One-on-One with Bob Stoops

OU Head Coach Bob Stoops talked with James Hale about the Sooners' outstanding secondary and developing walk-ons after Wednesday's practice

JH: You have to be very proud that both Brandon Everage and Derrick Strait were named semi-finalists for the Jim Thorpe awards?

BS: "Yes, I am, but I am disappointed that Andre (Woolfolk) didn't get in there as well. Andre has missed a few games and teams just don't attack him very often, so he doesn't get the opportunity to make as many plays as some of the other guys. They were asking me who I wanted to push for the award, or nominate for the award, and I told them I can't tell you guys who you need to put up from our team for the award. They are all tremendous and I am proud of them and Andre as well. I am proud of Brandon and what he has done against some great teams here in the last three weeks. His play has just been incredible. I am just as proud for Derrick. Derrick has played as consistently and as good as any defensive back in the country. He is just a tremendous player, but they all are and we are fortunate to have them all."

JH: It is a good problem when you have to figure out which defensive back to push for post season honors.

BS: "That is where I have to bail out of it. I just say, ‘Here are all of them and you guys have to decipher through statistics and game film and come up with what you think.' I will tell you that statistics don't always tell the whole story on an individual player. When it gets down to many awards statistics have a banner on voters' decisions. You have to make a decision somewhere and somehow, I guess. I don't and I wouldn't do it that way, but voters probably have too. Again, all three of those guys are special players week in and week out. They are tough. They play hard and they make big plays."

JH: The overall talent that you have in the secondary is truly amazing, isn't it?

BS: "It is and that is proven to me in some way every day. An NFL scout grabbed me today before practice and said that he couldn't believe how good our defense was, especially in the secondary. He said not only what you do, but how great the players are and the ability that they have. He recognizes how they run, change direction and play physical. I realize that myself, but it was great to hear the nice compliment and I appreciated it. We do have a number of great players on defense and in the secondary. There aren't just two guys, but we are fortunate again to have the ability there that we do."

JH: Has your success in the secondary paid off in recruiting the top prep defensive backs?

BS: "It does, but we are not concerned with the recruiting rankings. That kind of stuff doesn't matter. I don't know if all of these guys were highly rated recruits or prep All-American's. In fact, I am sure many weren't. Derrick Strait is as fine a defensive back as I have ever coached and I have been coaching a few years. He is tremendous. Same with Brandon Everage. Neither were highly ranked coming out of high school. Regardless of where they started, they have played at Oklahoma for three years in a great way."

JH: Positive news from NFL scouts about the talent on your team started back during your national championship year didn't it?

BS: "I guess, because during our national championship year Derrick Strait and Michael Thompson were our starting cornerbacks. At that time one was a true sophomore and one was a redshirt freshman. Brandon Everage was our dime player that year and played a lot. He actually started, or played mostly in our biggest games against Kansas State and Nebraska. He went in for J.T. (Thatcher) and played three-fourths of the game as a redshirt freshman. A bunch of these guys have been around a long time and have played a lot of football for us now in the third year."

JH: You have had great success with walk-ons, how has that happened?

BS: "Corey Heinecke and Roger Steffen made as big an impact as any player that we had. There are a lot of players who are good players that have more ability than people give them credit for. Also, when they have been around for a while, if they are smart and they are tough, then they will contribute. Eric (Hilaire) is fitting into that mold and he played well the other night. Actually, he played awfully well. When a guy like Eric comes from where he comes from it is a big plus for our program."

JH: Do you feel your staff identifies walk-on players who can help your team better than some other programs?

BS: "Players that have been here and exhibited that kind of play, worth ethic and toughness in scrimmages and practice, especially those that have been around two to three years, you notice. You notice him if he knows what he is doing, and so over time he has proven that he can do this and that he can play. We don't care if he has a scholarship or not, if he is the best player we will play him. We don't care what race, what religion or if he has a scholarship or not. If he deserves to play he will play."

JH: Do you recognize guys even during the recruiting process as potential walk-ons, or maybe you would call them recruited walk-ons?

BS: "You would like to do that, but do you know what happens? There are a great number of players that we would like to do that with, but to much of the time they would get offended. Every player believes that they are a scholarship guy and we make mistakes. Sometimes we are right and sometimes we are wrong. So, we don't get into that. If a player, after the recruiting process, wants to walk-on we have proven over the last three to four years that if you are good enough you will eventually be on a scholarship and you will play, regardless of how your career started. It is kind of hard now with all the scholarship possibilities that a player has, even if it is at smaller colleges, to tell a young man to come here and walk-on. They are usually not real excited to hear that."

JH: Is it hard to have a great walk-on program in today's college football, especially with the roster limitations that you have?

BS: "Yeah, there are only a certain number of players that you can have on your squad. We can't take everybody. We don't let just anybody walk-on. You wouldn't believe some of the guys who we don't let walk-on, because we don't want them to get hurt here the first day because they have no business out here in the first place. We have a certain process in place for our walk-on program and Coach (Merv) Johnson heads that up for us. Out of all of the walk-ons that come to us there are some that we feel have a chance to help us in the future. We will find those players that can help us."

(As Coach Stoops was walking away after the interview he turned and said for us to watch for Mark Bradley next year. Mark is the son of former OU quarterback Danny Bradley, who did such a great job of playing the role of Seneca Wallace on the Sooner scout team before the OU-ISU game. Coach Stoops said he could help the Sooners in the future at wide receiver or in the secondary, but that he would start out at wide receiver next year.)

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