Thursday, September 13, 2012
Sooner Intel: Recruiting news and notes
By Bob Przybylo
Every Thursday, SoonerNation releases the Sooner Intel, a sneak peek inside Oklahoma Sooners football recruiting with news and notes on the latest happenings around the program. Talk about it on our forum. A few things discussed in this week's update:
• More on what happened with an OU commit who has been forced to give up football.
• OU's lone official visitor talks more about his trip for the Florida A&M game.
• Two 2014 DEs talk about their Sooners interest
• Where will OU look now at offensive tackle? We talk with a few targets.
• More from OU's newest basketball commit.
Read the Sooner Intel after the jump.
Teammate reflects on Beyer’s impact
It’s the first of OU’s two bye weeks so you knew it would be a busy week in recruiting. And it has been with several new offers being handed out.
But nothing stands out more this week than the news on Monday morning when OU offensive tackle commit Matt Beyer (San Antonio/Reagan) let the world know he will have to give up playing football.
Beyer tweeted Monday morning, “Thank you for all the memories guys! Football has truly been great to me! I love you all! It was just time for me to hang up the pads.”
Beyer, understandably, has not answered text messages or answered phone calls this week. But I did have a chance to catch up with his teammate, Sterling Korona.
Korona said Beyer addressed the team Monday morning and let it know he was being forced to give up the game because of a neck injury.
Beyer did have a serious back injury, too, but tweeted Wednesday that was not why he is forced to give up the game.
Beyer suffered an incomplete fracture of the L5 vertebrae and was forced to watch most of the 2011 season from the sidelines.
But Beyer said he was back and better than ever and had proved it so far. After a stellar start to his senior season, a neck injury crept up that has forced him to call it quits.
“After Matt was done addressing the team, we were allowed to say some words to Matt,” Korona said. “I was the last one to speak to him. It was tough. I told him I would carry the team for him now.”
Beyer’s announcement came on the heels of an already emotional week for San Antonio Reagan players. Former teammate Andres Cabrera was killed in a car accident last week.
“On a scale of 1-10 about how stressful this week has been, I would say it has been a 9.9,” Korona said. “We’ve had to dig down deep and have learned a lot about ourselves and our resolve.”
Korona said Beyer’s speech was powerful and that one line stood out the most.
“It hurts now, but I’ll be able to run with my kids when I’m in my 40's. I won’t be a paraplegic. And that’s what’s important,” Beyer told the team, according to Korona.
Beyer, to his credit, is staying with the team. He hasn’t missed a day of practice and is making that transition from player to coach.
“Matt has been out there coaching the younger guys as if nothing is wrong,” Korona said. “He has handled this a lot better than I would. He is still a part of this team in every sense of the word.”
Without talking to Beyer, I won't speculate where he stands with OU in terms of his scholarship. OU offensive tackles coach Bruce Kittle did talk with Korona last week although no offer has been made.
Korona, who is committed to Duke, is taking an official visit to see the Blue Devils this weekend.
Mixon with something to think about
Maybe the expectations were too high regarding OU and the official visit of Dimarya Mixon (Mesquite, Texas/West Mesquite) last weekend.
Mixon, a three-star recruit who is committed to Arizona State, said he never had any plans on switching his pledge to the Sooners last weekend.
The keywords there? Last weekend.
“I was just having a lot of fun. If I did make a decision, it wasn’t going to be right then and there,” Mixon said. “I’m not sure what I’m going to do. I’m committed to ASU ... at the moment.”
Mixon said he didn’t want to compare and contrast OU and ASU. He admitted he loved being back at OU and now it will be a waiting game. Mixon is scheduled to take an official visit to Arizona State next weekend and West Virginia the weekend after that.
He was the only football official visitor of the weekend. And when it’s a game against Florida A&M, that makes a lot of sense. But what it did give him was a chance to see the words of the coaches actually be true.
The OU coaches have stressed that opportunities are there for the younger players. If you work hard and keep your head on straight, you will have a chance to make an impact.
Following Saturday’s 69-13 victory, Mixon knows the coaches aren’t just blowing smoke.
