Never in the ‘football' history of the University of Oklahoma do you find a year when the Sooners recruited two of the top three players in the nation. Certainly they have in Oklahoma, perhaps in Texas, but never nationally. That happened last February 4th when OU inked running back Adrian Peterson (6' 2" 208 4.45), and quarterback Rhett Bomar (6-3 195 4.56), to national letters of intent.
Peterson was regarded as the best running back in the country and some say the best running back to come out of high school since Eric Dickerson left Sealy, Texas for SMU in 1979. The comparisons are chilling, as both Peterson and Dickerson share almost identical characteristics.
Possessing a remarkable combination of speed and power, (6' 3" 208 4.45), Dickerson was at his best starting wide and then cutting back against the defensive pursuit. He was clocked at 9.4 in the 100 yards, vs Peterson's unbelievable time of 10.3 in the 100 meters, (as 100 yards equals approximately 91 meters). Before Peterson's time merely considered ‘fast', and then forgotten, note that his time was among the top ten times nationally in high school track this spring – and he was likely the most intimidating sprinter, out weighing most of the competition by 50 pounds.
Peterson, like Dickerson, can display a deadly combination of both speed and power. He has great drive and determination, likes to run over people yet can be elusive and tricky, he's explosive off his plants and has the ability to beat the first tackle almost every time.
Rhett Bomar was the nation's top quarterback prospect last year, and people at California's prestigious Elite 11 quarterback camp say he's probably the best QB to come through the camp in its' history. Bomar who possesses the smarts, size, speed and an amazing arm, finished the camp as MVP and followed that up with an outstanding US Army All Star game in January and most recently, a stellar performance in the Texas High School Coaches Association All-Star Game last Tuesday in Houston, where he led his North squad to a convincing 51 – 25 win while scooping up the game's MVP award as well!
Many knowledgeable observers compare Rhett to Stanford's John Elway at the same stage in his career. And like Peterson and Dickerson, both quarterbacks share very similar traits. In addition to his rocket arm, Bomar has excellent poise where he's a cool customer until the protection breaks down and then defenses have to deal with a QB that can run a 4.56 forty.
Both freshmen phenoms reported for summer workouts in early June in order to prepare for their college careers. Workouts under OU's strength and conditioning coach Jerry Schmidt are legendary for their ability to breakdown the toughest competitor. Bomar agrees; "Yeah, it's tough, but I guess that's to be expected. You find out as soon as you get here. Not just anybody can come in and do these workouts. You have to be focused everyday, and day-in-and-day-out to come in here and do these workouts. The running in Coach Schmidt's program is not easy, but it is just something that you have to do. I enjoy lifting weights and doing all that stuff, but it's not easy. You have to get your mind right or you might not finish it, and that's every day. You have to be ready to go every day."
But according to Heisman winner Jason White, the two newcomers have been very impressive so far. He had this to say about the duo: "They're two great guys who work extremely hard. I know that Rhett comes up and throws extra with me, so he already has a good work ethic, and when Adrian, (who's now up to a ‘fat free' 219 pounds), comes to work out he works out hard. You can tell they're young, but they're excited and talented, and that's always good." Bomar appreciates the compliments from White and other returning starters like Mark Clayton and Dusty Dvoracek. "It's good when those great guys say good things about you working hard. One of the main things, if you want to play up here, is that you have to work hard. There is no short cut to success at OU."
Bomar who's already put on six pounds and currently weighs 211 pounds, believes that the best advice for any freshman is to show up, work hard and shut up. "I think it's best to just come up here and work hard. Guys respect you more when you just come up here and bust your butt and you try your best in the workouts. You do all the workouts and don't complain and don't say anything. Just work hard and keep your mouth shut. That's how guys earn respect."
Running back will be one of the most watched positions when preseason drills open for the Sooners August 9. Not since Marcus Dupree arrived from Philadelphia, Mississippi has there been as much interest in a Sooner freshman as is being directed toward Adrian Peterson.
While Bomar has a Heisman winner at his position, Peterson has a much clearer path. With all the publicity, many Sooner fans expect Adrian to start day one. OU Running Backs Coach Cale Gundy explains why this is unlikely: "The No. 1 guy right now is KeJuan Jones, and he's head and shoulders above everybody else. He had a great summer and now weighs 203 pounds. He is bigger and stronger than he has ever been, has developed great explosiveness out of his cut and is our best blocker. He's a guy that has been around here for three years and he's more mature now. He knows what it takes, even though he has been successful. He is willing to put that effort in and that extra time. KeJuan is definitely going to be the main leader and everybody else is going to be chasing him."
"Right behind him you will have a young player in Tashard Choice and a guy who has been around here for a few years in Donta HicksonD.J. Wolfe, who is a true freshman who had a great spring practice after coming in here early out of high school. Now we have Adrian Peterson, who's going to come in and we are definitely going to give him a chance. He has a long way to go, and I promise you it is not as easy as what people think."
