If there was one aspect of the recruiting process that Spencer Sanders truly enjoyed, it was witnessing firsthand the anticipation that Oklahoma State fans had of him one day being their quarterback.
Whether it was rabid banter on social media or cheering from the stands in person, Cowboy fans seemingly pledged their allegiance to the Ryan standout from the second he verbally committed in October 2016. Many have gone so far as to predict he will start as a freshman.
No one knows that for sure, but the obvious first step was to make his commitment official. That happened Wednesday morning when Sanders signed his national letter of intent.
"I'm not even there yet and they believe in me," Sanders said. "That's going to give me confidence going on that field. It's pretty funny — especially if someone says something bad about me, [fans] start arguing with them."
Sanders was joined Wednesday by cornerback Jordan Rucker, who made his short commitment to Purdue official. Rucker, who had offers from Texas Tech, Washington State and Northwestern to name a few, committed to the Boilermakers less than a month ago but stayed quiet about it so he could focus on the Class 5A playoffs.
This year marks the first time high school football players can sign a binding national letter of intent in December. The regular signing period for football will begin Feb. 7.
"It's a big relief to get this off my shoulders now," Rucker said. "Without Ryan, I wouldn't be here. It's a blessing to be able to sign today."
Ryan coach Dave Henigan didn't hold back in saying Sanders and Rucker will be sorely missed. Both players were crucial pieces in the Raiders' latest run of success, which included a 41-3 record over the last three seasons and back-to-back trips to the 5A Division I state semifinals.
"Those guys have been great — Jordan for two years and Spencer for the last four," Henigan said. "We're obviously going to miss those guys, but we're happy for what the future holds for them.
"One chapter closes and another one opens."
End of an era
While Sanders' signing is the beginning of a new era at Oklahoma State, it is the end of another at Ryan. Sanders has been Ryan's quarterback since his freshman year and unquestionably has been the face of the program.
Despite two season-ending knee injuries — one as a freshman and the other as a junior — Sanders sports a 46-6 record in 52 career starts. Three of those losses came during his freshman year.
He threw for 3,845 yards in 2017 while rushing for 1,380 yards. He accounted for 70 touchdowns. His recent honors include being named The Associated Press' Class 5A offensive player of the year Wednesday. He was named the Gatorade Texas Player of the Year last week.
For his career, Sanders totaled just more than 14,000 total yards and 172 touchdowns. He had offers from every Power Five conference, including programs like TCU, Texas A&M, Mississippi and Penn State.
Sanders was the first commitment for OSU's 2018 class — and for good reason. With Mason Rudolph graduating, the Cowboys will have a gaping hole at quarterback for someone to fill.
"I'm proud of myself and I'm very happy. I just don't like showing it. I'm more happy that I made it for my mom and dad," Sanders said. "I just know I have to come ready. If I want to start as a freshman, I have to learn fast and develop fast. I'm ready to roll — as always."
A family legacy
Rucker comes from a solid football background. His father, Kevin Rucker Sr., played at Wichita State and had a short NFL stint with the Houston Oilers. Kevin Rucker Jr., Jordan's older brother, also played college football.
The chance to follow that family legacy means a lot, Jordan said.
"I have an opportunity to play early, so it's a great opportunity to sign early and get ready," Rucker said. "It runs in the family and we're all excited."
Rucker was one of just three starters who returned for Ryan's defense this year. He's versatile enough to play cornerback or safety and gained a lot of interest from recruiters in a short period of time. His Northwestern offer came just one day before he signed with Purdue.
In 15 games this season, Rucker tallied 40 tackles, three for loss, with seven pass breakups.
"Purdue is in the Big Ten, which is a great conference. And it's a program that's on the rise," Henigan said. "It's a good time for Jordan to join that program and it's a chance to play early. We're happy for him."
STEVE GAMEL can be reached at 940-566-6869 and via Twitter at @NewspaperSteve.