“It did open my eyes to a lot of things,” Mixon said. “It was very encouraging to see all the true freshmen out there playing. That’s something that is great to know that they give guys an opportunity.”
Mixon said he didn’t have any football-related questions for the coaches, and he has seen the campus enough that it wasn’t about that, either. But he did ask some academic-related questions and said he was pleased with the answers.
“I know what OU is all about. I don’t have any questions,” Mixon said.
Thomas grateful for OU offer
OU doesn’t have to look very far to find quality 2014 defensive ends. With so many in the Oklahoma and Dallas area, it’s going to make the search a little easier.
The Sooners are starting to narrow down their targets, too, making an offer to Solomon Thomas (Coppell, Texas/Coppell) last week.
Class of 2014 DE Solomon Thomas hopes to make an OU game this fall.
“I have a lot of friends down there,” Thomas told HornsNation’s Wiliam Wilkerson. “I like OU a lot. I was just very thankful for the offer and the opportunity.
“I called Coach [Cale] Gundy on Wednesday night and we were just talking. He said that we had a letter telling me that I received an offer. But I hadn’t gotten it yet so he informed me that I got it.”
It will not be easy trying to snag Thomas away from Texas. In the same week he picked up the Sooners offer, Thomas was on another unofficial visit with the Longhorns. He said he definitely plans on being at the Red River Rivalry on Oct. 13.
But that’s not all. It might be tough with his high school schedule, but Thomas said he is going to try to see an OU home game in person this season.
“I will definitely try to get up to an Oklahoma home game,” Thomas said. “Right now I don’t know if I can, but I will definitely try.
“They always recruit the best in the nation. Everyone talks about how the teammates are cool up there and how the atmosphere is really cool up there.”
Thomas camped at OU the summer following his freshman season. He had hoped to be at OU in June but had a scheduling conflict and was unable to attend.
Clark staying patient
For the most part, the unofficial visitors stayed within the state last week for OU. But the Sooners were able to land one 2014 prospect from Texas in Denton Ryan defensive end Sekou Clark.
Clark has become very familiar with OU and the Norman area because of summer camps the last three years but Saturday marked his first game in person.
He is hoping it won’t be his last.
“I definitely want to come back. That atmosphere was crazy. There was like more than 80,000 people there for that game,” Clark said. “Every time I come back, I start to feel like I can spend my four years of college there.”
OU is not done with Clark yet, either. The Sooners invited him to the game last week and now they’re on their way to watch Clark. Clark said Bobby Jack Wright should be coming either Thursday or Friday to check in and see how things are going.
Clark is still waiting for his first offer. And while that’s tough for me to comprehend because of his skill, the Sooners have definitely put themselves in a great position with their constant interaction with Clark.
This week certainly won’t be the last time OU and Clark cross paths. Clark said he is going to attend the OU-Texas game Oct. 13.
Cochran wants to see the Sooners
We have come to the offensive tackle part of the Intel. With Beyer no longer playing football, the search will intensify even more for Kittle.
One recruit where Kittle has made strong strides with is Aaron Cochran (Atwater, Calif./Buhach). The consensus has been the four-star prospect is a California lean because that’s where his brother plays.
Tom Hauck for ESPN.com
Offensive tackle Aaron Cochran is trying to set his official visit to OU.
Cochran said that’s not the case.
“It’s not as tempting as you would think,” said Cochran about playing with his brother. “People think that I have to follow him. I don’t, and he knows I don’t and respects that.”
Cochran has a couple of official visits lined up, starting this week at UCLA. He is also looking at Nebraska in October. And there is a strong chance he will take one to OU on Nov. 9, the weekend the Sooners play Baylor.
“It’s not 100 percent set yet, but I think that is going to be the best weekend," he said.
Cochran said he really likes talking with Bruce Kittle and said he has admired the way OU has played football for a long time.
Though it looks like UCLA, Nebraska and OU will get official visits that doesn’t mean other schools aren’t in the running.
“I haven’t thought about setting up a list of favorites at all at this point,” Cochran said. “I’m still evaluating schools and trying to decide where I might fit best.”
