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Inside Look At The Best of The Best from The Stoops Era
Bob Stoops and his staff have delivered some incredible talent through the gates of Memorial Stadium over the past dozen or so years. Figuring out the best recruits the Sooners have signed during that period is no easy task. Stars like Roy Williams and Rocky Calmus were already on board when the Stoops era kicked off in 1999, but there are dozens of other players who earned their way onto this list, or at least deserved legitimate consideration.
Sooner Spectator takes a look at those players and ranks the top ten recruits of the Bob Stoops era.
No. 10 — Jermaine Gresham, Tight End, Ardmore HS
Oklahoma has made excellent use of the tight end position since Bob Stoops took over. Stoops’ arrival christened Trent Smith as the go-to target for quarterback Josh Heupel. OU used Smith’s performance as a springboard for signing more talented tight ends such as Joe Jon Finley and Bubba Moses over the years. Gresham was Rivals.com’s No. 1 tight end prospect in the country in 2006, and he basically redefined the position at OU during his time as a Sooner. Gresham developed into one of the most dangerous weapons in college football during the 2008 season, helping lead OU to a BCS National Championship appearance. For his efforts — which included setting several school receiving records for tight ends — he earned first-team All-American status and eventually became a first-round draft pick of the Cincinnati Bengals.
No. 9 — Gerald McCoy, Defensive Tackle, Southeast HS
McCoy is a player who was destined to be a Sooner from the first time he strapped on a helmet and pads. The five-star recruit out of Oklahoma City’s Southeast High School was the top defensive tackle prospect in the country, according to Rivals.com in 2006. Like Gresham, McCoy lived up to all of the hype and expectations. After redshirting his freshman season, McCoy spent the next three seasons maturing into one of the top defensive tackles in college football. Not only was McCoy a great physical talent — often dominating opposing players — he was the heartbeat of the 2008 Big 12 champion squad. When the NFL draft came calling this past April, Tampa Bay made McCoy the No. 3 overall pick.
No. 8 — Ryan Broyles, Wide Receiver, Norman High School
Broyles is the first player on this list, but certainly not the last, who was not considered a sure thing coming out of the high school ranks. Heck, Broyles wasn’t even a sure thing for Oklahoma as he waffled between OU and Bedlam rival Oklahoma State leading up to national signing day in 2007. But like most of the truly great ones over the years at Oklahoma, Broyles found a way to take his talents to a whole new level and in the process has developed into one of the best football players in college football during his first three seasons as a Sooner. He’s on pace to smash every receiving mark in the OU record books this fall. A Biletnikoff finalist the past two seasons, Broyles will be one of the favorites to capture that award as a senior.
No. 7 — Derrick Strait, Cornerback, Austin Lanier HS
Next to Roy Williams, Derrick Strait remains the most decorated defensive back of the Bob Stoops era. Strait took home the Jim Thorpe Award, the Bronko Nagurski Award and the Associated Press Big 12 Defensive Player of the Year award in 2003. Strait, a consensus All-American in 2003, earned the reputation for being one of the most instinctive cover corners in the program. That process began the day he arrived on campus, as he parlayed those instincts with his athleticism to become an instant starter as a redshirt freshman for the 2000 national championship squad. Strait may not have had a stellar pro football career, but that makes his college exploits all the more impressive. He truly was a player who got the most out his considerable potential.
No. 6 — Mark Clayton, Wide Receiver, Arlington Sam Houston HS
Clayton is another player who turned himself into a household name through hard work and dedication during his time at Oklahoma. Recognized as a two-time consensus All-American in 2003 and 2004, Clayton was also a Biletnikoff finalist his senior season. He set the bar high at Oklahoma for future receivers, and it’s taken a monumental effort by one of college football’s top receivers — Ryan Broyles — to reach some of those milestones. While Clayton was at OU, he set the record for career receptions and receiving yardage in a season. He also establish a career mark for touchdown receptions and the single-season mark for TD receptions, both of which have been eclipsed by Broyles.
No. 5 — Tommie Harris, Defensive Tackle, Killeen Ellison HS
It seems like a backwards thing to say, but Tommie Harris was the Adrian Peterson of defensive tackles when he came out of Texas in 2001. He wasn’t just the nation’s top defensive tackle prospect according to Rivals.com, he was the nation’s overall No. 1 prospect — at any position. That’s how dominant Harris was in the prep ranks, and those expectations only escalated as he stepped onto the college stage. With the body of a defensive tackle and the athletic ability of a weakside linebacker, Harris was a force on every snap. As a bonus, Harris was Stoops’ first major victory in the Red River recruiting battle with Texas, opening the door for players like Adrian Peterson and others to follow north.
