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Thursday, October 4, 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:

Read the Sooner Intel after the jump.

Hollins still on OU’s radar

Since the beginning of September when college coaches could start calling recruits again, some OU fans have been wondering when some new targets at linebacker would pop up.

So far there hasn’t been an influx of targets at the position with linebackers coach Tim Kish dedicating a lot of his time and effort on 2014 prospects. That doesn’t mean he has forgotten about the 2013 class, but what he’s really doing is maintaining relationships with a few committed prospects.

Tom Hauck for
Deon Hollins Jr. might visit Oklahoma at some point before signing day.

And stop me if you’ve heard this one before, but OU is going after a UCLA commit. The Sooners are targeting three Bruin offensive tackle commits, but Kish has his eyes on ESPN 150 linebacker Deon Hollins Jr. (Missouri City, Texas/Marshall).

And the Hollins family is still listening.

“Right now we’re still committed to UCLA," said Deon Hollins Sr., Deon’s father. We’re going to take a few visits and feels some other programs out."

One of those official visits will be to UCLA, but the other schools in the running are OU, Washington and Notre Dame.

Deon Sr. said it’s hard to not be impressed with UCLA right now. The defense has 17 sacks in the first four games and is a testament to watch Jim Mora is doing for the program.

The debate still rages on about where Hollins is best suited for in college. Deon Sr. said half the schools want him at defensive end and the other half want him as a linebacker.

For Deon Sr., it’s not necessarily about the position but in the way the program is going to choose to utilize him.

“With Deon’s ability, I don’t want to take away from what he does best,” Deon Sr. said. “He brings the heat and disrupts things. This last game he had 10 tackles and four sacks. He’s playing on another level right now.”

His dominance during the season shows he has left off right where he was in the summer. Invited to The Opening and Gridiron Kings, Hollins was forced to play a different role than the all-out pass rusher.

Deon Sr. said those two experiences have been a big help.

“Those summer camps put him in a different spot, but he showed he can drop back in coverage,” he said. “He can do everything that would be asked of him at linebacker.”

Deon Sr. said his son is 6-foot-2 and 228 pounds right now. Several college coaches have expressed some concerns over his lack of size for a defensive end. Deon Sr. has tried to make the comparison to former Texas A&M star and current Denver Broncos defensive end Von Miller. He is 6-3, 237, but it hasn’t seemed to slow him down yet.

And when it comes to OU, Deon Sr. said it would be an awesome experience to be able to play for Bob and Mike Stoops.

“You are not from this planet if you don’t know what OU is all about with Bob Stoops,” Deon Sr. said. “That program oozes defense and toughness.”

Deon Sr. said he is hopeful to arrange a visit to OU following his son’s senior season.

Is Collins the next OU commit?

At this point next week, we could be talking about OU’s latest commitment. ESPN 300 athlete Chevoski Collins (Livingston, Texas/Livingston) is going to announce between OU, Texas, TCU and Baylor on Monday morning.

The Sooners have to feel like they’re in a good spot, especially considering that he recently made his only official visit two weeks ago to Norman.

Collins is tough to track down, but GigEmNation’s Sam Khan saw Collins play last week and had a chance to catch up with him.

“I went up there [Oklahoma] last week,” Collins said. “Me and Coach Stoops have a really good connection. Mike Stoops, Coach [Jay] Norvell and James Patton -- I talk with all of them a lot.”

The biggest question has been about which position Collins is willing to play in college. When he attended OU’s junior day, he seemed very set on playing wide receiver.

But the interest that spurred from the Sooners and Longhorns is from his potential as a defensive back. And that’s something Collins seems to be understanding now, saying he is willing to play either side of the ball.

Collins was hopeful to take an official visit to Texas this weekend but that is very much up in the air because of an SAT and doesn’t seem likely. Regardless, he’s ready to make a decision.

“It feels like the right time so I can just put it behind and move forward on my senior season,” he said.

