Thursday, September 27, 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 OU getting back in the mix with a top tailback.
• Could a out-of-state- prospect who was in Norman last weekend visit again this fall?
• Four-star offensive tackle knows he could play early at OU
• Sooners RB commit shaking off poor performance in season debut
• What happens next with OT Matt Beyer? He isn't sure.
Read the Sooner Intel after the jump.
Sooners making push again for Bryant
It wasn’t the weekend Oklahoma fans were hoping for, either on the field or on the recruiting trail. With so many top uncommitted prospects coming to Norman, the hope was for some good news.
Three schools are standing out to tailback Greg Bryant and, surprisingly, one is Oklahoma.
And maybe it didn’t happen with some of the visitors, but OU running backs coach Cale Gundy was working the phones hard last weekend to get a familiar name back into the fold.
What does it mean? It's tough to say. It doesn’t mean OU is now the leader again for Bryant, but the Sooners are realistically in the equation once again.
What’s tough for some fans to grasp is why Bryant decommitted in the first place when it seemed like he had no problems with OU or its coaches. Bryant reaffirmed that and said he still has no issues with the program. The issue, he said, was with his commitment on March 31.
“I never should have committed that day,” Bryant said. “I was just having so much fun and feeling right at home that I decided to do it. But I should have waited.
“I don’t regret the decommitment, though. I need to see what else is out there and be fair to everybody. What I should have done was taken that first visit, kept talking with Coach Gundy and then committed on the second visit.”
Of course what’s interesting about any talk of a second visit is the fact that Bryant never had a second visit to OU. He kept wanting to take one in June and July, but the stars never aligned for that to happen.
“It just wasn’t planned out very well on my end,” Bryant said. “I wanted to go, but I didn’t think about how much the plane tickets would cost, and I never got around to it.”
Bryant said he doesn’t have a top school, saying he wants to take official visits to OU, South Carolina and Auburn. For his OU visit, Bryant said he wants to be there for a game day weekend.
OU still has the commitment of No. 3-ranked running back Keith Ford (Cypress, Texas/Ranch). When asked about the possibility of adding Bryant, ranked No. 2 at the position, back with him, Ford was pretty pumped.
“I’m a team first guy all the time,” Ford said. “I want the best athletes to come with me and be a part of something special at OU. We are going to build something special there. It’s great that Greg is talking with coach Gundy again. I hope it all works out.”
Rodgers felt like part of the team on visit
Going back to the weekend, though, it was a big one in terms of official visitors. One of the biggest, both literally and from a class-need standpoint, was four-star offensive tackle Na'Ty Rodgers (Owings Mills, Md./McDonough).
Rodgers asked his father, Tyrone, to come from California for the visit, but Tyrone opted to stay home because he wanted his son to have his own experience. Tyrone played defensive line for OU in 1988 before transferring to Washington.
After talking to his son following the visit, Tyrone is glad he chose to stay home.
“We talked while he was on the visit. We talked when he got home, and he loved it,” Tyrone said. “He couldn’t stop talking about the school and the coaches.
“That’s what I wanted. I didn’t want people talking to me or for me to influence his visit. Now he has his own memories. That’s great.”
Tyrone Rodgers has spoken incredibly high of his short time with the Sooners, calling it a brotherhood that has never gone away. In his mind, he had a checklist of some things he had hoped Na’Ty would say following the visit.
This was the biggest:
“He said he felt like he was part of the team already,” Tyrone said. “That’s what I really wanted to hear from him. I wanted to hear that he felt a part of that brotherhood. He said he loved hanging out with the other linemen and felt right at home.”
But it never mattered how great the visit was because a commitment is simply not happening until after Na’Ty’s senior season. It was one of the rules Tyrone laid out after Na’Ty’s junior season. Right now Na’Ty’s commitment is tentatively set for the Semper Fidelis All-American Bowl in early January.
“I don’t want him to get distracted,” Tyrone said. “I want him to keep working. I want him to get that 3.5 [GPA] this semester. We still have goals set for him at the high school level.”
