There was a time in mid-January where Downers Grove (Ill.) South four-star offensive tackle Erik Swenson was the talk of the nation.
Committed to Michigan since 2013, he was told there would be no room for him in the Wolverines class for 2016 less than a month from signing day.
It could have been stressful. It could have been overwhelming, but Swenson went another direction. He turned off his phone, didn’t listen to any of the noise and went about with his life. He later said one school called him 24 times in one day to gauge his interest but wouldn’t name the school.
It didn’t take long for Oklahoma offensive line coach Bill Bedenbuagh to start learning more about Swenson. Not necessarily contacting Swenson, but getting to know about Swenson, his story and what was going to happen next.
Because what was going to happen next wasn’t ideal for Swenson. A Big Ten guy, it was clear that really wasn’t going to be any room for him in the conference.
“There were a few other schools, but they said the might have a spot after signing day,” Swenson said. “Nothing was guaranteed. OU might have been my only shot.”
He grew up in Illinois, but Swenson actually did see the Sooners play once as he was in Arizona for OU’s victory against Connecticut in the 2011 Fiesta Bowl. Still, it wasn’t like that game made a huge impression.
But Bedenbaugh did. As the news about Swenson and Michigan coach Jim Harbaugh and what did or didn’t happen started to fade, Bedenbaugh made his push.
“Coach B messaged me and was just checking in,” Swenson said. “He was wondering about my recruitment, and if I was interested in learning more about OU. I thought about OU because it’s such a great football program and such a great school for linemen.”
But nothing was guaranteed. A visit later in the week by Bedenbaugh confirmed Swenson wanted to at least check out Norman even if an offer wasn’t officially made. Virginia was in the race, too, for that final visit, but the Sooners were able to win the battle.
Swenson was expected to play in the U-19 USA vs. Canada International Bowl at Cowboys Stadium last week so his family already had roundtrip tickets from Dallas. Just turns out Dallas wasn’t going to be the destination.
Swenson had to back out of the game to focus on his future and the family joined him on the trip by making the short drive up the road to Norman.
An Illinois kid arriving in at OU in late January, and the first thing to notice was the weather.
“I’m a huge snowboarder,” Swenson said. “I love the cold weather. I wear shorts and T-shirts like 24/7. But I could get used to that weather, too.”
Most felt that as long as Swenson made it to Norman that he would leave committed to the Sooners. That said, it was still a little stressful going on an official visit without and offer and simply hoping for the best.
“It was Saturday and they were showing all the facilities and the campus,” Swenson said. “It was cool, but a part of you is like am I even going to get a chance to be a part of all this? I hope it works out.”
It did later that night. As is usual on official visits, Bob Stoops had all the visitors and some players over to his house for dinner. Stoops was asking how the visit was going and stuff of that nature when he said if you want to join us, we’d be happy to have you.
That’s all it took. Swenson gave Stoops a big hug and let him know he was going to be a Sooner.
“It was by far the nicest visit I had been on,” Swenson said. “My mom is a football junkie, and she almost got emotional. I was like where do I sign?”
Swenson enjoyed the campus and facilities. It has been speculated about whether or not OU’s renovations and construction hurt the Sooners for the 2016 class. For Swenson, none of that really matters.
He had his own way of phrasing it.
“Even the temporary facilities are nice, but to me, a 45-pound plate weighs the same no matter what,” Swenson said.
Swenson and his family left Norman knowing his future was set. He was going to be a Sooner. It had a been a wild ride for Swenson in the last month, but he said he believes he can hold his head up high.
He’s over what happened to Michigan, and he said he’d be surprised if Michigan wasn’t over it, either. Harbaugh, on signing day, said he accepts full responsibility for what happened but didn’t apologize, sort of contradicting a bit but all is fair in recruiting, suppose.
“I’m sure they had some good reasoning,” Swenson said. “I have to thank Coach Harbaugh in the long run. It worked out for both of us, and I ended up in a great place.”
Swenson said he is 6-foot-7 and 315 pounds right now and prides himself on being a physical player. On the visit he got a chance to talk a lot with Orlando Brown and Dru Samia, and he liked their straight up and honest approach.
It wasn’t the destination he first thought. It wasn’t how he envisioned it all happening, but Swenson is pumped to be a Sooner. And OU is thrilled to have him as part of the 2016 class.
“As soon as we knew things weren’t working at Michigan, Coach Bedenbaugh contacted him, researched it and went to see him,” Stoops said. “We’re always very diligent about meeting people and knowing they’re our style of guy. Bill went and met him and really liked Erik.
“Erik was awesome. We love his tape and the way he plays. It worked out. And I felt comfortable, look at Orlando Brown’s story. We got on Orlando the last week as well, and he started every game as a redshirt freshman and he has a bright future. Erik, the size and everything that we’ve seen really looks positive.”