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On Sale at Newstands Feb. 28!
Next Generation
Closing surge helped give Oklahoma strong 2015 recruiting class

It’s understandable if even the most passionate Oklahoma football fans were a little concerned during the days and weeks leading up to National Signing Day 2015 in early February.

A few weeks earlier, the Sooners had absorbed a disappointing loss to Clemson in the Russell Athletic Bowl and, on the heels of a stunning setback against Bedlam rival Oklahoma State, momentum just didn’t seem to be flowing in OU’s direction.
There were staff changes and a new, unseen offense being pitched to prospects. Oklahoma was also down two full-time coaches during the busiest days of recruiting season.

While there may have been unrest among the natives, none of that concern appeared to reach the OU football offices, which used Twitter to not only provide updates of recruiting destinations, but also provide an important message to OU’s faithful.

#JustWaitOnIt.

Those words proved true during that first week of February when the Sooners claimed a solid recruiting class with 24 new names added to the roster. Oklahoma wound up with 14 four-star recruits, according to Rivals.com. It is the second-largest number of four-stars over the past decade, with only the 2010 class (16) claiming more four-star recruits.

“I’m really excited about the work that our staff has done here in recruiting,” said Bob Stoops, who introduced his 17th recruiting class at Oklahoma. “I thought we signed a great class, a really exceptional group of athletes. We really got players at every position that we needed. I felt that we hit our target numbers to start camp next year at the right numbers at every position.”

Beyond the most pressing needs — offensive line and the defensive secondary — all eyes were focused on new offensive coordinator Lincoln Riley, who plans to install an “Air Raid” attack for the 2015 Sooners.

What types of players was Riley looking to find for the Sooners’ new offense?

Playmakers, it showed, especially late in the process.

The Sooners landed two wide receivers — A.D. Miller (6-3, 175) and Dahu Green (6-5, 190) — in the final days of recruiting season, adding talent and depth to go with junior college transfer Dede Westbrook and John Humphrey, two receiver prospects who are already on campus.

Westbrook (6-foot-1, 170 pounds) averaged 185.9 receiving yards per game at Blinn Community College, while Humphrey (6-0, 160) possesses the type of speed that could have an instant impact on special teams.

“After the holidays and in the last two weeks, the direction of what we were going to do offensively changed so that changed (the recruiting plan),” said Stoops. “In the end, we wanted to get more speed and quickness in some of the inside spots. And then we had a couple of guys that could go up and get the ball outside as well.”

Running back Rodney Anderson, another mid-year enrollee and a star running back from tradition-rich Katy (Texas) High School, joined tight end Dalton Wood (McAlester) as the other skill players in this class. Anderson (6-1, 205) has good hands and speed (which could fit right into Riley’s plans) and Wood, a 6-4, 250-pounder, has plenty of versatility.

One noticeable element missing from the 2015 recruiting class was a quarterback. The Sooners didn’t sign a QB prospect for only the second time in the Stoops’ era. The last time that happened was in 2005.

“I would (be concerned) if we didn’t have any other quarterbacks,” said Stoops. “But when you have four already on scholarship, you feel good about that. And they are all young.”

The Sooners return Trevor Knight, Cody Thomas, Baker Mayfield and Justice Hansen. All but Hansen (who redshirted last year) have started Big 12 Conference games.

Not signing a quarterback also could play to the Sooners’ advantage. Riley can take his time targeting prospects that fit his system in future recruiting classes.
The quarterback of the future will have some talented offensive linemen blocking in front of him. Assistant Bill Bedenbaugh was a man on a mission and landed one of the deepest groups that Oklahoma has seen in some time.

It takes a special player to make an instant impact, especially those coming from the high school ranks. Often, the offensive linemen are asked to redshirt because a program gets better value from a fifth-year senior than a true freshman.

At the offensive tackle position, Dru Samia (6-5, 280 from Danville, Calif.) is a tough player who could be a future gem. Bobby Evans (6-5, 270) is recovering from an ACL injury in his senior season and, although he’s already on campus, he’ll miss the spring game while undergoing rehabilitation.

Oklahoma also found three interior offensive linemen, highlighted by junior college transfer Jamal Danley (6-5, 305), who is already on campus, and could challenge for the vacated starting left guard position. High school entrants Cody Ford (6-4, 322) and Dominique Hearne (6-3, 288) will look to grow into playmakers in years to come.

