OUInsider Weekend Wrapup (2/6)

A look back at signing day and the year in recruiting.

What Rankings ?

Put all the national recruiting guru's' in one room and your average would be somewhere around 5'4" 300 pounds. Not one could, (or has), played college ball, but they are qualified to scout?

We will not soon forget how Ryan Reynolds - a prospect that tore up every combine he attended, set records and excels in every sport known to man - suddenly fell from a 'five star' down to a lowly 'four star' two weeks before signing day.

In the end it's not his ranking that mattered most, but the fact the Oklahoma got him, and others they had targeted for the past eighteen months. According to OU coaches, the Sooners landed the top recruiting class in the country. And history will show that this staff is slightly more qualified than the collection of star war bar scene freaks that rank recruits.

In our opinion it's probably the best class of the Stoops' era.

The reason? Simple - staff unity. The Oklahoma coaching staff is stockpiled with excellent recruiters. Not just slick BS artists that can talk, but sincere coaches that have developed and coached talent to the best record in college football over the past five years, in the Big Twelve South, Americas' toughest conference division.

It is becoming more common for coaches on this OU staff to lay aside ego and to help one another out, finding the best fit to articulate the academic and athletic opportunities available at Oklahoma to a recruit and his family.

Academics Matter . . .

In addition to what Oklahoma has done on the field, let's also credit President David Boren with pumping over one BILLION dollars of private money into the University of Oklahoma at the same time our coaches are winning on the field. It takes years for academic 'rankings' to rise, and they are even more political than recruiting rankings. But Boren continues on a steady, methodical pace to place The University of Oklahoma among the top public Universities in the country.

This focus on academics has paid off handsomely as Oklahoma now goes coast to coast for the best prospects in the country. Bob Stoops has said that almost all are of this years' class has qualified at the moment, and OU expects all to qualify. It's the best group academically that OU has signed in many years. Under the upcoming NCAA mandates on graduation and retention, this will become ever bit as big an issue as 'forty times' and bench press records.

And if you still somehow believe that raising the academic standards is a mistake, here are a few of the recruits that OU probably would not have signed the last two years if these efforts to elevate academics would not have been addressed a decade ago: Lendy Holmes; Rhett Bomar; Brett Bowers; C.J. AhYou; Ben Barresi; Jon Cooper; Brian Jackson; Brody Eldridge; Curtis Lofton; Ryan Reynolds; Lamont Robinson; Reggie Smith; and Jesse White.

Next time you see President Boren, thank him for turning Oklahoma's best academic university into one of America's best.

Great Start . . .

The unlikely town of Conway South Carolina supplied Oklahoma with it's first two commitments back in May. Allen Patrick, who several years ago was one of the top recruits in the southeast, committed to the Sooners, along with current Conway star wide out Eric Huggins.

Although he excelled at running back in high school, attending Independence Junior College, Patrick had developed into one of the nation's top headhunters, and had found a home on defense. Sooner coaches recognized that Patrick was a 'must have' recruit last spring, and their diligence paid off. (Patrick suffered a leg injury early this fall and was able to get a medical redshirt. He will graduate from Independence this spring and then have three years of eligibility at Oklahoma).

For his early OU commitment and resolve to stick to it, Eric Huggins, one of the most explosive receivers in the SEC region, was demoted to second team All State status for failing to give local favorites Clemson and South Carolina the time of day. However, Huggins was not overlooked by those outside of the Palmetto Palm state, and was selected as one of the top receivers in the country and also chosen to represent the East in the Army All Star game.

One month later, on June 22nd, the best junior receiver in Texas in 2003, Manuel Johnson would also pledge to wear crimson. The Gilmer star would learn later that month that he would be needed at quarterback, as he was - by far - the most talented player on his team, and that he would have to forego his dream of leading the state of Texas in receiving yards his senior year.

In the end all Johnson did was take Gilmer to it's first Texas State Championship, as he threw, ran and electrified opponents all year. One OU coach said they were on the look out for a receiver that could replace Mark Clayton's ability to turn an eight yard play into an eighty yard TD. A look at Johnson's stats confirms that the Sooners found the one guy that could do it.

Steady Summer Progress . . .

A lightly regarded tackle from Claremore would be the next Sooner commit. Billy Blackard came to the Sooner Prospect camp in July and was quickly offered by Sooner coaches as he dominated several offensive linemen who were receiving national attention. "We liked the way he played behind his pads," one OU coach said. "Watch him on film and he's a bulldozer that never stops. He reminds us of Kory Kline, who came in here and started a couple of years and was the rock solid leader of a great defensive line."

