OSU football: Quarterback recruit Shane Illingworth is tracing his family roots back to Oklahoma
STILLWATER — Justin Bales pulled his car out of a parking lot on the Oklahoma State campus last April with his nephew in the passenger seat.
They had just toured the OSU campus and football facilities, and were leaving for their next stop at the University of Arkansas when Bales glanced over at his nephew, Norco, California, star quarterback Shane Illingworth.
“Shane looked at me with these eyes,” Bales said, pausing as he searched for words to describe Illingworth’s emotions. “Like he was in shock.”
Finally, Illingworth spoke.
“‘I love this place,” he said in a tone that told Bales his nephew’s recruitment was finished.
They continued to Arkansas and kept looking into other potential programs, but soon, Illingworth had an OSU offer, and committed a few days later.
He will officially become a Cowboy on Wednesday morning when the National Letter of Intent signing period opens for Division I football players. Then Illingworth will begin the enrollment process to start school in January.
The 6-foot-6, 235-pound Illingworth is a four-star prospect and the top-rated recruit in OSU’s signing class. He threw for 3,081 yards and 40 touchdowns with two interceptions, leading Norco to an 8-3 season.
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Though he was born and raised in Southern California, Illingworth has Oklahoma roots that trace back to Perry, Lindsay, and now, Mustang, where Bales — the brother of Illingworth’s mom, Tiffany — lives with his wife and two young sons.
And though Illingworth has never lived in the state, his personality has always been more Okie than SoCal.
“We started bringing Shane out here when he was still in diapers, all the way up to now as a teenager,” said Bales, a middle school teacher and coach in Mustang. “He likes to come out here and see family. He likes the calmness out here. I think that suits him.
“He just likes the genuine people here. He has a really good heart, and he sees that in the people here.”
Illingworth’s great-grandfather owned a pony farm in Perry. Larry Bales, Illingworth’s grandfather, played basketball at Lindsay High School.
Larry was the one who took the family west, moving to Tustin, California.
Justin Bales — much like Illingworth now — was drawn more to the open spaces and laid-back life of Oklahoma, so at age 18, he moved to Norman to attend college at Oklahoma.
But that’s hardly the end of Illingworth’s extended family connections in the state.
“My grandma had, I think, eight siblings, and my grandpa had a couple brothers, and their families all branched out,” Illingworth said
Illingworth can, however, track his fascination with Oklahoma State football back to something very specific.
“Zac Robinson had a two-bar facemask with a visor,” Illingworth said of the Cowboy quarterback from 2006-09. “He was the first quarterback I saw wear the two-bar and a visor, and he pulled it off pretty good. I thought it was cool, so I started doing wearing it.”
And he started paying close attention to the Cowboys as well.
As he got closer to recruitment, he spoke to people in his family, including uncle Justin.
“There’s two schools that I think you would do very well in,” Justin told his nephew. “That’s Mike Leach’s offense at Washington State, and the other one, Shane, you’re a Mason Rudolph clone.”
Big body, strong arm, similar movements in the pocket. It’s not a reach to compare the two.
Former OSU offensive coordinator Mike Yurcich — who coached Rudolph — must’ve seen some similarities, too, and began recruiting Illingworth last year. But in the change to Sean Gleeson in January, Illingworth had stopped hearing from OSU.
He worried the new coach wasn’t interested. But finally, Gleeson called.
Immediately after they spoke, Illingworth called Justin to let him know that his OSU plans were back on track.
“Shane was impressed,” Justin said. “With Shane, just shoot him straight, and Gleeson really cemented that. They really hit it off, and that was all it took.”