Slater helping Rodgers’ progress
Let's go from one coast to the other. OU is firmly in the mix for four-star tackle Na’Ty Rodgers (Owings Mills, Md./McDonough). Rodgers is 6-foot-4 and 285 pounds and is taking his official visit to OU next weekend for the Kansas State game.
Kittle doesn’t have to do too much with Rodgers in terms of encouraging him. Na’Ty’s father, Tyrone, is an OU supporter. Tyrone Rodgers went to OU in 1988 before transferring to Washington.
One of Tyrone’s best friends is OU legend Jamelle Holieway. The two went to high school together and OU and remain close.
Holieway will be at the OU-KSU game, while Tyrone is not sure if he wants to come. And in terms of Na’Ty’s development, that’s where NFL Hall of Famer Jackie Slater comes in. Slater is also one of Tyrone’s best friends.
“My son has been working out with Jackie Slater the last three years,” Tyrone said. “Jackie said he has been very impressed with how he has looked and developed.”
Tyrone has done his best to stay in the background for Na’Ty’s recruitment. But he has a set of guidelines he wants his son to follow.
“How competitive is the team? Did they just get good now or do they have a strong tradition?” Tyrone said. “What’s the family-like atmosphere there? I think that’s so important because no matter what city I’m in, if I know one of my former OU brothers lives there, I know we can catch up.”
Na’Ty initially wanted to wait until after the season before taking his official visits. Obviously that has changed. But what Tyrone is hoping doesn’t change is the decision date. He has made it clear he wants Na’Ty to focus on his senior season and then commit after the season.
“I want him to keep up his GPA. It’s good now, and I want him to keep it that way,” Tyrone said. “Some coaches might have a problem with waiting until after the season, but that is our plan.”
Na’Ty has also talked about taking an official visit to Arkansas and said South Carolina is the leader in the race at this point. Washington will also definitely get a visit.
“I root for two teams. OU and U Dub [Washington],” Tyrone said. “It would be great if he went to one of those schools, but it’s his decision. And if OU ever plays U Dub, I’m rooting for both defenses.”
Timing was right for Elliott
Junior college power forward Dominique Elliott (Athens, Texas/Trinity Valley CC) felt OU was the place for him after his official visit last weekend.
He felt it during the visit. He felt it on the trip back and felt it when he was back home. He returned to Trinity Valley on Sunday and called his mother to tell her OU was the place for him.
“I told her I was done. I felt comfortable. I felt happy,” Elliott said. “But she thought I should take my other visits and see how things felt.”
An in-home visit from Lon Kruger and Chris Crutchfield sealed the deal for OU as Elliott confirmed his commitment Wednesday night.
Elliott said it was Crutchfield who first noticed him at the Nike Top 100 camp in Missouri in June and the interest was consistent since that point.
“Now I can stop worrying about who is watching in the stands and just try to win this juco championship,” Elliott said.
Thomas more than just a passer?
Going into the season, OU quarterback commit Cody Thomas (Colleyville, Texas/Heritage) wasn’t talking about his passing.
Sooners quarterback commit Cody Thomas delivered a performance for the ages last week, accounting for 7 touchdowns.
No, for some reason Thomas wanted to show people he is more than a pocket passer. He got his first chance last week in a 54-38 victory against Denton (Texas) Guyer.
Thomas rushed for 71 yards and two touchdowns as part of his seven-touchdown performance. No play stood out more than his final touchdown, a 44-yard run where he bulldozed a Denton Guyer defensive back.
“We’re not afraid to run him some more this season,” Colleyville Heritage coach Mike Fuller said. “Part of that is because we have more faith in our backups. If Cody needs a break, we can give him one. We didn’t have that luxury before.”
But of course the main reason OU fans are excited about Thomas is his arm and the 6-5, 220-pound prospect had a showcase night. He was 30-of-41 for 363 yards with five touchdowns. Breaking it down further, he was 19-of-27 for 223 yards and four touchdowns in the second half.
“I had no idea what kind of numbers he had,” Fuller said. “I just knew they were good. He’s a phenomenal young man. A great leader. He has that ability to make others better and for others to want to be better.
“You think OU is getting a good one?”
