Youth emergence highlights early fall camp

NORMAN, Okla. — Veterans are at a premium in the Big 12, but so, too, are the next crop of players for the future.

And the Sooners are loaded on that account.

In fact, many of those have already stepped up so far throughout the first week of fall camp.

While not an all-inclusive list, several guys have impressed one person or another on the team:

1. Trey Metoyer--Of course, he's had time to learn the system some by going through a whole semester of spring ball, but he's also picked up the pace right where he left off. Ask anyone with this Sooner team and they'll tell you this guy is really poised to make a big impact. Could he lead the team in receiving? Running back Brennan Clay said he's looked so good so far he wouldn't even rule out Metoyer having more yards than Kenny Stills and pacing the team because of that. That's how big time he's going to be.

Said Clay: "I would say he definitely has [gotten better since spring], and he's taken that leadership role behind Kenny. And he's really trying to motivate the fellas and he's doing his job. He's blocking hard. He's playing to the whistle. You know, he's doing well."

2. Ty Darlington--Center Ben Habern, who elected to conclude his career due to lingering injuries, said at Big 12 Media Days Darlington was ready to play. Now, left guard turned center Gabe Ikard echoed those comments the other day.

Said Ikard: "Ty's ready to play, in my opinion. He's strong enough. He's got great strength in the weight room. Obviously had really good coaching in high school when his dad was the coach, so he's a coach's kid, already knows the whole playbook, watched film with us, you know, studied everything during the summer. He's ahead of the curve by a lot, and he's ahead of the curve strength-wise. There's no hesitation with throwing him in there, in my opinion."

Sterling Shepard--Everyone in Sooner Nation remembers a certain No. 28 that tore through opposing defenses before heading to the Minnesota Vikings. So, too, do they recall the man who became the all-time NCAA receptions leader, wide receiver Ryan Broyles. Shepard has already drawn comparisons to both.

Said head coach Bob Stoops: "I want to make this comparison in the right way, a little bit like Adrian [Peterson] was in that he can't wait to come to practice. He can't wait to work out. He can't wait to get in the locker room, put his stuff on and go play. He's one of those guys that just loves to play. And that's what you love, and it shows in the way he competes."

Said Ikard: "Sterling Shepard, has really impressed me. You know, [he's] running with the ones, playing a lot of [minutes]. He's gonna play a lot of good football here. [He's] really talented. You know, I excited to see the plays he can make. I daresay he's some very similar movements to an 85 that we lost last year, but I mean, he looks great. For a freshman, he's impressive."

Durron Neal--Quick, fast, athletic, physical. All of those adjectives already describe Neal's play since stepping on campus. Just talk to anyone on the defensive side of the ball. They've had to go up against him in practice and combat the problems he presents.

Said cornerback Aaron Colvin: "Durron is nice. Durron's coming on. I see him going every day. He's making plays every day, so he's a big play receiver. When he gets his hands on the ball, he can do something with it."

Mike Onuoha--It was an indication about his skills the other day when Stoops joked that he looked like Frank Alexander in that No. 84 jersey. But fellow defensive end R.J. Washington, who has been through the mill as an OU defensive lineman, raved about him as well. In fact, he made the same comparison for several reasons.

Said Washington: "Mike is ridiculously athletic. He's long. I've seen him put on Frank's jersey. You know, he's 84 now and I was just like, ‘Man.' Like I saw him from behind, so I didn't see his face and he had a beanie on like Frank did when he finally cut his hair and I was like, ‘Frank--. Ah man.' But, you know, he's long. He's athletic."

Charles Tapper--His counterpart has drawn praise from Washington as well, who he says is "thick." Since arriving from Maryland, Tapper has started to pick up the playbook and demonstrate his shear athleticism, just like Onuoha. And it's even that much more impressive considering what else the players say about him.

Said Washington: "I don't know if y'all know this, but Tap may have never lifted a weight until he got here. And y'all see how thick he already is. I was like, ‘Dang, you haven't even lifted weights? You look like that?' So, as soon as they get him in a couple [years], you know, your body starts changing and you start growing more as an adult, you're gonna get [bigger]. You lift weights year round, so you're gonna get naturally strong. It's like as soon as they fill out, it's gonna be crazy. It's gonna be."

Eric Striker--The depth at linebacker is somewhat of a concern, especially with Mike starter Tom Wort battling some injuries. Outside linebacker is still a major battle between Joseph Ibiloye and Corey Nelson. But a youngster has stepped into the discussion for possible playing time and his fellow position mate explains why.

Said Nelson: "Eric Striker impresses me so much. He has so much energy at such a big, young guy. He just fits so well into our defense, and he just fits so well into Division I college in general."

Zack Sanchez--Talk about a prototypical Mike Stoops defensive back. Here you have him. Sanchez has quite a frame and will only get more athletic as the days go on. And he already has the will to win at the collegiate level.

Said Nelson: "Zack Sanchez was a good guy that stuck out to me. He's young as well, but he just has this sort of feisty attitude about him and that kinda stuck out to me while we were working out with one another. I was able to see that, and I'm like, ‘Okay, this guy can do a little something, something.'"

As evidenced by this, the future looks bright for Sooner football.

And many of these guys, perhaps all will play this season.

At least that's the indication so far.

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