Every once and a while there is a player that comes through and transforms a position. Oklahoma has had a few come through its doors through the years.
The latest is linebacker Eric Striker. Every recruit that arrives in Norman now has dreams of being the next Striker. Just like every running back wants to be like Adrian Peterson and every wide receiver wants to be like Sterling Shepard.
Striker sort of rewrote the book in how to use somebody his size. He might be 6-foot, but he’s not any taller than that. He just knew how to use his talent and skills to make things happen.
Recruits gravitated toward his playmaking ability and believe they can be that guy. And if you look at OU’s 2015 and 2016 class, you could argue the Sooners coaches are 100 percent in agreement.
Gone are the days of taking a non-linebacker recruit and trying to turn him into something special. Although it seemed to work with Dominique Alexander and Jordan Evans, it’s a lot easier to do when someone is naturally that way.
Someone like a Ricky DeBerry. OU’s lone five-star signee from the 2015 class redshirted last season, allowing him to do a couple of things.
One, he could get 100 percent healthy after suffering some nagging shoulder issues. Two, he could be 100 percent prepared to get in there when his name is called.
Both of those feel like they’ve happened. And when asked at Orange Bowl media day where he thinks he’ll fit in the defense going forward, he had an easy answer.
“I still see myself like an Eric Striker,” DeBerry said.
He’s got company, too. Because OU needed to hit linebacker in a major way for the 2016 class, and the Sooners did just that in landing Scout 300 prospect Mark Jackson.
OU was Jackson’s first offer way back when. And though he was committed to Texas A&M for several months, the belief was he would choose the Sooners. He did just that two days before signing day.
“He likes standing up and coming off the edge like our guys,” defensive coordinator Mike Stoops said. “Everyone wants be like Striker or Bond. They like standing up and rushing. A lot of kids like that.
“If their body types changes and they get a certain way then they’re not able to do all those things. Mark is a guy who is a prototypical for what we do whether he stands up or puts his hand on the ground or he’s over a tight end. He’s gonna be a 255-pound guy that can play over a tight end.”
He won’t be alone, either. The crown jewel of OU’s 2016 class is five-star outside linebacker Caleb Kelly, who picked the Sooners instead of Notre Dame on signing day.
It is yet another outside linebacker, who can be in the mold of Striker. Kelly has a little bit more varied skill set but don’t be surprised if that’s the role he ends up with as well.
“It’s a good fit for him,” said Kelly’s trainer, Tony Perry. “Out of all the players I’ve coached, his upside is so big. He’s up to 230 pounds right now. He’s working out non-stop, working on his cover skills. He can already tackle and rush the quarterback. He’s the whole package.”
A couple of years ago OU fans wondered what would the future of linebacker look like for the Sooners. They don’t have to wonder anymore. One top recruit after another at positions of need. It’s clear the future is now at linebacker in Norman.