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The Sooners’ recently-signed recruiting class comes to Norman with unique bond, character
Isaiah Thomas, a four-star member of Oklahoma’s five-star recruiting class, spent the past four years playing football for Tulsa’s Memorial High School. The Chargers won some games with Thomas at defensive end, but not nearly at the rate of fellow south-side-of-Tulsa schools Jenks and Union. Who does?
When Thomas started gaining attention after a breakout junior season…
“I had people that go to Jenks and Union ask me what I was gonna do now,” he said. “They were like, ‘Come over here and win a state championship. You could be a big impact for our team.’ I just told them, ‘No, I’m going to stay here at my home school. They made me who I am today. It wouldn’t be right of me to leave them.’”
The young man presents a lesson in loyalty, something you can apply across the Sooners’ most decorated recruiting class in years.
Many of Bob Stoops’ most important signees verbally committed early in the recruiting process. The only one who wavered was Union four-star cornerback Tre Brown. He considered switching to Florida before waking up on National Signing Day and deciding he would stick with OU.
He would stick with the class self-proclaimed #SoonerSquad17 on social media. It was a brand up until signing day, when it became something a lot more tangible.
“This class in particular has been fun,” said offensive coordinator Lincoln Riley. “It’s well documented, but just kind of how they stuck together, how they put this class in front of their individual needs or maybe attention for themselves. You had receivers that were committed recruiting other receivers. You had DBs recruiting other DBs, linebackers recruiting other linebackers. You don’t see that everywhere.
“In a lot of ways, it’s such a ‘me, me, me’ world. This group was a nice breath of fresh air in that regard. I think it’s a big key for why we pulled in the class that we did.”
It could also be a big key in the class reaching its potential.
There is no guarantee Thomas is going to become OU’s next great edge pass rusher, same as Brown is going to be the Sooners’ next great lockdown corner or Chris Robison is going to be their next great pocket passer or Trey Sermon their next great 1,000-yard rusher. All we have for the time being is a ton of potential.
It has to translate to big-time college football.
That falls to the coaches who must develop this talent, yes, but also to the players who must put in the work to maximize their natural ability.
That degree of work, that level of dedication, is going to be a shock to the signees’ systems. There is no getting around that, even for players like Brown and four-star defensive back Robert Barnes (Southlake Carroll) from well-pedigreed prep programs.
Jerry Schmidt’s workout plan is hardly for the faint of heart. Survive that, and OU’s Class of ’17 can then work on making an impression on their positions coaches. That can take a taxing amount of work and time. Thus the tendency to look at a recruiting class, anybody's recruiting class, four years later and wonder where everybody went.
I get the feeling we won’t have that problem with SoonerSquad17. They’re too loyal to quit on each other over the next four years. There seems to be too much character for that to occur.
If the bond is real, Brown, Barnes, Justin Broiles and Tre Norwood — the four defensive backs in the class — won’t shirk from competition the next few years, they’ll thrive as a result of it. They’ll form the nucleus of a secondary better equipped to handle Big 12 Conference passing attacks.
If the bond is real, Sermon will feed off fellow four-star running back Kennedy Brooks, and vice versa. That way, the two might give OU fans a pretty decent encore to Samaje Perine and Joe Mixon.
If the bond is real, receiver signees CeeDee Lamb, Charleston Rambo, Ryan Jones and Grant Calcaterra won’t complain as they figure out they still have much to learn when it comes to route-running, separation and ball skills. Instead, they’ll rely on each other to help shorten the learning curve, and usher in the post-Shepard/Westbrook era of OU pass-catchers.
If the bond is real, incoming linebackers Levi Draper, Addison Gumbs and Kenneth Murray will push each other to take full advantage of the lack of depth at their position. That way, the faster they’ll be on Owen Field alongside Caleb Kelly.
I tend to think it is real. It’s not just what I’ve seen from Thomas and Brown, two kids I wrote about last fall for the Tulsa World, it’s what I’ve heard from so many places in and outside the program.
We’ll see where it goes from here. We’ll see how these kids handle Schmitty’s rude awakening, the rigors of dog-day preseason practice in August, the tough love of position coaches like Mike Stoops and Bill Bedenbaugh.
We’ll see how they handle the demands of the program they just signed on to.
But right now, I get the feeling in four years we’re going to review the Class of ’17 as something to wonder, not wonder about.
(editor's note: This story appears in the 2017 Sooner Spectator Recruiting Issue ... for more info or to subscribe, call 405-364-4515)