OK, what's so complicated about the running back position?
"There's more to it than just running the football. There's no doubt that he is physically gifted. We are looking forward to giving him that opportunity, just like we give everybody else the opportunity. Nothing is just given to anybody around here, you have to earn it. Just because somebody comes in as the top recruit in the country, or the top recruit at his position, does not mean that at Oklahoma we're going to give him a job. We don't do that here. He'll have to earn it and prove that he can take care of the football, prove that he can handle all the protections. He has to prove that he knows when to get out into a pass route and when to stand back and pick people up to keep people off of our quarterback. It is a much faster and quicker paced game than what he just came out of."
Peterson is well aware of the requirements, but one reason he picked Oklahoma was to get a shot at playing early in an elite program with a staff that believes in playing the best players, regardless of their classification. He said shortly after deciding on OU in January; "I know I'll need to work hard to earn playing time, but I feel like they'll give me that opportunity."
Merv Johnson, now Director of Football Operations at OU, was coaching on the Sooner staff when Marcus Dupree, (who was also ranked as the nation's top back), showed up in 1982. Merv recounts how Barry Switzer and his staff planned to give Marcus time to adjust as well.
"We knew Marcus was an outstanding high school running back. But, because he was bigger and faster than anyone he played against, we had no idea if he was really going to do the same things in college. Well, he shows up weighing somewhere around 235 and probably running a 4.4 or better, but he was also still showing a bit of baby fat. We're frankly thinking he'd likely red shirt, because we knew he couldn't block very well, and a wishbone halfback had to block. Our defense that year was very similar to what we have now. It was dominant, leading the nation in defense, and had almost everyone returning for '82.
Marcus lines up in that first scrimmage and goes 60 yards against the ‘number ones.' Then he does it again! Naturally we're out there thinking ‘wow!' - but until we see film we have no idea of what actually happened. It was pretty unbelievable.
We tried to postpone the inevitable for a few weeks. Then, in the Texas game, he goes in after a few series and on his first play we run a sweep with Dupree and he fakes a reverse, goes all the way, touchdown. We upset Texas 28-22 that day and he had set the tempo.
Marcus started every game afterwards and then we were trying to figure ways we could get this guy that couldn't block a lick the ball, because no one could catch him. If I remember, he had a touchdown run of 60 yards or more in every game except OSU as a freshman. If he would have stayed he could have won two or three Heisman's. He was that good."
OK, then maybe Adrian can duplicate the Dupree miracle and start by Texas. Would Johnson be surprised if any of the new kids were that good? Merv hesitates and then replies in his somewhat easy-going southern drawl; "I'd be extremely surprised!"
Meanwhile Bomar is working like he'll play as well. Attend a 7-on7 drill and notice that Rhett questions the quarterback, receivers and DB's on almost every throw. What's his reasoning for all the intense interrogation? "I want to know everything that happens on each particular play. I can find out a lot of stuff by talking to the receivers and DBs, especially when it comes to what is going on in the passing game. This is especially true of the older guys like Mark Clayton, who you can ask what is going on and what he saw from the defense on each particular play. That can help a quarterback out a lot."
Bomar is also impressed by the talent assembled in Norman. "It is amazing how talented the receivers and DB's are here. The whole defense is so fast, everything happens so quickly - there are a bunch of great players out there on that field."
There is a common assumption that Bomar will redshirt this year. Although that's likely to happen, Rhett is certainly not counting on it. Forget the adage about taking time to learn the offense. Bomar knows the OU offense better than any incoming freshmen in years. And whether he starts this year, next - or the next, this in-depth knowledge is bound to eventually pay big dividends and give him an edge.
If either freshman is to make a move, they know that they'll have to do it in two-a-days. Bomar relishes the opportunity to compete. "I'm looking forward to practice actually starting and getting out there on that field with the whole offense and run some plays. That'll be fun. My expectations are to go in there and do my best. I want to work hard and compete with everybody and try to impress everybody."
Both freshmen realize what the opportunities might be over the next several years. Peterson said in January; "At Oklahoma, I know I'll be surrounded by a good group of hungry guys. That might be one of the main reasons that I chose OU." Bomar agrees; "Our freshmen class has a bunch of good guys and good players. Many of us were here at the beginning of summer and the rest of us got here after the fourth (of July). The three receivers came in at that time and they have been doing well during the workouts. They're good athletes, and I think our freshman class is going to be a good one. I am looking forward to spending the next four or five years with these guys."
It's also a safe bet to say that Sooner fans are looking forward to the next four or five years as well. But first, we have a little business to take care of beginning August 9.
The tale of two freshmen: Bomar and Peterson
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