By JOHN SHINN
Oklahoma coach Bob Stoops knew heading into Wednesday there weren’t going to be any major surprises shooting out of the fax machine. The Sooners expected to receive 24 national letters of intent — and did by 5:30 p.m.
What the group will provide this coming season and in the future is the source of uncertainty.
“I think we’re always looking for a good mix of guys on both sides of the football. I felt like we got that,” Stoops said. “I’m really excited to have the number of in-state, great quality players that we got. Excellent players here and the top guys in the state of Oklahoma here with us. I thought we really addressed some of the major needs that we needed.”
The Sooners, who went 10-3 last season and shared the Big 12 Conference title with Kansas State, had clearly defined needs heading into Wednesday.
The first was rebuilding a defensive line that lost three defensive tackles and two defensive ends in their rotation to graduation.
OU added four defensive tackles — junior college transfer Quincy Russell, along with Texas prep standouts Kerrick Huggins, Matthew Romar and Charles Walker.
“I’d probably single out Quincy Russell being that he’s a junior college player, with the size and strength and quickness he has,” Stoops said. “We expect — really all of these guys any more, we expect to make an immediate impact, but obviously Quincy is one of those guys being that he’s older and in a position that we need guys to step up.”
Southmoore defensive end D.J. Ward, who is already attending classes at OU, highlights the trio of defensive ends that also includes the Texas duo of Matt Dimon and Ogbonnia Okoronkow.
“Developing our players up front was a huge area for us to improve, to develop some more playmakers up front,” defensive coordinator Mike Stoops said. “… Those guys are very athletic. They have a chance to allow us to put more speed on the field.”
The second area where OU had to reload was in the secondary. The Sooners have to replace three of four starters from last season. There’s also the matter of playing in the pass-heavy Big 12, which makes having as many as seven defensive backs ready to play essential.
The Sooners literally criss-crossed the country to get them. They stayed in state to get Tulsa East Central cornerback Stanvon Taylor and landed cornerback Dakota Austin from Lancaster, Texas.
The Sooners went to Miami to land cornerback Ahmad Thomas. Then jumped out to Fresno, Calif., to secure the signatures of safety Hatari Byrd and cornerback L.J. Moore.
“Really excited about all of them,” Bob Stoops said. “They all have size and they all have range to them on top of ability. Definitely, we’re excited about them. We feel like it’s a really good group.”
OU got the two best linebackers in the state — Norman North’s Jordan Evans and Tulsa Washington’s Dominique Alexander — to come aboard.
The offensive needs started on the offensive line. OU went the junior college route to secure immediate help at both guard and tackle. Trinity Valley (Texas) tackle Josiah St. John will push for immediate playing time. Mammoth guard Dionte Savage (6-foot-5, 345 pounds) will do the game. The only prep offensive linemen the Sooners inked was Houston tackle Christian Daimler.
The highest rated recruits in the class were at two positions where OU doesn’t require instant impact. Cypress, Texas, running back Keith Ford is a five-star recruit with Scout.com and a unanimous top-seven running back with ESPN, Rivals and 247sports.com. However, OU has seniors Damien Williams and Brennan Clay along with Alex Ross and David Smith coming out of redshirt.
It’s the same case with Colleyville, Texas, quarterback Cody Thomas. He’s one of the best quarterbacks in the country. However, Thomas is also one of the best baseball players in the country. Stoops said he’ll get the opportunity to play both sports at OU.
Stoops saw a resemblance to former Heisman Trophy winner Sam Bradford when he watched Thomas.
“Like Sam, it all seems so effortless. The quickness of his release. He’s got a great release and great arm. He’s just so athletic,” Stoops said. “I believe everything Sam picked up — he picks up a golf club and shoots even par. Throw him on a basketball court and he would be one of the top two or three guys picked in this room if he were here with our team. Everything he did, he did well. Cody is like that. Everything he does, he does it well.”
Co-offensive coordinator Jay Norvell reeled in his usual crop of talented wide receivers, but there were only three. San Antonio Madison’s Dannon Cavil is already enrolled at OU and at 6-foot-5 will provide a big presence on the perimeter. The Sooners also added Manvel, Texas, standout Austin Bennett and K.J. Young from Perris, Calif.
Cavil appears to be the one who could have the quickest impact.
“He immediately adds competition when he walks into the room. He’s almost 6-5 and 205 pounds,” Norvell said. “He’s a big strong kid that can run. He immediately adds competition, which is important because we need that at every position to really be good.”
Punter Jed Barnett was a huge need as well. Tress Way has graduated and the Sooners needed a punter in this class to replace him.
The 24-man group was a consensus top-16 class and the leader among Big 12 schools. Rivals and Scout both placed the Sooners at No. 15. ESPN gave the Sooners the No. 16 ranking. The most impressive ranking was No. 13 with 247Sports.
Stoops didn’t care about the ranking. The production will be judged over the next four years.
“I think it’s very comparable to a lot of the classes we’ve had over the last 13 or 14 years. That’s been good through the last 13 or 14 years,” he said.
OU signing day notebook: Sooners land solid in-state signees
There’s a lot to like about Oklahoma’s 2013 recruiting class. One of thing local fans will like is the in-state flavor. Five of the 24 recruits are from the Sooner State.
Defensive end D.J. Ward (Southmoore) and linebacker Jordan Evans (Norman North) come from the immediate area. The Sooners secured linebacker Dominique Alexander (Tulsa Washington), cornerback Stanvon Taylor (Tulsa East Central) and wide receiver Jordan Smallwood (Jenks) from the Tulsa area.
It marked the most in-state players in an OU class since inking six from the state in 2007.
