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Oklahoma addressed its immediate needs with talented, diverse new class
National Signing Day went overtime for Oklahoma’s football staff.
It began at 6:15 a.m. when the nationwide net for the Class of 2016 recruiting class started sending in letters of intent from the East Coast. Signatures from future Sooners came from Maryland, Pennsylvania and North Carolina.
When the sun set on Feb. 3, Bob Stoops had already spoken highly of 18 players who had sent in their paperwork. He reminded reporters that there was one more player the Sooners hoped to receive good news about.
And then, around 7:30 p.m., linebacker Caleb Kelly — a five-star recruit from Fresno, Calif. — announced he was joining the Sooners. If you listened closely, there were cheers of joy coming from across Sooner Nation.
It completed a 19-man class that didn’t rate as highly as usual in the national recruiting rankings, but Stoops didn’t care.
Those sites typically are numbers-driven and after graduating only 11 seniors in 2015, there wasn’t much room for replacements. Plus, two scholarships were already allotted to transfers Kyler Murray (Texas A&M quarterback) and Geno Lewis (Penn State wide receiver).
“It’s a class that really covers the country from east coast to west and having a national brand, we continue to really do well all over the country,” said Stoops.
Here is a look at how Oklahoma filled its recruiting needs:
Most important signee: Quarterback Austin Kendall.
The 6-foot-2, 210-pounder from Cuthbertson (N.C.) High School currently is one of only two scholarship quarterbacks on the roster. An early enrollee, he’s beginning to soak in instruction from Heisman Trophy candidate Baker Mayfield.
It’s an important process because, in this day and age, it’s very uncommon for one quarterback to take every snap during a football season.
“He’s obviously going to factor into what we’re doing sooner rather than later,” said offensive coordinator Lincoln Riley. “And for him to be there with Baker and our other guys and with me in the meeting room, all the reps in spring ball, to already be settled in when summer gets here, just gives him a head start and obviously a head start that we’ll need.”
Impact player: Wide receiver Mykel Jones.
A late visit by Jones on the final weekend of recruiting season sealed the deal for the Sooners, who will get a 6-foot, 180-pound wide receiver who was rated the nation’s 94th-best overall player.
Jones was injured at the beginning of the 2015 season, but finished strong with 27 catches for 500 yards and seven touchdowns. The Cibolo Steele (Texas) product chose OU over Alabama, Tennessee and Ole Miss.
“We got him up here last-minute on a visit and, like a lot of kids, when he got here, he just couldn’t stop talking about how impressed he was with this place and how maybe what he saw in OU was different than what his perception was on the outside,” said Riley.
Under the radar: Running back Abdul Adams.
Riley, while East Carolina’s offensive coordinator, drew a commitment from Adams, a Washington D.C.-area running back who played his senior season at Durham Hillside (N.C.) High School.
After running for 1,846 yards as a junior and capping that with a senior season with 2,036 yards, the 6-foot, 205-pounder grabbed attention from schools across the country. He chose to stay loyal to Oklahoma.
“We believe he’s one of the more dynamic backs in the country. I think he’ll fit the mold of a Joe Mixon in terms of a guy who can just do a lot of different things,” said Riley. “He can be a great guy to turn around and hand it to but also can catch the ball out of the backfield, can block, can be a very, very versatile player for us.”
Position group targeted: Offensive line
Oklahoma signed five offensive linemen, including a pair of junior college players in Ashton Julious (6-6, 330) and Ben Powers (6-4, 315). Harrah’s Logan Roberson (6-3, 320) has been targeted for center and is an early enrollee.
Johncarlo Valentin (6-4, 330) and Erik Swenson (6-5, 318) are four-star high school signees.
“That offensive line class, that’s where we knew we had to beef up those inside three positions,” said Riley. “We had to get bigger, we had to get stronger and we had to get more physical at those inside three positions. We felt like the four guys we brought in with this class to play those positions will get that answered.”
Wide receiver Zach Farrar (6-3, 210) was flipped from Mississippi State. He had 56 catches for 1,115 yards and 18 touchdowns as a senior. He was one of the first players Riley visited after being hired in January 2015.
Adrian Hardy (6-2, 185) was a quarterback, running back and wide receiver in high school, with the latter being his focus at OU. Riley said Hardy “blew us away in every facet.”
Most important signee: Linebacker Caleb Kelly.
Kelly kept OU fans sweating up until his final announcement, which came long after Bob Stoops gave public comments on the class. Kelly, the second five-star signee out of California in three years, won the Butkus Award, presented to the nation’s top high school linebacker. The 6-3, 225-pounder from Fresno Clovis West High School had 115 tackles and 21 sacks as a senior.
“Caleb has exceptional size and exceptional athletic ability for an outside linebacker,” said Bob Stoops. “He can really run, can change direction and has great power, strength and quickness — he’s just a powerful impact guy who makes big plays. Caleb is really strong academically, as well.”
Impact player: Defensive back Jordan Parker
A consensus top 300 player nationally by all the recruiting services, Parker (6-1, 170) could be a big key to the secondary, especially at cornerback where OU is absorbing the loss of all-Big 12 player Zack Sanchez. Parker had 55 tackles and eight interceptions in his final two seasons of Pittsburg (Calif.) High School.
“Jordan is a really excellent athlete,” said Stoops. “We’re excited about him. Great quickness, speed — a great player.”
Under the radar: Linebacker Jon-Michael Terry.
The Tulsa Victory Christian star committed on Junior Day 2015 and, despite a number of big-time schools trying to speak with him, remained loyal to his Oklahoma pledge.
Terry (6-3, 230) is tabbed as an inside linebacker. In his senior season at Victory Christian, Terry had 175 tackles with four sacks and two fumble recoveries.
“He’s really talented. Whether he plays inside or outside, we’ll determine that by the skill set and where he can contribute the quickest and be the most efficient playing,” said defensive coordinator Mike Stoops. “ He’s a very talented kid and mature beyond his years. Really a special person — he’s like Gabe (Ikard) and Ty (Darlington) beyond football. He’s a special player and special person. He will excel in this program.”
Position group targeted: Linebacker
Four of the top 10 tacklers on OU’s 2015 team — all linebackers — departed the program, which put an emphasis on the position during this recruiting cycle.
In addition to Kelly and Terry, the Sooners brought in Lackawanna Community College linebackers Emmanuel Beal (6-2, 215) and Kapri Doucet (6-2, 225) and Mark Jackson (6-3, 235), who was a nice flip from Texas A&M late in the recruiting wars.
“That was the biggest hole to fill. To be able to fill it with quality mature players that have an opportunity to come in and play right away, that’s a unique combination for a young player,” said Mike Stoops. “To be able to do some of the things we need them to do at a young age or a junior-college player. We feel like all these players give us some opportunities there.
“They’re all dynamic players.”
The defensive line was boosted by the signing of Lawrence (Kan.) High School graduate Amani Bledsoe, a 6-5, 265-pound defensive end.
“He’s got really great length at 6-5 with long arms. He’s an excellent player, a physical player,” said Bob Stoops.
Defensive backs Parnell Motley (6-0, 180) and Chance Sylvie (6-0, 186) add depth to the secondary. Bob Stoops said he likes Motley’s size at cornerback, while Sylvie, a safety already on campus, has “excellent speed and quickness to cover slots and move around in the inside position and can really hit you too.”
(This story appears in the 2016 Sooner Spectator Recruiting Issue - to read more or subscribe - call 405-364-4515)