We were in Kansas City for the Big 12 media days when James' cell phone suddenly rang on July 19th. It was Malcolm Kelly, one of the top three receivers in America, (and the top receiver in Texas), on the other end. "Mr. Hale. Can you help me get in touch with coach Stoops? I've decided to go to Oklahoma and I need to talk to him."

Wow. Talk about getting a scoop! James forwarded Coach Stoops cell number to Malcolm and asked Kelly to call back after he'd talked to Stoops. (Who was en route to Dallas via private jet and would not be in cell range for another hour). At the same time James was calling Bob, leaving a cryptic message in front of other reporters, "Uh, Coach, you might want to turn your cell phone on. . . please turn your cell phone on . . ."

But that was not the end of the excitement on July 19.

Just when James thought Kelley was calling back a half hour later, it was Ben Barresi calling to say he too had just decided to become a Sooner. (Yikes, this is getting hot!).

Barresi had returned from a stellar campaign where he earned 'OL MVP' at the Stanford camp in Palo Alto. Not really big news until you find out the many of the top DT's on the west coast were there - as well as some highly rated offensive linemen, and Barresi walks away with the top honors.

When Oklahoma coaches heard that, they challenged Ben, (and one another), with the invitation to come to OU's prospect camp and repeat his performance. A few weeks later he did, as he left camp with a scholarship offer.

Keenan Clayton was targeted on film last year. Brent Venables was one of the first OU coaches to see Keenan's film, and was more than impressed. "This guy can do it all, what more can I say?" Although it looked good on Clayton, he told us on July 12th that he'd wait until after his season before he made his final decision. But then, another telephone call interrupted us just two days after the Kelly - Barresi barrage. "I'm coming to Oklahoma - it's final," Clayton said from his home in Sulpher Springs, Texas.

"I really had my mind made up a long time ago, but tried to hold out because I was hoping to play in the Army All-American game in San Antonio and I thought I had to announce there," said Clayton from his home Wednesday afternoon. "Then I talked to a Rivals reporter at the seven-on-seven camp and he said that I said that the only reason I had not committed was because I was waiting on an offer from Texas. That is an absolute lie, and that reporter is a liar. That guy never got that from me and he totally made that up. I thought if people were going to make up lies about me then I should go ahead and commit, because I didn't want OU to get the wrong idea."

A Sizzling end to Summer . . .

Out in the Texas Panhandle town of Canadian, both Oklahoma and Oklahoma State had uncovered one of those rare gems who just knows how to play football, but does so outside an area covered by a metropolitan newspaper. Auston English, a star tailback, linebacker, defensive end, do-everything type of player had narrowed his choices to the two schools that first offered him.

But Sooner fans should have gotten the hint that English laid out in a summer interview; "My decision is going to come down to where I feel I am going to be challenged the most. I want to be pushed to a level that I have never been pushed to before." It was July 28 when English woke up one morning and knew, for sure, what school that would be. (Ring up another Sooner please).

Two days later Phoenix star fullback Matt Clapp gave his verbal pledge to OU coaches after being courted all spring and summer by Ohio State, Miami, Arizona and Nebraska. We talked to Matt several moments after his commitment call was made to Oklahoma coach Bob Stoops; "I am so happy right now. I knew that OU was my number one school all along. I knew that I wanted to go there and I fit in with everything there perfectly. The coaches and players were great and it was just a perfect fit for me." One OU coach summed up the importance of Clapp; "In our offense we have to have a dominant fullback. Not just as a blocker, but a guy that can keep the defenses honest with his ability to run and catch as well. Matt reminds us of a slightly bigger version of J.D. Runnels - and if he's half as good as J.D. - both on and off the field, we'll have found us a real star."

The Sooners had reported to camp on August 2nd and were already deep in drills when Dan Cody clone Brody Eldridge from La Cygne, Kansas visited. Eldridge was on no ones radar screen early, but by summer's end had become the number one prospect in the Sunflower State; "At first, when I didn't get any calls or attention I was getting worried," said Eldridge.

He was set to commit to OSU in early August, but just as he was getting ready to make the call, his high school coach called with some more good news. "Oklahoma has just offered you a scholarship." "Wow, that changes everything," Brody reportedly said.