It’s clear the OU visit has made a big impression on Na’Ty, and the Sooners have put themselves right in the mix with South Carolina and Maryland. OU has done so well that don’t be surprised to hear about a second visit to Norman.
Tyrone won’t be going on that one, either.
“No, it’s not needed. Every team needs to do a sell job, but the sell job is done with me,” he said. “I know OU isn’t a used car salesman. I know I can trust the program. But I think his mother is going to make that trip. She needs to see it, too, and be comfortable with everything.”
The game outcome obviously wasn’t what OU was hoping for. But sometimes a loss can say more about a team than a victory. That might have been the case with OU and Na’Ty.
“He kept talking about the camaraderie the team still had despite the loss,” Tyrone said. “He really liked that. Everybody was upset they lost, but everybody stayed together. I told you -- it’s a brotherhood.”
Benenoch has chance to make immediate impact
One line of thinking for a recruit after watching a team take a loss on an official visit is to say “that’s why I need to go there, to make an impact.”
That is the case for Katy (Texas) Seven Lakes four-star offensive guard Caleb Benenoch following his visit to OU last weekend.
Offensive lineman Caleb Benenoch has narrowed his list but won't be committing anytime soon.
Ranked as a guard, Benenoch is one of the top priorities for OU at offensive tackle. For a couple of months the OU coaches have stressed how important Benenoch is because of OU’s lack of depth. Benenoch knows that’s not lip service.
“I had been told about how little depth they have, but it’s one to be told it and another to see it in person,” Benenoch said. “I think they had 10 total offensive linemen running through stuff in pregame. That’s not a lot.
“That really showed me I have an opportunity to go there and compete for a spot very early in my college career.”
Conversely, the situation couldn’t be more different at UCLA. The Bruins now have six offensive linemen commits, which has made OU offer and UCLA commit Christian Morris (Memphis, Tenn./East) contemplate if it might be time for him to look around.
Benenoch has been busy on the visit circuit although OU was his first official trip. He has made unofficial visits to Texas A&M and Baylor this season but things work a little bit differently on an official one.
He said if he had to rank them it would be OU, Baylor and A&M in that order. And like Rodgers said, the way the team responded after the loss made an impression on Benenoch.
“On an official visit you usually hang out with your host after the game and go to a party or something like that,” Benenoch said. “Nobody wanted to go out because they’d just lost. To me, that was a good thing. They hate losing that much that they don’t even want to go out to parties after a loss.”
But they also weren’t dwelling on the defeat. Instead, the guys were already talking about getting back to practice and fixing what went wrong.
“They were already figuring out ways to fix this and how to get better,” Benenoch said. “It was a locker room that you could tell they’re used to winning and they have high expectations for themselves.”
Benenoch is going to make an official visit to Texas next weekend for the West Virginia game and said he wants to see UCLA after his senior season. This visit has changed things up as for now Benenoch said he has no favorite school.
Ford finding groove
A late season foot injury ended Keith Ford’s junior season prematurely. All he wanted to do was get back to playing football.
But for Ford, pressure and attention don’t suit him well. He prefers to be the quiet guy and simply have fun playing the game he loves. That first game of the season was not fun by any means.
Ford was ejected in the second quarter of the season opener with rumors that Ford punched an opponent. He didn’t like people thinking that of him.
“That’s not my game,” Ford said. “I play with sportsmanship. I was trying to get up, and he was holding me down. I was just trying to get up. I went straight to the bench and coach came over and said I was ejected.”
It was a learning experience for Ford.
“People are going to try to get in my head. That’s what I really learned from that,” he said.
Cypress Ranch had a bye week the following week and the Ford of old has returned in two games since. He has rushed for 263 yards and seven touchdowns in the last two games.
“It’s about being comfortable and relaxed,” Ford said. “Practice and games are about having fun, loving what you do. Sometimes you get so uptight before a game you lose your focus and make a lot of mistakes. I’m trying to clear my mind.”
Ford is still in constant contact with the OU coaches and said he is aiming for his official visit to be the weekend of OU’s banquet following the season.
