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April 21, 2010MORE NFL Draft: Mock Draft: Pick 1-17 | Mock Draft: Picks 17-32 | Trade up, stay put, or move down?
Tom Bergeron is the Senior Editor for RivalsHigh.com. Send ideas, questions or comments to TBergero@Yahoo-Inc.com and follow on Twitter.
The NFL Draft's first foray into prime time may seem like little more than a celebration of Oklahoma college football by the time the first round is complete Thursday night.
But within the state of Oklahoma - where college football has been the state sport for generations - Thursday night also will be about long overdue recognition of something else: Oklahoma high school football.
Three of those first-round picks, including Bradford, played their high school ball in the state. A fourth home-grown player could go late in the second round.
Rivals.com national football recruiting editor Jeremy Crabtree isn't surprised.
"Oklahoma is always one of those under-appreciated states nationally, but people that watch high school football in the area and recruit the territory know it can be a gold mine for talent," he said. "There's always been some amazing talent to come from the area, but there has been a definite upswing in the amount of major national level recruits the past 10 years."
Kirk Fridrich, a longtime coach in the state who has led powerful Union High in Tulsa to state titles the past two seasons, said draft day will be special for everyone who plays in the state.
"It is fun for the kids in Oklahoma today," he said. "For the kids that are training hard and have dreams of playing in the NFL, they have that tangible evidence that they can achieve their dreams."
Tangible evidence that their top players can play against the best from other states.
"Kids are always out chasing their neighbors and for us that has been Texas," Fridrich said. "We have been competing with the perception of Texas football for a while and we think we are at a place now to compete."
The high school class of 2006 sure can.
It was so good, Bradford wasn't even the top-rated prospect by Rivals.com. In fact, he was fourth.
The No. 1 player was defensive lineman Gerald McCoy of Southeast High in Oklahoma City. McCoy, who went to Oklahoma, is ranked as the second-best defensive lineman in the draft and could go as high as No. 2 but figures to drop no lower than No. 5.
The No. 2 prospect was tight end Jermaine Gresham of Ardmore High School, who also went to Oklahoma. He's ranked as the top tight end in the draft and most mock boards have him going in the middle of the first round.
Bradford of Putnam City North in Oklahoma City appears to be a lock to be the No. 1 pick overall.
Then there's Dominique Franks of Union, who also played for the Sooners. He was ranked as the No. 6 player in the state four years ago, now he's projected as a late-second or early third-round pick.
Fridrich, who took over at Union in 2007, did not coach Franks but he understands his impact on the program.
"Everyone at Union is excited for Dominique Franks," Fridrich said. "It is exciting for all of our kids to see a Union Redskin drafted into the NFL. They can see what can be done with hard work."
The state's talent pool doesn't end with the Class of 2006, which only had two players in the Rivals 250 rankings. More top players are coming.
This year's class features five kids in the Rivals 250 to Watch. Defensive tackle Calvin Barnett of Tulsa (Okla.) Booker T. Washington is the top-rated recruit; he will attend Arkansas. Then there's Austin Heywood, an Oklahoma commit from Moore (Okla.) Southmoore, and DeMarco Cobbs of Tulsa (Okla.) Central, who is headed to Texas. In all, 19 players from the class are headed to BCS schools.
This year's junior class may be even better with cornerback Josh Turner of Oklahoma City (Okla.) Millwood and quarterback Kendal Thompson of Moore (Okla.) Southmoore at the top of the list. Turner has offers from all the big schools; Oklahoma, Texas and Miami (Fla.) are the favorites right now. Thompson has committed to Oklahoma.
"The 2011 group definitely has a chance to rival the class that had Gerald McCoy and Jermaine Gresham in it," Crabtree said. "Josh Turner and Kendal Thompson are already household names, but when you dig deeper you find this class isn't just two or three names. There are probably 15 Big 12 or upper-level BCS level kids in the state and it wouldn't shock me to see 50-plus guys end up on the next level."
But it doesn't end there. The Class of 2012 features running back Barry Sanders of Oklahoma City (Okla.) Heritage Hall.
"He's more than just a good player with a familiar name," Crabtree said. "(He) has the potential to be one of the nation's top five running backs in the 2012 class. His freshman film was better than many senior prospects tape, and he's already built like a Division I player. He has moves that will remind a lot of people of some of the stuff his father used to pull."
And while Oklahoma high school talent figures to gain recognition this week, it has long had players in the spotlight.
Bradford, in fact, would be the third player picked first overall in the draft. The first two are now in the Pro Football Hall of Fame.
Legendary defensive lineman Lee Roy Selmon of Eufaula, Oklahoma, went first overall by the Tampa Bay Bucs in 1976 following a stellar career at Oklahoma.
Quarterback Troy Aikman was the first overall pick of the 1989 draft by the Dallas Cowboys after a collegiate career that saw him start at Oklahoma but finish at UCLA.
Such history is no secret to football fans in the state.
"We have played good football in Oklahoma for a long time," Fridrich said.
Crabtree thinks it will only get better.
"Schools are investing money into their programs, building new facilities, paying quality coaches what they're really worth and spending time on working with local youth programs," he said. "The schools and cities see the success that comes from their neighbors to the South in Texas, and that's definitely rubbed off in Oklahoma.
"With those resources being pumped in, the talent that was already there now has even more resources to succeed."
-- RivalsHigh Senior Analyst Dallas Jackson contributed to this report.