The call to coach Miles was put on hold as Brody and his family quickly arranged a visit to Norman on August 12. Before the end of practice that same day, Brody approached Coach Stoops and told him he'd accept their offer. "It was like the fulfillment of a dream," Eldridge said afterward. (Yes, the Sooner coaches feel the same way Brody).

One more Summer surprise . . .

Brent Venables first saw Curtis Lofton at the Jim Thorpe awards two years ago. Curtis approached Venables and introduced himself. He told Venables how many tackles he had for his season, (180), and an unbelieving OU linebacker coach left the banquet that night haunted by Lofton's numbers and wondering where Kingfisher was. "Wherever it was, I was going there," Brent said afterwards.

Problem was, Lofton had grown up rooting for the orange & black of OSU. And it was not getting easier with his high school coach also an OSU grad. But by February of last year, Venables had convinced Lofton to at least visit the OU campus. Afterwards he knew he had a shot. "I just explained to him what the University of Oklahoma could do for his career," Venables said with an almost straight face.

By August Lofton felt that he had had enough. The recruiting pressure was getting to him and it was time to end it. Among other rumors, he had supposedly committed to OSU after attending an Cowboy practice in mid August.

With the entire state watching on television, Lofton pulled a white sheet of paper marked with a crimson interlocked OU logo out of a manila envelope during a live spot on the Oklahoma Sports Blitz on August 22. "OU is what's best for me," said Lofton in an interview on Channel 9 after announcing his decision. "Me and Coach V, we just have an awesome bond." (Credit good friend and Sooner commit Ben Barresi with an 'assist' here also).

Colorado Duo . . .

Easily one of the nation's strongest players, Jesse White, committed to Oklahoma after an early campus visit in October. "I don't have words to explain for it. The stadium, the weight room, the facilities and the academics are the best in the nation, and I feel OU is the perfect fit for me. My father and I sat down with Coach Stoops and asked him some specific questions and he answered them with great conviction, and that was so impressive. Coach Stoops and Coach (Kevin) Wilson are great family men and that is important to me and my family. Getting a chance to watch OU on game day and watch what they go though was a tremendous thrill. OU's program, what they do before each game, was incredible. It was something that I have never seen before. They watch film and each player has a chance to speak or ask questions. By the time they are ready to take the field they are so fired up that they their energy is off the chart. I was ready to go out and play for them."

White was honored as the Player of the Year in Colorado, but OU coaches believe that Jon Cooper is just as good. Cooper was recruited heavily and decided on the Sooners December 10th. "It just felt so good that I just didn't want to miss out on that opportunity," he explained. "My visit was great and that answered a lot of questions for me, but not all of them. So, I went and visited Oklahoma State. The whole time I was on that visit I was thinking about Oklahoma, and I knew that Oklahoma was where I wanted to play my college football."

Coach Kevin Wilson believes Cooper can play 'inside' at either center or guard and loves how Jon literally mows defenders down until the whistle is blown. "His motor goes about 110 miles an hour 100% of the time. That's very unusual for offensive linemen, most of them make their block and take off a few moments. Not Jon."

December Arrives with Recruits Falling in Place . . .

Although defensive tackle Brian Simmons knew that Oklahoma was a perfect fit for him since he returned from his Norman visit in early November, he still had not pulled the trigger a month later. That was not exactly what Jackie Shipp had in mind when he offered the four star DT, so Shipp boarded a plane flew to North Carolina and then drove to Simmons' home on December 14 - just to clarify the matter. That situation was taken care of that evening and OU had their second defensive tackle commitment later that night.

"It is an hour-and-a-half drive from Greensboro to where I am at, and that meant a lot to me that he would come that far for an hour-and-a-half conversation. He knew how much I liked Oklahoma, and asked me why I hadn't already committed?" Simmons said. "I have known for a long time that in my heart that Oklahoma is the school for me, and that is where I want to play my college football."

The Big Weekend . . .

On December 17, the Sooners scheduled their priority recruiting weekend and entertained a dozen athletes, including defensive end prospect C.J. Ah You of Snow JC. Ah You brought other members of his close knit family to Norman to help him make a decision. It did not take him long to make up his mind; "I'm a Sooner," said Ah You after his visit. "I just loved everything about my visit there, and it really is a family atmosphere. The coaches, players, facilities, just everything was tremendous. They graduate both of their starting defensive ends, and it is Oklahoma - so how can you go wrong?"