No. 4 — Josh Heupel, Quarterback, Snow Junior College (Utah)
You can make an argument that Josh Heupel is Bob Stoops’ most important recruit — bar none. There is evidence to support such a theory. Heupel helped usher in a new era of OU football, and he did something no other player ahead of him on this list could do — he led the Sooners to a national championship, and in the process helped wipe away five seasons of unparalleled frustration surrounding the program. Heupel did that and more. He still holds several OU completion and passing attempt records. Now he’s been recruited again, this time to take over as co-offensive coordinator and play-caller for Stoops’ current program. His impact is still being measured.
No. 3 — Jason White, Quarterback, Tuttle High School
It’s hard to say Jason White is the most talented quarterback in OU history. But there is no doubting White’s significant role in OU football history, especially as it relates to the Stoops era. White won a Heisman in 2003 and was a finalist again in 2004, and he helped lead the Sooners to two national title games. But the reason White is so high on this list is because he helped sustain Oklahoma as a national power through the first decade of this century. He was instrumental in OU becoming a vertical passing offense —- which helped attract quality wide receivers like Mark Clayton, Brandon Jones and Mark Bradley and later set the stage for guys like Malcolm Kelly and Juaquin Iglesias. If Josh Heupel started the offensive revolution at OU, White took it to a new level.
No. 2 — Adrian Peterson, Running Back, Palestine HS
There aren’t enough superlatives when talking about Adrian Peterson as a player and a recruit at Oklahoma. Every college on the planet wanted Peterson, but Stoops and the Sooners won the sweepstakes. Oklahoma and Peterson proved to be a perfect fit for three seasons. The talented running back was all about working hard and not taking the easy road to success, which ultimately earned him the nation’s No. 1 overall prospect ranking in 2004. Peterson enjoyed a huge true freshmen season and eventually finished as a runner-up in the Heisman voting. While injuries limited his numbers over the next two seasons, Peterson’s impact is immeasurable. He is still the most celebrated recruit of the Stoops era.
No. 1 — Sam Bradford, Quarterback, Putnam City North HS
Why Bradford over Peterson? Maybe because Bradford was the No. 1 overall pick of the 2009 NFL Draft. No one can match that in the Stoops era. Bradford burst onto the stage and revived the program just when it seemed the Sooners might be in a rebuilding mode following the 2005 and 2006 seasons. Like Heupel and White before him, Bradford helped give the OU program direction while facing a crossroads. While he wasn’t highly recruited out of Putnam North, Bradford looked like a five-star prospect from the moment he took over as the starter in 2007. A season later, Bradford won the Heisman Trophy and led the Sooners to the BCS title game. Although a shoulder injury kept Bradford from completely rewriting OU’s record books, his legacy was already well established.
Best of the Rest:
Quentin Griffin, RB, Aldine Nimitz HS
For whatever reason, Griffin will always remain one of the best running backs at Oklahoma who will never make the conversation of best ever.
DeMarco Murray, RB, Las Vegas Bishop Gorman HS
Murray was one of the most reliable and stabilizing forces for the Oklahoma offense in the Bob Stoops era.
Jammal Brown, OL, Lawton MacArthur HS
Brown became Stoops’ first great offensive lineman at Oklahoma and set the stage for many future NFL prospects.
Trent Williams, OL, Longview HS
Williams wasn’t known as the most dedicated player to ever play at Oklahoma, but that didn’t stop him from being a star.
Dan Cody, DE, Ada HS
Cody was truly the first physical freak at the defensive end position under Stoops.
Curtis Lofton, LB, Kingfisher HS
If Lofton had stayed for just one more year, he might be considered the best linebacker who ever played at OU.
Antonio Perkins, CB, Lawton HS
Perkins set an NCAA record with three punt returns for TDs against UCLA, and he was also a standout cornerback.
Teddy Lehman, LB, Ft. Gibson HS
The Butkus Award winner’s interception for a TD on Roy Williams’ Superman play against Texas in 2001 will go down as one of the greatest plays in OU history.
Davin Joseph, OL, Hallandale HS
A versatile player, Joseph had a great personality and an equally great ability on the offensive line.
Duke Robinson, OL, Atlanta Booker T. Washington HS
The two-time consensus All-American anchored a line that won two Big 12 Championships and appeared in the 2008 BCS title game.
Vince Carter, C, Waco HS
Before Jon Cooper and Ben Habern became All-Big 12 caliber centers, Carter was being recognized as an All-American.
Brodney Pool, S, Houston Westbury HS
A silent superstar for Oklahoma, Pool is still making plays in the NFL for the New York Jets.
J.D. Runnels, F, Carl Albert HS
Runnels was an important recruit for Bob Stoops because he helped pave the way for the fullback and tight end in the jumbo set at Oklahoma.
Brody Eldridge, TE/FB, LaCygne Prairie View HS
Eldridge followed up Runnels and helped add more wrinkles to the physical nature of OU’s offense.
(This story appears in the 2011 Recruiting Issue of Sooner Spectator. To subscribe, call toll free 1-877-841-8877)