In 2003 one of the nation's top high school recruits pretzeled his large frame into an airplane seat and embarked on his official recruiting visit to Oklahoma State. Though several big-time schools were pursuing him intensely, the recruit was intrigued by the Cowboys. The previous year they had appeared in the Houston Bowl -- their first postseason game in five seasons and just their second in 14 years -- and there was an unmistakable sense of momentum surrounding the program.
When the recruit arrived in Stillwater he received an enthusiastic greeting from two members of Orange Pride, a group made up of female undergrads that is described on the university website as an "organization that donates their time and efforts to assist with Recruiting for Oklahoma State and the Football Program." The women explained that they would be taking him to dinner, the recruit recalls, but first they had a stop to make. A short time later he was having sex with both of them. "Rock 'n' rolling, I had the best of the best -- the aces," says the recruit, who spoke to SI on the record but is not being named to protect the identities of the two women.
Hostess programs have been part of college football since the 1960s. Friendly, often attractive students greet recruits, usher them and their parents around campus and promote the virtues of the school. There have long been suspicions about sexual interactions. In 2004 public scandals at Colorado and other schools revealed that sex had been arranged for visiting prospects. Although no formal campus organization was implicated in those cases, several colleges shuttered their hostess programs or rechristened them with less suggestive names. That year the NCAA passed legislation that, in part, prohibited "the use of alcohol, drugs, sex and gambling in recruiting."
Oklahoma State not only kept Orange Pride intact, but by 2004, multiple sources told SI, the group also became a key contributor to the program's rise. Membership in the organization more than tripled; there was a greater emphasis on attracting prettier and more outgoing women; and more than a dozen Cowboys who played from 2001 to '11 told SI that a small number of Orange Pride members had sexual relations with them or with other prospects during recruiting visits. According to the former hostesses who spoke to SI, the vast majority did not have sex with recruits. But for those who did, it proved to be an effective inducement.
"There's no other way a female can convince you to come play football at a school besides [sex]," says Artrell Woods, a Cowboys wide receiver from 2006 to '08, who says he did not have sex with an Orange Pride member on his recruiting visit but was aware of others who did. "The idea was to get [recruits] to think that if they came [to Oklahoma State], it was gonna be like that all the time, with ... girls wanting to have sex with you."
Chantal Drumgole (née Sanders) an Orange Pride member during the 2003-04 academic year says there was a group within the group "and I am not that kind of girl, a groupie that is just about the football players and trying to sleep with the football players." A former Orange Pride hostess from the same year who asked not to be named recalls, "People did cross the line. That's why I was only in the program for one year. ... It was very disturbing. When I found out, that's why I quit."
None of the more than 30 former players or the 14 former Orange Pride members who spoke to SI about the group had direct knowledge of a coach or athletic department staff member instructing a hostess to have sex with a recruit. But a former Orange Pride adviser and two former members of the football staff say that coaches sometimes decided which hostesses to pair with which recruits. Also, one former football staff member says that he and at least one other colleague were aware that certain Orange Pride members were having sex with visiting prospects. What's more, Oklahoma State football personnel played a central role in vetting Orange Pride candidates, with Les Miles, who coached the team from 2001 to '04, and current coach Mike Gundy interviewing some applicants -- a practice that does not occur at the three other Big 12 schools that confirmed to SI they had hostess programs.
Asked about his involvement in Orange Pride, Miles responded by email. "The volunteers' role in our program was important and I wanted to stress how seriously we took their duties and responsibilities and the manner in which we expected those students to conduct themselves if they were selected for Orange Pride." As for the role of sex in recruiting, Miles wrote, "I am not aware of this ever happening and am quite sure that no staff member was aware of recruits sleeping with this group of students or any other students."
Gundy declined to comment on Orange Pride, and university officials accused SI of sensationalizing a small number of alleged sexual encounters between recruits and hostesses. Those officials also say that during Gundy's tenure the program pulled a scholarship offer to a top recruit after an Orange Pride member accused him of unwanted sexual advances. (That alleged incident was never brought to the attention of law enforcement, school officials say.) Oklahoma State, however, did not deny that Orange Pride has played a prominent role in recruiting under Miles and Gundy. Athletic director Mike Holder says a review of the organization might be warranted in the wake of SI's findings.
Former players say that on some occasions the role of sex in recruiting was less than subtle. Chris Wright, a defensive back, says that in early 2001, shortly after Miles and his staff took over, he hosted a recruit. Wright took him to a Stillwater club and to a couple of house parties. When the recruit left campus after the weekend, Wright says he met with Joe DeForest, then the special teams coach, to review the visit. "You didn't do your job," Wright recalls DeForest saying.
Wright says he was confused and asked DeForest to explain. According to Wright, the assistant coach said that when he had asked the recruit if he had sex the night before, the recruit responded that he had not. "He was pissed I didn't get [the recruit] laid," Wright says of DeForest. "He told me I would never host a recruit again."
In an email, DeForest, who remained on the staff through the 2011 season and is now the associate head coach and special teams coordinator at West Virginia, told SI, "I do not recall that conversation ever occurred."
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