There’s just something about growing up from Oklahoma and being a Sooner. It’s not realistic to have nothing but homegrown Sooners taking the field, but the mentality can sometimes just be different than everybody else.
For the 2017 class, OU has five commits from the state with all five ranked in the Scout 300. OU hasn’t had that many in-state recruits since 2013.
That class, however, wasn’t as highly touted. A couple of the names were expected to be names to watch in Norman but not all of them.
D.J. Ward (Moore Southmoore via OKC Douglass and Lawton)
Stanvon Taylor (Tulsa East Central)
Jordan Evans (Norman North)
Dominique Alexander (Tulsa Booker T. Washington)
Jordan Smallwood (Jenks)
Alexander was a three-year starter for the Sooners and is trying to make the cut for the Cleveland Browns in the NFL as an undrafted free agent.
Jordan Evans will be entering his third year as a full-time starter at middle linebacker and was named one of the team captains for the 2016 season.
What about those other guys? Ward and Taylor were both ranked in the Scout 300, and Smallwood was the best receiver in the state for the 2013 group.
The road hasn’t been easy. Heck, nobody would have blamed any of the trio for packing it in and going home at this point.
As the season approaches, though, they’ll all still standing.
“Man, he’s just Mr. Consistent,” said defensive line coach Calvin Thibodeaux about Ward. “Sometimes you take him for granted. He’s a technician, he’s smart. He doesn’t make mistakes. He’s a guy you can count on. He makes you play him as a coach because he does things the right way.”
Ward has had a turbulent road in Norman that started long before he even got to OU. A star at Lawton (Okla.) High, he ended up transferring to OKC Douglass and Moore Southmoore his senior season because of his father’s job and didn’t even play.
When he got to OU, the Sooners underwent a change from the 4-3 defensive front to a 3-4, putting Ward in a tough spot.
Factor in a ruptured spleen for Ward and seems like he simply could never catch a break. Ward admitted getting his weight up was the toughest part.
Going from Jerry Montgomery to Diron Reynolds to Thibodeaux was a challenge, too, but Ward seems more poised to make an impact this year than any other time before heading into his redshirt junior season.
“When he’s out there, he’s a tremendous help,” said special teams coach Jay Boulware about Taylor. “He has great speed at the gunner positions on kickoffs and punts. He has to stay healthy. When he’s out there, he’s a big help at special teams.”
Taylor started at cornerback as a freshman against Tulsa. It seems like eons ago, but it’s true. That’s the type of talent Taylor has but the injury bug has weighed him down.
Making the adjustment from Tulsa East Central to OU was a process. And just when it looked like things were clicking as a special teams star, Taylor suffered a serious leg injury last season.
Everybody talks about the return game and stuff like that. But when you hear Boulware talk and see his expressions when talking about Taylor, it’s clear he wants him back in that starring role again.
“Sometimes it was very discouraging,” Smallwood said. “I’d talk to my mom and dad and they’d keep pushing me. Coach Simmons has been pushing me. It’s going to be better. It’s going to be OK. It’s all about trust with Coach Simmons. We’ll get through this together but need that trust.”
Smallwood earned his scholarship offer with an impressive summer 2012. Nobody knew what would become of him in the grand scheme of things.
And then, yep, injuries hit Smallwood hard. A fractured foot. A torn ACL. Smallwood has had one heck of an uphill climb at OU.
This year, again, seems to be the year. At 225 pounds, he’s the biggest he’s ever been. He should factor into the receiver rotation. He should start to make that difference.
“I’m solid, ready to go,” Smallwood said. “This is the biggest I’ve ever been and I’m able to try and push around other guys. I got used to the weight and everything seems normal now.”