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June 17, 2004A very unlikely pair of close friends will draw college recruiters from most every major college program in the country to Western Tennessee this football season. One of them, pretty much anyone, who knows anything about recruiting, has heard about for quite a while.
Memphis (Tenn.) Briarcrest Christian offensive lineman Michael Oher is ranked by Rivals.com as the nation's No. 25 player regardless of position.
Many in the Memphis area consider Oher to be the best offensive lineman out of the Volunteer State in over a decade. What many people may not know, however, is that Oher has a teammate, who has already picked up impressive scholarship offers. Briarcrest's 6-foot-3, 175-pound kicker Justin Sparks and big Michael Oher, though an unlikely pair, are the closest of friends.
"Justin and I are tight, we are very good friends," Oher said. "We hang out a lot together. We go places together and I come over to his house a lot. He is a guy that I respect a lot and I would do anything for him."
Sparks feels much the same way about his highly touted teammate.
"Mike and I hang out a lot," Sparks said. "He is a great guy and probably the best football player I have ever seen. We are planning on taking a lot of our recruiting trips together when we start doing that."
So far Sparks has picked up several impressive scholarship offers and is considered to be one of the top kickers and punters in the country. However, it is field goal kicking that has earned him the offers.
"I have offers from Oklahoma State, Ole Miss and N.C. State," Sparks said. "I've been hearing a lot from LSU, Memphis and Mississippi State as well. I have already been to camps at LSU and Mississippi State, and I will be going to one at Tennessee."
Not only is Oher one of the top players in the country, he has also been one of the most difficult to track down for an interview, but in an exclusive Rivals.com interview Oher named his top six schools.
"I have a top six schools right now," Oher said. "It could change, but the six that I'm really looking at Oklahoma, Tennessee, LSU, N.C. State, Florida State and Ole Miss. All six of those schools are recruiting me very hard and I can't say one of them is recruiting harder than the others. I also can't say that I have a leader right now."
The 6-foot-5, 330-pound mammoth Oher has had a busy summer right along with his teammate and good friend.
"I have already been to camp at Ole Miss this summer," Oher said. "The Ole Miss camp went really well. All of the coaches seemed like they were real good people. They take good care of their players there, all the players loved it there. Everyone involved with the program seemed like they were really nice and genuine."
LSU and Oklahoma are also on the schedule this summer.
"I go to LSU's camp this weekend, and I am real excited about that one," Oher said. "I am also going to Oklahoma for a FCA camp this summer. Also sometime over the summer I am planning to go to N.C. State and Tennessee for camps and to look at the school."
Sparks earned all-state honors as a junior. He converted 33 of 34 extra points and 10 of 13 field goals, including 100 percent inside of 50 yards and also averaged 41.7 yards per punt.
"Right now my favorites are Ole Miss, N.C. State, Oklahoma State, LSU and Mississippi State," Sparks said. "I would have to say that Ole Miss and N.C. State are probably my top two right now. I'm not sure on when I will decide, but my coach thinks that I should go ahead and commit early. It is something that I'm thinking about."
There has been a rumor of late that has been seen on a few message boards stating that Michael Oher would be academically ineligible and would likely not be able to play his senior season. While there was a possibility of Oher not seeing the field as a senior at one time, he is taking care of business to make sure that doesn't happen.
"I didn't fail a class or a test or anything like that," Oher said. "What happened is the school that I transferred from last year did not give me all of my credits on my transcript. It was all over a driver's ed class. So I am taking driver's ed this summer to get all my credits so that I can play my senior season. It really isn't a big deal."
When you're as hot of a commodity as Oher has become among college coaches you spend a lot of time on the phone with recruiters.
"Coach Searels (LSU offensive line coach) from LSU seems like a real good guy," Oher said. "I called coach Fulmer at Tennessee yesterday just to talk to him. He called me in May and told me I could call him anytime. I haven't talked to him as much as some of the other coaches so I wanted to call and get to know him a little bit better."
The two are good friends and spend a lot of time together, but do they plan to take their friendship to the same school?
"Justin and I have talked about that a lot actually," Oher said. "I guess it depends on how everything works out and what options are available to both of us in the end. I know that we have talked about going to the same school and being roommates, that is something that we would both like."