Also committing after that weekend was DE Cordero Moore of Mesquite, Texas. "It was nice. It was an experience like none other, I'll be committing to OU on Monday." Moore said after returning home after the weekend. "The coaches and players were great. I didn't think we were going to be able to get to know the coaches at all, but that wasn't like that at all. They were interacting with us all the time and they acted like they wanted to be around us. Coach Stoops did the same thing and that was just incredible. The coaches really liked hanging around with the players." Moore was recruited as a DE, but could eventually move inside, depending on how his body reacts to Dr. Schmidt's' crash course.

Oklahoma needed at least one outstanding cornerback in this class, and DeSoto, Texas ' Brian Jackson more than fills the need. Jackson also visited on December 17th and narrowed his choices to both Stoops brothers, Arizona and Oklahoma. "It's really between these two," said Jackson, a day before he committed to OU. "I also like the players at both places. My Oklahoma visit was fun because it was real relaxed. We got to eat a lot and just hang out and play video games." By December 24th, Jackson had decided. Oklahoma coaches would get a gift phone call on Christmas Eve.

New Year - New Commits

Four-star New Jersey linebacker Lamont Robinson was ranked as one of the nation's best and excited about his senior season when a summer auto accident delayed his ability to help his team. But that didn't stop Ohio State, Virginia, Georgia, Michigan and other top programs from going after Robinson with everything they had.

On January 9, this scholar athlete had finally made his decision; "It was a tough decision, both Oklahoma and Virginia had great schools and facilities with tremendous academic opportunities in communications," said Robinson. "It came down to playing within a great program, and with the opportunity to get on the field quickly, and OU only has four or five scholarship linebackers, and I thought Oklahoma was best for me."

Robinson said his relationship with OU linebacker coach Brent Venables was also a major factor. "The most important aspect in recruiting is developing a relationship with the coach that is going to recruit and coach you. The first time I met Coach Venables I knew that he was the coach for me and the coach that could get the most out of me."

All American linebacker Ryan Reynolds has been at the top of OU's LB board for two years. On January 15, in front of a national TV audience, Reynolds gave Sooner fans and coaches the news they were holding on for, much to the disgust of hundreds of Texas fans sitting behind the commitment area.

"The college I chose was ..." said Reynolds as he reached into a black Russell Athletic bag to pull out the hat of the school he was committing to "...The University of Oklahoma."

Reynolds picked the Sooners over UCLA and Wisconsin, was named the recipient of the "Myoplex Speed & Strength Athlete of the Year" on Friday night during the U.S. Army All-American Bowl banquet. The award goes to the "nation's strongest, fastest and most dedicated prep football player which lives up to all of the ideals set forth by Walter Payton." That pretty well describes Ryan Reynolds, and also makes a mockery of the 'star' rating system.

Next on board January 20th was Killeen Texas star Juaquin Iglesias, another star prospect that the astute recruiting guru's missed from day one. "How do you miss this guy?" asks his high school coach. "In all my years here, we've not seen anyone better." (Tommie Harris is also from Killeen and attended Ellison HS).

The Sooner's Bobby Jack Wright laughs out loud at the incompetence of these self proclaimed experts as he steals around the Lone Star state and scoops up such 'no-bodies' as Quinten Griffin, Derrick Strait and Mark Clayton. "Dang, you ever see some of those guys?" he asks. "Looks like a circus freak show."

Iglesias was this year's nominee for 'biggest steal,' but it almost fell through as both Notre Dame and Oklahoma State woke up fast when word filtered down that Oklahoma was looking his way. It's no secret that Oklahoma sees Juaquin as a talent that can play CB as well as wide receiver, but that's not cool with Iglesias. He sees himself strictly on offense, (and a look at his video is pretty convincing). The other schools try to pry Iglesias away with the line that OU would never let m pay receiver. When the Sooners said that was not true, Iglesias committed. (But he'd better hope that coach Stoops does not see the defense highlights, Stoops still has a bit of influence on who plays where).

Strong Finish . . .

We've said for over a year that the problem with going after the nations' top recruits is that generally your competition comes from other programs at or near the same level. Michigan, Texas, USC, Florida State, LSU - all of these programs will be fighting over the cream of the crop, and finishing second or third does you absolutely no good.

But the strategy can have it rewards.

The nations to defensive tackle prospect, DeMarcus Granger, committed to Oklahoma on January 30th, three days before signing day. Oklahoma felt good about DeMarcus from the start, but you still sweat the big ones. (We were notified on January 13th that Granger had chosen OU, but were sworn to secrecy - sorry).