“We always want to do a great job in our own state. Fortunately through the years, we have,” Stoops said. “We’re always diligent in that the first players we evaluate and continue to evaluate are always in-state players. Not that we’re always right, but we sure are always doing everything we can to watch them, evaluate them, get to know them and get them around us, invite them to campus, invite them to practices, invite them to scrimmages. It’s been a positive and these are all excellent players and some of them are the top players in our state.”
Ward waiting for clearance
Ward is attending classes at OU, but he won’t be able to participate in spring practice next month unless the NCAA clears him. Ward didn’t play football his senior season at Southmoore after the OSSAA ruled he had to sit out after transferring from Douglass High School to Southmoore late in the summer.
“Hopefully, the NCAA will find time to go through his records and he can get him cleared by the time we’re on the field,” Stoops said. “Hopefully, he can make that up in spring ball with being back on the field. I believe he will. He’s still working out hard and looks great, but he’s missed that time on the field.”
Long wait for Thomas
Quarterback Cody Thomas is expected to arrive at OU in June, but it won’t be until July until OU knows if it has him for sure.
Thomas is also one of the best baseball players in the country and will likely be high-round pick in the Major League Baseball first-year player draft in June. Players have until July 12 to sign contracts.
“Cody is a guy where football is important to him. He isn’t just a baseball player that’s playing football for the heck of it. Football is important to Cody. For those reasons, I know he wants to succeed,” Stoops said. “I don’t know if it’s fair to say since he’s just coming out of high school, but he’s got a great future in football, too, because of the athlete he is and the way he throws the ball.”
The strength of the class is in the skill positions — running back (Keith Ford), quarterback (Thomas) and receivers (Dannon Cavil, Smallwood and K.J. Young).
Co-offensive coordinator Jay Norvell said recruiting to those positions has not been difficult.
“I recruited my tail off when I was at Wisconsin and Iowa State. This ain’t Iowa State. We just have an ability to get in on players,” he said. “We have a great offensive product here to sell to skill players, and we try to use that history to sell players on coming here. When Adrian Peterson is MVP and doing what he’s doing in the National Football League, and Sam Bradford and Ryan Broyles, DeMarco Murray ... those guys are great examples for what kids want to be. I think coach Stoops has always given skill players an opportunity to show their skills offensively. That’s what kids want.”
Clear the air
Safety Hatari Byrd recently told a reporter defensive coordinator Mike Stoops told him he would start this season at safety. Stoops said that isn’t a guarantee.
“I think that's ludicrous that anyone would speculate that I would ever do that. I've never done that in all my years of coaching, promised a kid a position. You earn everything you get here at Oklahoma,” he said. “If a kid misspoke or misinterpreted, again, that falls on people preying on young players and kids maybe not knowing how to handle the situation that well. But I think you guys know me well enough that I would never promise anybody a starting position. These guys will all earn their way through the process of coming in this summer and earning their playing time.”
With signing day complete, OU has all its recruits for the coming season. If OU coach Bob Stoops is going to make any staff changes, now is the time to do it.
When asked about that on Wednesday, he evaded the question.
“How do you speculate that? It’s not something that I ever talk about publicly,” Stoops said. “From year to year, things happen on every staff. We’ll see where it goes.”
No tight ends?
OU stopped using the tight ends it currently has late in the 2012 season. The group it signed on Wednesday did not include a tight end.
Stoops said it wasn’t a pressing need. He believes redshirt freshmen Tyler McNamara and Sam Grant will develop and senior Brannon Green provides a blocking presence for this season.
“These younger guys that we have from a year ago were top recruits, they were guys that could have gone a lot of places,” he said. “I believe next year they will make an impact. Taylor McNamara and Sam Grant were two highly recruited guys that just need a little bit of time. They’ll be on the field more next year and it will be more of an emphasis next year.”
OU signing list
*Jed Barnett, P, 6-2, 215, Camas, Wash. (Laney College)
*Dannon Cavil, WR, 6-3, 200, San Antonio (Madison)
*Qunicy Russell, DT, 6-4, 315, San Antonio (Trinity Valley CC)
*Ahmad Thomas, S, 6-1, 199, Miami (Central)
*D.J. Ward, DE, 6-2, 245, Southmoore
Ogbonnia Okoronkwo, DE, 6-2, 209 Houston (Taylor)
Keith Ford, RB, 5-11, 200 Cypress, Texas (Ranch)
Jordan Smallwood, WR, 6-2, 190 Jenks
Christian Daimler, OT, 6-6, 270, Houston (Stratford )
Austin Bennett, WR, 6-0, 170 Manvel, Texas
Matthew Romar, DL, 6-3, 268 Port Arthur, Texas (Memorial)
Charles Walker, DL, 6-3, 280 Garland, Texas (South Garland)
Stanvon Taylor, CB, 5-11, 160, Tulsa East Central
Dominique Alexander, LB, 6-0, 198, Tulsa Washington
Josiah St. John, OT, 6-6, 305, Toronto, Canada (Trinity Valley CC)
Dionte Savage, OL, 6-5, 345, Flint, Mich. (Arizona Western CC)
Cody Thomas, QB, 6-4, 213, Colleyville, Texas (Heritage)
Matt Dimon, DE, 6-2, 245, Katy, Texas
Hatari Byrd, S, 6-1, 195, Fresno, Calif. (Central East)
Jordan Evans, LB, 6-3, 199, Norman North
Kerrick Huggins, DL, 6-3, 289, Dallas (Skyline)
K.J. Young, WR, 6-1, 182, Perris, Calif. (Citrus Hill)
Dakota Austin, CB, 5-11, 167, Lancaster, Texas
L.J. Moore, CB, 6-1, 175, Fresno, (Central East) Calif.
*Denotes players signed before national signing day