Collins is telling the world Monday morning. But sounds like he doesn’t have any doubts in his mind right now.

“I know who I’m going to pick,” Collins said.

Sooners a top option for Sandland

Even before Monday’s announcement by junior college tight end Beau Sandland (Woodland Hills, Calif./Pierce CC) that he is not eligible to attend and SEC school, OU was in good standing.

Following that announcement, it wouldn’t be crazy to think the Sooners might be the team to beat. Arizona State and Nebraska are two schools that are still in the mix for Sandland, too.

Sandland announced Monday that because the SEC will not accept his online math class that he is not eligible to play there. He had offers from seven SEC schools and Ole Miss and Florida were among his favorites.

Courtesy of Pierce College
Beau Sandland is close to narrowing down his finalists.

He said he loved his experience at Ole Miss as it was the first official visit where he was able to see a game day atmosphere.

But that doesn’t mean he regrets taking officials to Nebraska and OU before the season.

“There are a lot of pros and cons with each,” Sandland said. “Ideally I’d like to see a game day for all my top schools. That’s not possible when our juco team plays Saturday just like they do.

“Not going to OU on a game weekend, though, allowed me a lot of one-on-one time with the coaches and the players. I don’t regret that decision at all.”

Sandland said he is still keeping in close contact with tight ends coach Bruce Kittle and added that the two spoke again last week. He also said he is hoping to call Bob Stoops sometime soon. Not to talk about anything in particular but to reiterate he still has high interest in OU.

He also might be ready to name that list of favorites. Sandland said he has final five in his head, but he’s not ready to release that information to the public. Seems like a safe bet for OU, Nebraska and Arizona State to make the cut and don’t be surprised if Miami (Fla.) and/or Texas Tech wind up among his final choices.

There's no question the first three games haven’t been a showcase of the tight end position for OU, but Sandland said that is not a huge concern.

“They’re really talented from what I saw and from watching them practice, but maybe they’re not ready or developed enough at this point,” Sandland said. “The depth chart isn’t a concern because the more I got to know the coaches and the other tight ends, the comfortable I have felt.”

He said playing time still trumps all in terms of what his No. 1 priority is, but he’s starting to learn priorities are only going to take him so far.

“Sometimes I think I overthink things,” Sandland said. “I’m looking at the coaches, the conference and depth chart. But really I just have to follow my gut. It’s where I feel comfortable. If I’m not going to start, then I’m not going to consider it.”

Sandland is taking an unofficial to Arizona State in two weeks for the Sun Devils' game against Oregon.

Johnson and OU on same page

Two visits in two months? Not too bad. We’re going to stay with the juco talk and move on to defensive tackle target Toby Johnson (Hutchinson, Kan./Hutchinson CC). Johnson took his official visit to OU two weeks ago and said he isn’t planning on taking another official visit until after his season.

He was also in Norman in July on an unofficial visit but things were obviously a lot different being there for a game weekend.

“The fans stood out. They really did,” Johnson said. “They love their players there and will support them no matter what. They even know all the redshirt guys. It was amazing.”

Johnson is another recruit who wasn’t down on OU following the loss. The Sooners gave up more than 200 yards rushing in the Kansas State game. For Johnson, all that means is it’s an opportunity to make that immediate impact.

“One of the biggest things for me is how much does this program need me,” Johnson said. “Seeing it up close like that does help a lot. I know I can help this program.”

There have been rumblings about whether or not Johnson is in the same boat as Sandland as being unable to qualify for an SEC school. That remains to be seen at this juncture as Johnson said he is still targeting SEC schools.

But the Sooners have made a pretty big dent, thanks in large part to defensive tackles coach Jackie Shipp.

“Easily my relationship with Coach Shipp is the best one I have out of any of the other coaches recruiting me,” Johnson said. “Those first couple of talks were about football. But since then, we don’t really talk about it. We talk about life and school and how things are going. I like it a lot.”