The one thing that has always stood out has been the family environment at OU. When he was on his unofficial to OU last season against Iowa State, he met Cale Gundy’s family and said that was really important.
“We’re very family-oriented and I love that about OU,” Ford said. “If you’re a troublemaker, you’re out. It’s all about discipline. I feel that way here at Cy Ranch. Our coaches really care for us. They make us stay on top of our school work. I get that same vibe at OU.”
Beyer hopeful to still be a Sooner
To say the last two weeks have been a rollercoaster of emotions for OU offensive tackle commit Matt Beyer (San Antonio/Reagan) would be an understatement.
Stay up to date on Oklahoma's 2013 commits, targets and offers. Tracker: Defense | Offense
He had been accustomed to stingers before but in his last game he felt stingers that went down both his arms and both of his legs. Beyer went to the doctor the next day where he was diagnosed with cervical stenosis, a spinal cord condition he was born with. It cannot be fixed.
“The hits I was taking -- I was risking permanent quadriplegia if I kept playing,” Beyer said. “I always said there will come a day where you may not be done with football but football is done with you.”
Beyer called up OU offensive tackles coach Bruce Kittle two days later and told him the news. Beyer said Kittle has been very supportive and said it’s a good thing it was discovered so early so Beyer has a chance to live a healthy life.
What was never discussed was the status of his scholarship. Beyer didn’t want to bug the coaches during their preparation for Kansas State, but he said he is hopeful to find out where he stands with the Sooners.
“I’m hoping we can iron things out,” Beyer said. “If the scholarship is honored, I’ll definitely be there for every game. I love OU. I love football. That’s why I committed there.”
Making it more tough was talking to former San Antonio Reagan teammates Trevor and Connor Knight, twin brothers who are freshmen at OU. It was Trevor Knight who announced to the world on Twitter that Beyer had committed to OU in July.
“They’ve been awesome and so supportive,” Beyer said. “They’re loving it up there and were telling me how crazy it is. I’m happy for them, of course. But it’s tough, too, because I would give any and every thing to play football for OU.”
For now, Beyer has a new role as a coach. He hasn’t missed any of the practices and has been helping out the younger guys.
“Hey, who knows? Maybe I can help one of these guys, and you’ll have to talk to him as much as you’ve been talking to me,” Beyer said. “It’s an adjustment, but I’m trying to make the best of everything.”
Coaches make impression on Martin
2014 tight end Koda Martin (Manvel, Texas/Manvel) had never been on an unofficial visit for a game before so he wasn’t too sure what to expect at OU last weekend.
He got a lot more than he expected, especially when it came to interacting with the coaches. Martin told GigEmNation’s Sam Khan he was shocked at how much the coaches spoke with him during the visit.
“I talked to Coach [Tim] Kish, Coach [Bruce] Kittle and I got to shake Coach [Bob] Stoops’ hand,” Martin said. “That surprised me. I didn’t think he’d be out there, but he came up and just said ‘Hi’ and went back to work. They made us feel welcome so that was good.
“I didn’t think they would mesh with me on game day, but they sacrificed a little bit of their time.”
Martin was joined on the visit by OU wide receiver commit Austin Bennett. And even though OU lost the game, that didn’t matter much to the overall experience.
“It was great,” Martin said. “The atmosphere was wild. It was just a great college atmosphere.”
Despite being recruited as a tight end, it’s actually Kish who is making the biggest impression on Martin. Martin said he likes Kish’s coaching style and has kept in constant contact with Kish.
Martin has an OU offer and said if anything, he might like the Sooners more following the visit. He also likes Baylor, Texas Tech and Arkansas.
And though the visit was great, it was also his first so it's tough to get an accurate gauge of where the rest of the schools stand.
“I haven’t been to any other games yet so I don’t really have anything to compare it to,” Martin said. “It’s definitely among my top choices and I’m fired up about OU.”
Dimon enjoys first game
Four-star defensive end commit Matt Dimon (Katy, Texas/Katy) has been a frequent visitor to OU in the last several months.
