of Intent with the Sooners today. "Jay C. Upchurch

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Jay C. Upchurch

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