Better late than never is how Carder Key sees it.
The Oklahoma prep linebacker gave his verbal commitment to the Montana football team this week after a year of conversations with the Grizzly coaching staff finally resulted in a scholarship offer. That despite Key having already committed to fellow FCS power Stephen F. Austin.
"But Montana has been my favorite, my front-runner since I started the recruiting process," explained Key, who called the offer something he couldn't turn down. "Once they offered, I had to pull the trigger."
Key becomes the 10th member of Montana's recruiting class of 2017 with his commitment late Wednesday night. The 6-foot-2, 220-pound linebacker will come to Missoula from Broken Arrow, Oklahoma and its eponymous high school, the second player the Griz have plucked from the school's ranks in two recruiting classes.
In fact Montana true freshman receiver Samuel Akem had a good deal to do with swaying Key's decision. After Key visited Montana last weekend, took in a Griz win over Mississippi Valley State and received his scholarship offer, Key turned to his old teammate for advice.
"He's just in love with the school," said Key, replaying his conversation with Akem. "He said, 'Man if you've got an opportunity to come up here I promise you you'll love it. If I could do it 10 times over I'd still come to Montana.'"
Key's addition would give the Griz three Oklahoma natives in all as Montana appears to be extending its natural recruiting base since head coach Bob Stitt's hire two years ago. The Griz signed offensive lineman Brandon Scott (Owasso, Oklahoma) last year as well.
The Montana media guide, which includes a list of Griz lettermen dating back to 1897, shows no others from the Sooner state in the program's history. Nose guard Eric Roepke of Tulsa, Oklahoma, appeared for one year on the 1982 roster but apparently never lettered.
The easy explanation for Montana's expansion is found in defensive coordinator Jason Semore. He spent two years on the Oklahoma State coaching staff as a defensive assistant in 2012-13.
David Alexander, Key's head coach at Broken Arrow High, raved about the recruiting relationship Semore has built there.
"He's up front and honest with 'em," Alexander said. "As a head coach of a high school team that's all you can really ask for. These guys have done a great job with that. Kids want to go play for somebody they know they can count on."
Broken Arrow High has swollen to the largest school in Oklahoma. With an enrollment of just under 5,000 based, BAHS is tops in the state's Class 6A-Division I of football.
And there Key has been one of the top players.
He broke into the Tigers' starting lineup as a freshman at fullback during the team's playoff run and has since transitioned into Broken Arrow's every-down middle linebacker. Alexander called Key one of the smartest players he's ever been around and highlighted the physical nature of his play.
"His best asset is his physicality," Alexander said. "He wouldn't be afraid of a grizzly bear. He's not afraid of anything and that's maybe No. 1 or 2 on your wishlist for a Mike linebacker."
Key parlayed his strength and playing style into a two-star recruiting rating via scout.com's metrics. He's been a tackling machine at Broken Arrow and Alexander said the linebacker is approaching the school's career record mark.
Key said talks with his Griz recruiters and Semore indicate Montana will continue to use him as an inside linebacker, either at the middle or on the weak side pending formation.
"The thing I like about it is they use their D-linemen to try and keep the linebackers clean and the linebackers run around and make plays," Key explained. "Coach Semore is way ahead of everybody else in college football in what he's doing there. It really prepares you for the next level if you want to do that."
There's a good chance more Oklahomans are in the Grizzlies' future, perhaps from the same Key family. Montana is also recruiting Carder's older brother, Coleman. The 2014 Broken Arrow graduate, a 6-5 quarterback who weighs 240 pounds, spent his first two years at Colorado State. After returning to Oklahoma State for a semester this past spring, the elder Key is now playing junior college ball at Coffeyville (Kansas) Community College as a redshirt sophomore.