He was at OU’s junior day in March and committed less than two weeks later. He returned for OU’s spring game in April. But Saturday marked the first OU game he has seen in person.
“Wow, that was crazy. Everything was louder than I had ever heard before,” Dimon said. “Watching it on TV and seeing it in person, totally different. It was a great time.”
Dimon was also on his official visit and was hosted by the Knight brothers. What really helped Dimon, he said, was having a bye week and being able to get to OU on Friday and enjoy the weekend.
“Nothing felt rushed,” Dimon said. “I had a lot of fun and cannot wait to get back.”
Conversely, Dimon said the situation was different for Chevoski Collins (Livingston, Texas/Livingston) and safety Marcell Harris (Orlando, Fla./Dr. Phillips).
“I don’t know if they’re going to commit, but they were talking about how they wanted one more day because they were loving their trip,” Dimon said.
There was some disappointment, though. Originally the hope was for four-star running back teammate Adam Taylor to join Dimon on the visit. But a late change of plans didn’t allow that to happen.
Dimon said OU fans don’t need to be worried, though.
“Adam definitely wants to see OU,” Dimon said. “The last couple of times it hasn’t really worked out with him getting up there, but he has a lot of interest. I know that, for sure.”
Hansen on Seminoles’ radar
One noticeable visitor not present at OU last weekend was 2014 quarterback Justice Hansen (Edmond, Okla./Santa Fe).
Hansen, expected to be the top in-state signal-caller prospect, opted to take an unofficial visit to Florida State instead.
Tom Hauck for ESPN.com
QB Justice Hansen has offers from Arkansas and Missouri.
“It was a great time,” Hansen said. “The atmosphere was incredible. It was a lot different than the summer visit.”
Hansen had visited Florida State in the summer for a brief one-day stay. This time, though, he got to experience the campus. He played Thursday night and flew out Friday morning.
There was some thought he would get an FSU offer. That didn’t happen, but the Seminoles are on his radar and vice versa.
“I’m not disappointed about not getting the offer,” Hansen said. “They said they like what they’ve seen so far and are going to try to make a game this season.”
It’s possible they missed Hansen’s best game last week. Hansen threw for five touchdowns and ran for two more in a 53-37 win against Moore (Okla.) Southmoore.
That’s not to say Hansen is down on OU, but what is starting to become clear is OU is not the ultimate dream for Hansen. He is not going to simply wait around to see if Josh Heupel comes around. He is going to have options and he is going to explore them.
Through the first four games, Hansen has thrown for 1,060 yards with 12 touchdowns and four interceptions. He has also rushed for 313 yards and six touchdowns.
Hamilton will turn heads, says coach
Labette Community College basketball coach Jonathan Raney said he knows it’s going to take some time for power forward Keshaun Hamilton to get back to what he used to be, but it might take as long as he initially thought.
“Honestly, he doesn’t look that bad,” Raney said. “For being such a big guy and not able to do what he normally does, he’s not in that bad of shape. He’s working hard, and he’s going to make a big impact for us this season.”
Hamilton was recruited hard by OU and Oklahoma State and visited both campuses. Raney said he could tell from Hamilton’s reaction to the OU visit last weekend the Sooners were going to be the choice.
And Raney said the Sooners are in for a treat.
“His best basketball is in front of him,” Raney said. “The word ‘steal’ gets thrown out a lot, but Keshaun is going to be a major steal for OU. I believe he is going to be one of the best players in the country this season at the juco level.
“He could have waited for the spring, and I know he would have so many offers. OU is going to love the way this guy plays and what he brings to the table.”
Hamilton will definitely have a chance to make an immediate impact at OU, but to go along with the relationship with the players, he said it was the academics that set everything apart.
“Academics played a big role,” Hamilton said. “I could tell how seriously they care about you getting your degree. The coaches, the players, it’s something that is really important to everybody. That’s the kind of environment I want to be in.”
Hamilton also had interest from West Virginia and Kansas State but said he has always felt comfortable with Lon Kruger and knows he is making the right decision.