Tom Murphy is a reporter for the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette. A graduate of Louisiana Tech University, he is a member of the Football Writers Association of America, and voter for the Heisman Trophy and AP Top 25 football poll. Murphy was the 2017 Arkansas Sportswriter of the Year.
Oklahoma defender gave Pittman a late-night thrill
Union's Kyler Pearson (2) can't make the reception as Broken Arrow's Myles Slusher (9) and Corey Williams (4) defend during a game Friday, Nov. 15, 2019, in Broken Arrow, Okla.
FAYETTEVILLE — New University of Arkansas football Coach Sam Pittman got the call he was desperately wanting a little before midnight on the eve of the early signing day Dec. 17.
Myles Slusher, a safety from Broken Arrow, Okla., and an early enrollee, was calling to give him the head’s up on his signing day plan.
“He called me, and usually if they call you at 11:45, it’s not to tell you they’re going to go someplace else,” Pittman said on signing day to describe his elation at getting that commitment. “Last night when he told me, it was a great get for the university because he’s such a good kid, too. But we wanted him at Georgia. Obviously there was some really good teams on his list.”
Slusher, a 6-foot, 185-pounder, ranked as the No. 204 player on the ESPN 300 list, and as the No. 5 safety in the country by 247Sports.
Slusher At a Glance
HEIGHT/WEIGHT 6-0, 185 pounds
AGE 18 (Birthdate March 1, 2002)
HOMETOWN Broken Arrow, Okla.
HIGH SCHOOL Broken Arrow
NOTEWORTHY Ranked No. 204 on ESPN’s list of the top 300 recruits. … Rated as No. 2 recruit in Oklahoma by 247Sports and ESPN, and the No. 5 safety in the country by 247Sports. … Posted 68 tackles, 2 interceptions and 1 fumble recovery as a junior. … Had 26 tackles, 1 sack, 1 interception and 4 pass breakups as a senior. … Picked Arkansas over Nebraska, Oregon, Alabama, LSU, Ole Miss, Missouri, Texas A&M, Notre Dame and others.
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A longtime commitment to Oregon, Slusher had narrowed his finalists down to Oregon, Arkansas and Nebraska before choosing the Razorbacks. He had visited the UA campus with his parents Blanca and PJ Slusher the weekend prior to signing day and pledged to Pittman, who had been the head Hog for a little more than a week.
“I love Coach Pittman,” Slusher said from his home in eastern Oklahoma in April. “He played a big factor in me coming to Arkansas. He’s a stand-up person. He’s really the most authentic coach you probably could get.”
Slusher got the early start he planned for by enrolling at Arkansas in January, but his spring semester on campus ended early, along with everyone else’s, when the coronavirus pandemic forced universities to go to online instruction. The SEC’s decision to suspend on-field training came three days before the Razorbacks were to start spring drills.
“That did [sting],” Slusher said. “I was definitely ready for spring ball and looking forward to it. But it is what it is. Nothing we can do about it. I’m just focused on getting back to school and just grinding with my teammates.”
Slusher helped lead Broken Arrow to its first state championship as a junior in 2018, then became one of the gems in Pittman’s first class.
Broken Arrow Coach David Alexander calls Slusher an exceptional athlete.
“He did a couple of things in high school that were elite that you just don’t see defensive backs in high school do except the ones that can go play in the SEC or the Big 12,” Alexander said. “His change of direction was elite. He can go from backwards to forwards or from right to left at full speed and not lose a step. It just pops off the film when you watch his change of direction.”
The second thing Alexander noted was his physicality.
“He really enjoys attacking the run game and being down there at the line of scrimmage, which is something you’re going to have to have in the SEC,” Alexander said. “You play those teams who have those big running backs and you need safeties that are willing to stick their nose in and make the tackle. Myles did that from the first time I saw him as a sophomore, and he was really, really good in the run game.”
Slusher said he lives for being a run enforcer on the back end.
“I definitely take pride in it,” he said. “I’m going to bring physicality, and again, my teammates help put me in that position.”
Slusher earned acclaim when he intercepted a pass in the end zone with just a few seconds remaining to clinch Broken Arrow’s 28-20 win over Jenks in the state championship game.
“The interceptions are one thing, but just the excitement he brought to the defense was big,” Alexander said. “When he’d line up 12 yards deep and make a tackle for a 1-yard gain with a big hit, that’s what brought everybody else up on defense.”
Arkansas redshirt freshman safety Jalen Catalon helped host Slusher during his visit to campus.
“I really enjoyed it,” said Catalon, who played 7-on-7 summer ball with Slusher. “We kind of talked ball a little bit, talked about his future … and I’m glad it worked out. He came to Arkansas.
“Excited to have him on the team. We’re real cool with each other. He’s a good person, and he’s a baller, so Arkansas fans should be excited about him. He’s legit.”
Arkansas defensive coordinator Barry Odom, who is also Slusher’s position coach, was impressed with him in the nine or 10 weeks he was on campus for the spring semester.
“He’s developed his skill set,” Odom said. “He also is mature. He’s got a great competitive spirit. His football IQ, I’m really impressed with that. He had really great coaching at Broken Arrow High School. You can tell that.
“He’s very advanced in his thoughts and understanding of coverage. He’s done a tremendous job in the classroom academically, and that’s hard to do.”
Odom said Slusher also worked extremely hard in the weight room and put on good weight.
“He keeps it straightforward,” Slusher said of Odom. “I don’t think he sugarcoats anything. I think he’s one of the most authentic coaches I’ve met.
“He’s gonna make sure we’re on our A-game all the time. He makes sure we’re locked in and that we’re going to contribute any way we can. Everything goes through the safeties. He basically puts it in our minds that we have to bring our A-game so the whole defense can bring their A-game.”
Slusher said even though the on-campus portion of his first semester was cut short, it still was productive.
“It definitely got me adjusted to the college life, which is way different than high school both school-wise and athletics-wise,” he said. “It just helped me become more mature as a man. It helped me out overall.”
Alexander was not surprised the Razorbacks closed strong on Slusher even though they got in late in his recruitment. After committing to Oregon, Slusher had gone on official visits to Nebraska and UCLA, so the Razorbacks had a chance.
“So Sam, he’s well-known,” Alexander said. “He’s kind of magical when it comes to recruiting. They came in and met with mom and dad and got him over on a visit. Sam just flipped him.
“Now the draw to the SEC was a big deal for Myles. He’s a physical, physical football player. It’s one of his really strong suits. That’s going to translate well to that conference. Coaches in the conference know they have to have guys like Myles.”
Slusher has gotten on board with Pittman’s plan.
“I think we’re headed in the right direction as a program,” he said. “I think Arkansas fans should be excited for what we’ve got going forward.”
Pittman liked that Slusher decided to play college ball fairly close to home.
“I’m just glad his parents are going to be able to see him play, that he’s an hour and 45 minutes away from them,” he said.
Pittman launched into a love of recruiting message when he was asked about scoring on Slusher’s 11th-hour decision.
“It’s awesome, man,” Pittman said. “Recruiting is awesome. It’s competition, you know. It’s selling you, it’s selling the university, it’s selling the state of Arkansas.
“Those days are awesome, and when you win a battle for a guy like that, they’re incredible.”
Alexander believes the Razorbacks will wind up with an incredible enforcer in their secondary.
“When Myles gets in the weight room and starts to look like a man — I mean, he already plays like one — but when he gets in that weight room and gets his power clean up there to 275, up there close to 300, he’s going to bring a train wreck down to the line of scrimmage.”
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