Thomas didn’t attend OU’s home game last weekend but said it looks like his official visit will be Oct. 26, when the Sooners host Notre Dame. That weekend, as said before, is shaping up to be the biggest in-season recruiting weekend in a long time.
Thomas excited about OU gear
It’s the story of every unofficial or official visit. The recruit, during his downtime, goes to the campus store and loads up on OU gear.
But what if you have never taken a visit yet? That’s the case for OU safety commit Ahmad Thomas (Miami/Central). In that situation, any little thing means a lot.
“I got an Oklahoma shirt this week. Oh man, I’m so excited about it,” Thomas said. “One of my friends got it for me. I love it. I had been looking at Champs and Foot Locker, but it’s tough to find OU stuff here in Miami.”
After a loss to No. 1-ranked Loganville (Ga.) Grayson, it appeared Miami Central was going to fall to 0-2. Miami Central was trailing Miami Booker T. Washington 19-3 at halftime before rallying for a 37-26 victory.
“That was a huge win for us,” Thomas said. “I played really well in that second half. I think I have played really well in both games. I can still get better. But what I did more than anything was play a big role in the run support and that really helped out the team.”
Thomas said he spoke to Mike Stoops on Sunday night as the two try to find a good date for his official visit. And now there is a new wrinkle as Thomas said he wants to enroll early.
“Coach Stoops said I need to get out here when I can so we can look at me getting there early,” Thomas said. “It’s something I really want to do. I have to talk with the academic advisors and make sure everything is OK.”
Thomas said he would like to major in journalism and that writing has always come easy to him since he was in elementary school.
Sooners throw their hat in Okoronkwo sweepstakes
OU is in pretty good position at defensive end for the 2013 class with ESPN 300 prospects D.J. Ward and Matt Dimon (Katy, Texas/Katy).
But OU seems to be gunning for one more. Could that one more be Houston Alief Taylor’s Ogbo Okoronwko?
Okoronkwo and teammate 2014 defensive back Chris Hardeman were both offers by the Sooners on Tuesday afternoon. Okoronkwo is an Oklahoma State commit, while Hardeman is committed to LSU. Gig’EmNation’s Sam Khan was able to catch up with Okoronkwo this week.
“I was happy. I was excited about it,” Okoronkwo said about the offer.
But he had hoped it would come sooner. Okoronkwo, who is 6-foot-3 and 220 pounds, is a three-star prospect that thought his OU offer was going to come in the summer.
“During the summer, I thought they were going to offer. But when they didn’t offer, I was a little disappointed,” Okoronkwo said. “Now that they offered now, it’s…”
Okoronkwo, who is ranked No. 57 at defensive end, said it is still too early to determine whether or not he is going to visit OU. He said he does know he is going to visit for OSU’s home game against Kansas.
“I wish the offer had come earlier so I could have weighed my options,” he said. “But Oklahoma State came after me real hard. I’m happy with Oklahoma State, and I have a great bond and relationship with those coaches.”
Ponds focused, not frustrated
One 2013 prospect that has practically lived at OU in the last five months is linebacker T.J. Ponds (Wagoner, Okla./Wagoner).
Ponds was at junior day, attended a spring practice, was at all three days of the summer camp and was back at OU last weekend for an unofficial visit.
“It was a cool game to go watch. Almost started to feel sorry for some of those Florida players,” Ponds said. “It was a good experience to see some of those younger guys. It made me feel good about where I’m at.”
Ponds said he had some one-on-one time with Tim Kish. Kish’s message to Ponds?
“Don’t worry about the recruiting process. Everything will take care of itself.”
Ponds has also received a lot of interest from Missouri and Iowa State and hopes to take unofficial visits to both places this season.
Still looking for his first offer, Ponds is not in panic mode.
“My parents have taught me to be patient,” Ponds said. “It doesn’t really aggravate me right now. I have to keep working hard.”
Ponds said he was able to run a 4.7 in the 40-yard dash in his last attempt, one of his best times in a while. He said coaches have told him he is playing downhill more this season and that his pass coverage has improved greatly.
“You can’t just be a run stopper in college. I love to hit, but I know I have to be able to defend the pass, too,” Ponds said.