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On Sale At Newstands Oct. 28!
Strictly Striker
Florida product has matured into highly touted prospect

When he was younger, Eric Striker had visions of being the next Randy Moss, Michael Irvin or Jerry Rice. Having the ball in his hands, scoring touchdowns and thrilling crowds was all he dreamed about while growing up in his hometown of Seffner, located a few miles east of Tampa, Fla.

But that all changed when he got to Armwood High School.

During his freshman season, Striker began to see a different path on the football field — one that better suited his surname. Instead of wanting to be a wide receiver getting hit across the middle, he decided to be the one doing the hitting.

“I wanted the ball in my hands,” said Striker. “I wanted to be that type. But eventually I said, ‘I want to make some plays on defense.’ I felt like I knew I was going to go to defense anyway. I actually told the coach I wanted to move to defensive end. From there, I went to outside linebacker.”

It wasn’t an easy decision for Striker, but with his coach’s persuasion, Striker transitioned to defense and has become one of the top players in the nation over the last two seasons.

“The defensive coaches always messed with me when I was at receiver — telling me to come to defense, making jokes and stuff,” said Striker, who entered his senior season as the No. 25-ranked outside linebacker in the nation, according to Rivals.com. “I do love defense. You have to have a more crazy mentality on defense. I always had that nasty mentality — a more violent mentality. You have to have that.”

Growing up in Florida, Striker would normally have already been scooped up by one of the state’s major universities. But the same year he made the switch to defense, he discovered something else that would take him far away from his hometown.

Oklahoma played Florida in the national championship in the 2009 BCS title game, and even though the Sooners lost 24-14, Striker was impressed with what he saw in Coach Bob Stoops’ team.

“From there on out, I’ve been watching Oklahoma,” said Striker. “They’ve got seven Big 12 championships and they just won the last one under Bob Stoops, who’s a good coach.”

Despite living in the Florida heartland where the Gators rule — along with other traditional powers like Florida State, Miami and South Florida — Striker had no doubts when it came time to choose a college program that best suited him.

“I want to use college football to leave Florida,” said Striker. “It has nothing to do with the conference, has nothing to do with playing Florida football. To me, it’s the same wherever you go. I just want to use college football to go play out of Florida, see new people.

“I’ve always wanted to leave Florida so I can grow and learn to take care of myself on my own.”

The 6-foot-1, 195-pound linebacker/safety was so impressed by what he saw from Oklahoma in the 2009 BCS game and with the Sooners’ more recent recruiting spiel, he committed back in June to bring his talents to Norman next fall.

Striker had offers from South Florida, Tennessee, Vanderbilt, Cincinnati, Indiana, Iowa and Ole Miss, but the Sooners have everything he is looking for.

“The defensive coordinator (Brent Venables) was my recruiter. That was something that stuck out to me,” said Striker. “If the defensive coordinator is recruiting you, it’s not like an offensive coach. He just offered me off film. That’s when I said, ‘I got a good shot of playing here.’ That’s what I based my decision on.”

Striker’s parents supported his decision, even though they would have liked for him to have chosen a school closer to home.

“They pretty much wanted whatever I wanted,” said Striker. “My mom thought it was pretty far away, but the distance doesn’t matter to me. I will take opinions, but at the end of the day, it’s going to be me making the decision.”

Just to be on the safe side, Striker brought his mom to Norman for a recruiting visit during the summer so she could see all of the things he liked about Oklahoma.

“It just felt like home, and that’s why I wanted my mom to go with me so she could see for herself,” he said. “And she really liked it.”

Venables and Oklahoma obviously liked what they saw in Striker, too. And while the Sooners may have offered him a scholarship based mostly on his highlights, you can bet their research went to much greater depths.

One of the key attractions may have been Striker’s leadership, especially during his junior season, when he helped lead Armwood to win 14 consecutive games and a spot in Florida’s Class 4A state title game. Along the way, Striker averaged nine tackles a game, which included a 17-tackle performance late in the season.

Striker finished his team’s runner-up season with 16 quarterback sacks.

“Eric can really run, he has very good grades, he is a big hitter, and he understands the game of football,” Armwood coach Sean Callahan said in a recruiting report.

The evaluation reports on Striker have gotten better and better as he matured and gained valuable playing experience.

“Striker is basically an undersized linebacker in an attack 4-4 scheme,” said one recruiting analyst. “He has limited experience as a true back-end safety and high-point defender but has plenty of eye-popping production in the box. Will likely get recruited to play a hybrid safety position — ideally a Bandit or Rover role. (He) has very good size for that type position and a matching motor, range and closing speed that makes you believe he could be really productive if he landed in the right attacking defense.

“This guy has a quick-step and is a disruptive presence off the edge who can really run, close and hit. Has good overall range. Shows good pursuit speed chasing plays down sideline-to-sideline on run support and also the ability to blitz off the edge and create havoc.”

With his size and speed, the Sooners will more than likely have Striker in the rover position — the spot sophomore Tony Jefferson currently holds. Like Jefferson, Striker is known as a playmaker, which makes him a good fit for the position.

“I started making plays at the nickel spot,” said Jefferson. “They kind of told me an overview of what the position is, what it’s good for. I started to like it. I thought I was just going to play traditional safety back there. I had my mind on that. But now I get to move around, cover guys and make plays.”

Regardless of what position he has played or what level, Striker said he and football have always been a natural fit. He plans to bring the same fierceness he plays with at Armwood to the next level.

“When I got to high school, my sophomore year — that’s when I started believing,” said Striker, who collected 75 tackles and 11 sacks his first year as a varsity starter. “I came in hungry, coming off the edge making tackles. I pretty much knew this was going to be it.”

While he’s put away dreams of making big plays on offense, Striker continues to discover other ways to thrill the crowd. Whether its a big hit or a game-changing turnover, Eric Striker is excited about his future in football, especially where it pertains to the Sooners.

(Editor's Note: This story appears in the October 2011 issue of Sooner Spectator. To read more or subscribe, call toll free 1-877-841-8877)