The fact that DeMarcus has no transportation. and is left to find rides with friends, was very confusing to OSU and Cowboy guru Robert Allen who reported on January 23rd that; "The Cowboys have moved back into strong contention as Granger is still in Stillwater after requesting that his trip be extended until Monday." What Robert did not realize is that DeMarcus was only helping his good friend choose between OSU and another school, and since they rode together, both would be marooned in Stillwater until Monday, the 24th.

'Thank you' Robert, for supplying a little comic relief to a stressful situation. (By the way: The friend chose to attend the other institution).

On signing day Oklahoma was still sweating Reggie Smith and Nic Harris. Although Duke Robinson had not publicly committed, he did tell OU coaches that he was coming over a week ago. (Yeah, we know, so did Meachem).

By 2:30 Wednesday afternoon, Oklahoma had gotten all three, and there were smiles a mile wide on Lindsey and Jenkins. But it was a day full of suspense, and a surprise.

Reggie Smith, OU's top defensive back recruit, and one of the nation's top five players, waited until the final moments Wednesday to let Sooners breathe easy. Coach Cale Gundy was anxiously following the events, (play by play via cell phone), and almost lost it when it was reported that Smith was approaching the signing table with a red UPS Next Day envelope. "Oh %$#@ - it can't be" said Gundy. "We sent ours Fed Ex. That's not our letter!"

Word was that Nebraska had been eliminated when John Blake flunked the final in-home test. It was now thought to be down to the Trojans and Sooners. But the wily Smith kept everyone in suspense until the last second. He had put OU's letter in another envelope, perhaps on purpose, perhaps as an afterthought - but it momentarily sent Gundy to ICU.

Nic Harris was initially mentioned in our second or third Weekend Wrap Up when we reported that some OU coaches had watched film and declared him the most amazing player yet seen on tape, "He's everywhere - all over the field," they reportedly remarked. From that day on we were interested in Harris, and apparently so were others as his national stock rose as other cloches apparently begin to take notice.

But Wednesday Nic came 'back home' to one of the first schools that gave him accolades, and one that will become his immediate family. Harris has had it tough growing up, often staying with coaches and friends while maintaining perfect grades and a great attitude. He is determined to do better, to maximize his opportunities. Harris is also a 'tweener.' Is he a big safety at 220 pounds - or a fast linebacker?

Who knows? Oklahoma will put him in Schmidt's weight program and see what happens. You can bet on this, Nic Harris will start somewhere for OU and probably play in the NFL. But in the meantime, he has four or five years to develop his talents and settle into a community that wants him to succeed as much as we ant the Sooners to win.

The last recruit to commit was really not the last, as Aaron Cummings was told earlier in the week that there may not be room for him in this class, and if there was not, would he consider coming to OU as a 'mid year' enrollee next January? "Yes sir," Cummins replied.

With that, you have to be glad that things did work out the way they did, as every native Oklahoman was cheering for the small town, eight man star to show what he can do against the nation's finest.

Welcome to Norman guys! Epilogue:

Ones that got away: By far, the two biggest disappointments were OL Reggie Youngblood and WR Derrick Williams. Oklahoma thought they would get both, and wanted both very badly. And not just because of their on field talents. Both are tremendous people as well as unbelievable athletes. Both come from a set of wonderful parents. All Sooner fans will wish them both the best as they pursue their dreams at Miami and Penn State.

The 'Mystery Recruit' we mentioned chose to stay with Texas Tech, where he will be a defensive back. We were recruiting him as a possible cornerback. Thank you for not posting his name on the Tech site. There was no other 'secret recruit.'

As to 'Secret Commits', we did know about Granger two weeks early, and the coaches did know about Duke Robinson approximately one week before signing day. But as far as we know, there were no others at any time.

The 'signing day surprise' was that linebacker recruit Antonio Clay signed with Clemson, but that's hardly the real story. Clay was set to sign with Oklahoma until Tuesday when reports leaked out that Clemson would get his signature. His high school had the stage set for Clay to sign in front of his classmates early in the day.

Yet something happened. The signing ceremony was delayed, and then postponed while Clay, his mother, and uncle and his coach huddled in a school, office for several hours. It was obvious that there was strong disagreement over which letter Antonio would sign. At one point in time security was called in as a family member was threatened. In the end Clays' signature is on a Clemson LOI, but there are questions as to what will happen when the issue is reviewed.

Oklahoma will stand by and wait, and support Antonio no matter how the issue is resolved.

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