ARLINGTON — For Friday’s AT&T Cotton Bowl Classic, players for No. 9 Missouri and No. 13 Oklahoma State are allotted six tickets for family and friends.
For a few of those players, six tickets might not cut it.
Eight Denton-area players who played high school football with or against each other return to North Texas for Friday’s prestigious game in Arlington that will kick off at 7 p.m.
Graduates of Ryan, Guyer and Lake Dallas are scattered throughout Missouri’s and Oklahoma State’s rosters. Memories of old district rivalries and previous contests at AT&T Stadium are still fresh in the minds of those players.
“It’s really cool to always come back to a place that you got to play your high school games in, especially a place like this,” OSU redshirt sophomore quarterback J.W. Walsh said. “It’s exciting to be in, and all the lights that come with this place.
“It’s the Cotton Bowl, so it’s something you grow up watching and dreaming to play in. We’re finally here, and it’s surreal.”
Walsh, junior wide receiver Josh Stewart, redshirt sophomore defensive end Jimmy Bean and redshirt freshman linebacker Dominic Ramacher are current Cowboys who played at Guyer.
Missouri redshirt junior receiver Bud Sasser and redshirt freshman offensive lineman Jordan Williams played at Ryan.
The highest-profile local player in Friday’s game is Missouri senior starting quarterback James Franklin, a former Lake Dallas standout. Fellow Falcons alumnus Daniel Cooley is a walk-on junior defensive tackle at Oklahoma State.
As the players milled around AT&T Stadium during Monday’s media day event, they remembered high school battles against each other.
Sasser, with a half-eaten apple in his right hand, recalled the time his Raiders faced Walsh and Guyer in the 2009 Class 4A Division I Region I final at C.H. Collins Athletic Complex. He remembered how cold that game was, the fans that came out for the contest and Guyer’s dramatic victory.
Walsh and Stewart played in the 2010 Class 5A Division II state final, when the Wildcats lost to Cibolo Steele. Sasser was already at Missouri when Ryan lost the 4A Division I title game to Lake Travis. Both contests were played in Arlington.
Sasser said he’s looking forward to playing at AT&T Stadium for the first time and he enjoys being so close to Denton.
“I can get some family up to the game,” Sasser said. “If I want to go home and see them, I can just go home real quick and I can come right on back.”
Stewart laughed when he recalled the time he intercepted Franklin in Guyer’s District 5-4A win. Stewart was a defensive back at Guyer, and he got a chance to catch up with Sasser this week.
“We had a little rivalry going in high school,” Stewart said. “I was a cornerback and he was a receiver. We’d go at it, and that was always the matchup that people wanted to see. That was exciting. Now to be playing again against him and James, it’s very cool.”
Five former Ryan players have played at Missouri, including Brian Smith, who is tied for the Big 12 career sacks record.
The Guyer alumni on Oklahoma State’s roster are the only four Wildcats who have played for the Cowboys.
“Those guys have been good players, and they’re all great kids,” OSU coach Mike Gundy said. “Texas has the luxury of the athletic hours and the full-time coaches, so you bring them [the players] in and they understand the accountability and discipline and structure, and they have a team concept.”
Missouri coach Gary Pinkel echoed those sentiments and said he chose to place an emphasis on recruiting players from Texas, the state responsible for his standout quarterback.
“It is a high-populated area with great high school football, so we chose to put a lot of coaches down here and recruit at a high level in Texas,” Pinkel said.
The Tigers’ District 5-4A connection played a big role in the team’s Southeastern Conference road opener against Georgia, which was ranked seventh at the time.
After Franklin left the game with a shoulder injury, Sasser threw a 40-yard touchdown pass on a trick play to seal the Tigers’ first road win over a top-10 team since 1981.
Now Franklin, Sasser, Stewart and the rest of their old rivals will play in one of the most revered bowl games.
“It’s really cool,” Franklin said. “It brings us back to when we played in high school, giving each other a hard time. We’re just excited to come out here and get to play with each other for some, and against each other for others.”
BEN BABY can be reached at 940-566-6869 and via Twitter at @Ben_Baby.