“Where we lost quite a few guys and where we were a little thin in numbers would be on the offensive line position,” said Stoops. “In losing four guys, I thought we did a great job in signing (five) players. Two of them are already here — Bobby Evans and Jamal Danley. Again, they have great size and strength up there in positions where we really needed them.”

The defense took some blows last season and restocking the personnel — especially at defensive back — was a point of emphasis for the coaching staff. By the end of signing day, Stoops was ecstatic over the group that chose OU.

“Defensively, secondary-wise is where we’ve been a little bit thin in our numbers over the last year or two. We signed six great guys, three corners and three safeties, that I believe is a part of the best secondary class that I’ve been a part of signing,” said Stoops. “A group that is really athletic with great size and range to them and a group which is really going to help us improve there. Also, the secondary is a big part of our special teams and I think this will help fortify our numbers in our special teams as well.”

The safety position was fortified by the state of Oklahoma’s top player, Midwest City’s Will Sunderland. The 6-2, 186-pounder was rated as the nation’s seventh-best safety by Rivals.com. He was joined by Waco’s Kahlil Haughton (6-1, 178), who escaped a heavy recruiting pitch from his hometown university.

The Sooners celebrated a signing day flip when Prentice McKinney (6-2, 180) abandoned North Carolina to wear crimson and cream.

The cornerback position struggled in 2014, but OU found some valuable recruits in P.J. Mbanasor (6-1, 180), Antoine Stephens (6-2, 187) and junior college transfer William Johnson (6-0, 180).
Mbanasor was a high-school teammate of Samaje Perine, Stephens showed his versatility by moving from wide receiver to cornerback in his senior season and Johnson (a mid-year enrollee) has two years of college experience. All have the potential to make an immediate impact.

The linebacker position was closely watched during the recruiting season.
While Oklahoma didn’t go for quantity (only signing two), it didn’t lack for quality as Ricky DeBerry (6-2, 240) and Arthur McGinnis (6-2, 225) join the defense.
DeBerry is the Sooners’ highest-ranked linebacker signee since 2009 (Ronnell Lewis, Tom Wort), while McGinnis registered 108 tackles and 20 sacks in his senior season.

“I thought we did an exceptional job with two great linebackers, Ricky DeBerry, more of an outside guy, a rusher but a cover guy and great tackler, great player and then Arthur McGinnis, an inside guy who again has great presence, but 6-2, 6-3, 235-pound guy inside that is really strong,” said Stoops.

The defensive line loaded up with four signees – interior linemen Neville Gallimore (6-3, 303) and Marquise Overton (6-1, 300) and defensive ends Gabriel Campbell (6-6, 260) and Kenneth Mann (6-4, 240).

Gallimore, who was heavily recruited by former assistant Jerry Montgomery, is the Sooners’ top-rated recruit. The Canadian was considered the 83rd-best recruit overall. Overton comes from Jenks, a pipeline school that has sent Steven Parker, Jordan Smallwood and Alex Ross to OU in recent years.

Campbell was a big catch, especially with in-state schools Ole Miss and Mississippi State in pursuit, while Mann had 76 tackles and 13 sacks in his senior season of high school.

One player nearly guaranteed playing time in 2015 is Austin Seibert. With both the punter and kicker positions vacant, Seibert will make a run at both positions. Seibert (5-10, 195) made news when he posted a YouTube video of him connecting on a 70-yard field goal in practice.

Would Stoops be open to Seibert kicking and punting?

“Absolutely,” he said. “Sure you would be. As long as he’s able to handle it, whether it be the endurance of it all, it’s something that we’ll work towards. We’ll just see how it works for him.”

Stoops was also asked if he signs freshmen thinking they’ll play right away.
“We don’t ever want to put a player out there in a bad position not to be successful or that he’s not ready for. But it’s our intention to have him ready to play,” said Stoops. “I believe in today’s world, so many players train at such a high level at a younger age, are paying attention to nutrition at a younger age, are being developed at a better level at a younger age. And at the high school level they do such a great job of bringing them along nowadays that there are more players ready to play. We do really intend to play them all as we sign them.”

(Editor's Note: This story appears in the March 2015 Recruiting Issue of Sooner Spectator. For more information, call 405-850-9063)