The Sooner Intel is an inside look into Oklahoma football and basketball recruiting and is solely for Sooners Illustrated subscribers. It is a sneak peek into what’s happening with OU recruiting and is not to be distributed anywhere else.
Running back picture
What a difference a week makes. OK, the ‘wish list’ returns early next week, but let’s dive right into the running back picture that has gone all kinds of wonky in the last couple of weeks.
The easy favorite for months and months has been Beaumont (Texas) Central’s Devwah Whaley. He was the favorite in the winter, in the spring and right up until the end of summer.
Two visits since March, and everything seemed right on point. Whaley has said all along he’s going to make a silent commitment to his school of choice and make it known publicly at the Under Armour All-America Game in January.
Following his second trip to OU, most were hoping for that silent commitment to the Sooners. That looks more and more unlikely, especially following an outstanding visit to Georgia last weekend.
You could tell something was up in the last two weeks as there was that tweet by running backs coach Jay Boulware about how not everybody can be a Sooner and how OU waits for nobody. Then, almost immediately after that, came the offer to Plano (Texas) High’s Brandon Stephens.
It still looked like OU was in good standing with Whaley until this last weekend where the Dawgs have essentially ended this race. Talking to multiple Georgia sources, they do believe that silent commitment is coming from Whaley.
It doesn’t matter that Georgia also has the commitment of Elijah Holyfield (son of Evander) because it looks like the fact UGA is still focused on the run game is going to be a big difference.
OU has made a living off of its running backs, but the Lincoln Riley offense through three games suggest running backs are important but not the No. 1 priority. You have to be able to handle the fact the ball won’t be coming to you all the time.
Nobody blames the recruits if their opinion changes, way it goes. As of now, the official for Whaley to Norman for TCU weekend is still planned. What seemed like a slam dunk two months ago is a much shakier deal now, but it also seems like OU has already accepted that and moved on.
OU’s first running back offer in ages was made to Stephens, less than a week after his commitment to Stanford. But if you ask Stephens, the OU offer was simply just a matter of time.
“It wasn’t shocking to me at all,” Stephens said. “I’ve been talking to Coach Boulware for a long time. I felt like the offer was going to come for a while. I knew the interest level was high.”
Stephens, ranked No. 23 at running back and a four-star prospect, chose the Cardinal because of how he felt when he was on his unofficial visit in Palo Alto. He said he wasn’t just liked by Stanford but loved, and it meant a lot to him.
Getting to Stanford from Plano, Texas, compared to getting to Norman from Plano is a world of difference, and the plan right now Stephens said is to eventually visit Norman.
He made one trip to OU back when he was either a freshman or sophomore (couldn’t remember) for a camp. He hasn’t been back since that one occasion.
But he said that trip to OU should happen sometime.
“I’ll make a visit to Norman, not quite sure when,” Stephens said. “Pretty soon I’ll visit. We’ve been talking for a while now. He (Boulware) let it be known they really do love me. I want to go just to see if I feel the same way there as I do at Stanford.”
Since his commitment, OU is the only school who has offered. It’s going to take a lot to get Stephens to change his mind, but it does sound like he hasn’t completely shut the door on the Sooners.
His senior season has been a bit of a struggle, always is when playing the best of the best in the state of Texas. Stephens has rushed for 431 yards on 81 carries with five touchdowns and leads the team with six catches for 114 yards.
He definitely sees a big difference in his game, though, as a senior.
“Last season I was going downhill but would bounce plays to the outside that didn’t need it,” Stephens said. “This year I’ve been looking to get nasty. My biggest strength is my patience. Some running backs just hit the hole and don’t let the play develop. I’m able to wait and make something happen.”
Stephens said he put on eight pounds of muscle during the offseason to add a little more physicality to his game.
Is he the next to get offered? From McAllen (Texas) Memorial, Speights has put up ridiculous numbers through his first four games of his senior season, and Jay Boulware will be in attendance Friday night for game No. 5.
Game No. 1: 24 rushes for 248 yards, three touchdowns.
Game No. 2: 18 rushes for 226 yards, two touchdowns.
Game No. 3: 34 rushes for 373 yards, five touchdowns.
Game No. 4: 17 rushes for 338 yards, six touchdowns.
So that’s 93 carries for 1,185 yards and 16 touchdowns. Now that’s how you become a potential offer candidate to becoming the go-to guy as a senior.
“I gained 10 pounds and just wanted to be harder to bring down this season,” Speights said. “It has been a fun start.”
In the last game, Speights broke the record for career rushing yards in the Rio Grande Valley area and did it in style on a 70-yard touchdown.
Speights, a four-star prospect ranked No. 24 (one lower than Stephens, coincidentally), was committed to Arizona back in the winter when he made a trip to OU for junior day. It was his first visit to campus, and he has not been back since.
“Seeing OU that first time was a breathtaking experience,” Speights said. “If I get an offer, I will probably take an official visit.”
Speights was honest. No offer, no visit, not worth his time. Hard to imagine Boulware showing up Friday if an offer isn’t about to be extended so no doubt something to monitor in the next week.
If OU doesn’t enter the picture, he has no shortage of suitors. Speights said Stanford, Texas A&M and Tennessee are the schools standing out right now. Stanford, of course, is interesting since Stephens just committed to the Cardinal earlier this month.
Speights was able to start to build that bond with Boulware on junior day and things have steadily gotten better and better.
“I’ve been getting to know him more, and I know OU has one of the best backfields in the country,” Speights said.
Speights is in no rush to make a decision. And when you’re averaging nearly 300 yards per game, probably a wise choice since more schools are likely to look in your direction. He said he’s going to wait for the best opportunity for him.
One of the biggest things Speights said he’s looking for is the offensive scheme that will best be able to use his skills. So what does he do well?
“I believe I have the complete running game,” Speights said. “I can run, catch out of the backfield, do multiple things.”
Speights said it was his dream to set the Valley record for career yards. He had no idea he was that close to it, but after that 70-yard score, he said everybody started celebrating, and he got the picture.
Sooners make impression with Cleveland, Oliver
Neither recruit has spoken about their trip to OU last weekend, and Oliver said earlier this month he wasn’t going to do any interviews throughout his senior season.
The best indicator of anything was OU’s surprise birthday celebration for Cleveland on Saturday night. Talking to sources, he was very touched by the gesture and had no idea it was coming.
The Sooners didn’t beat around the bush, according to sources, saying how badly they want Cleveland, ranked No. 65 in the Scout 100, and how he could be a major difference maker in OU’s offense.
It was obviously a great game for Cleveland to see with OU racking up 773 total yards and 52 points in the win. Gut feeling is OU is still not the favorite for Cleveland but did everything right on the visit to stay in the hunt.
Oliver, a five-star prospect committed to Houston, has been tougher to get a gauge on his thoughts. The biggest thing, among sources, is how adamant most believe Oliver will not end up with the Cougars when it’s all said and done.
Oliver has said he has no interest at all in Texas and that shouldn’t change. The biggest threat to Houston felt like LSU in the summer, and you have to believe the Tigers will make a big push, especially with their play on the field this season.
Really wish could give more information, but these two have made it pretty clear they’re not going to talk about the recruiting process.