Shipp and Bob Stoops stressed again to Johnson that he would get that opportunity to make an immediate impact. OU has made the best possible impression on Johnson and now the Sooners will have to wait it out.

In regards to his season, Johnson said a change in approach has led to much better results.

“I’m just doing my job now,” Johnson said. “Last year I was trying too hard to get noticed. This year I’m not thinking about making big plays. My job is to be disruptive. That’s what I’m doing. In doing my job, I’m being noticed, too.”

OU makes good first impression on Harris

The Sooners might not land ESPN 150 safety Marcell Harris (Orlando, Fla./Dr. Phillips), but it won’t be because OU didn’t give its best effort.

Harris was another official visitor for the Sooners for the Kansas State game. And because of his schedule, he was left wanting more.

“I did. I wanted one more day to experience everything and spend more time with the players and coaches,” Harris said.

Tom Hauck for
Marcell Harris' father has a connection to OU coach Bob Stoops.

Most of the official visitors for the week had bye weeks for their high school or juco team, but Harris had to play Friday night and arrived in Norman on Saturday morning.

It did give him a great indication of what life is like around campus when the Sooners have a game.

“The whole area is kind of quiet and laid back, and then you get closer to the game, and it was crazy,” Harris said. “The fans never stopped cheering the whole time. Everybody knew who I was.”

Harris was hosted by fellow safeties Tony Jefferson and Javon Harris and said they were fun to interact with despite the loss.

He went on the trip with his mother, but it is his father who has the past history with Bob Stoops. Mike Harris played safety at Florida when Stoops was coaching the Gators defense.

“My dad did tell me a lot about what kind of guy Stoops is and the style he coaches,” Harris said. “I like the defense a lot. He does a good job of putting guys in the right situation to make the play and help the team.”

Harris has already visited Texas. Now OU is done. It’s time for the top two in-state schools to make their run. It starts this week with an official to Florida for the Gators showdown against LSU. He has also planned an official visit to Florida State later this month.

Norvell plays big role for Bennett, Foreman

This year’s wide receiver class isn’t getting near the publicity as the amazing 2012 group earned, but Jay Norvell is still developing a solid group for 2013 -- and 2014.

A pleasant surprise came OU’s way this week when 2014 ESPN Watch List receiver Armanti Foreman (Texas City, Texas/Texas City) decided to commit to OU on Monday night.

Foreman’s only offer came from OU less than three weeks ago. Despite living in Texas, it was another school that had always caught his eye.

“Florida was always my No. 1 school,” Foreman said. “But I started looking around and actually watching what Florida and OU were doing. OU’s style of offense is a much better fit for me.”

Foreman said even though he hasn’t known Norvell that long, it feels like he has. Norvell made a strong impression on him in their phone calls and Foreman liked that Norvell wanted to speak to his father about things, too.

“He is somebody who I feel is going to lead me down the right path,” Foreman said.

Take those words, copy them and replace Foreman’s name with 2013 commit Austin Bennett (Manvel, Texas/Manvel). Bennett feels almost exactly the same way regarding Norvell as Foreman does.

With Bennett, though, it’s not just about the relationship being forged. Although incredibly brief, the coaching and teaching played a big role.

“The first time I met him was at the camp, and he talked to me and my dad,” Bennett said. “The techniques he has taught me are things I’m using now. I only had one hour of drill work with him.

“I think about how much he helped me develop in one hour, and I know this is somebody who is going to make me a great player. I’m going to love playing for this guy.”

Bennett, who committed to OU in June, also got to experience his first OU game day atmosphere against Kansas State. He wasn’t alone as his teammate 2014 tight end offer Koda Martin came along for the ride.

He knows his teammate has a ways to go before any sort of decision becomes a reality, but Bennett is trying to nudge Martin to Norman.

“He’s just a junior, a young kid,” Bennett said. “I don’t want to pressure him too much, but I’m trying to make sure he’s leaning toward Oklahoma. I don’t have to do too much because he really likes OU anyway.

“Koda is somebody who is really coming out of his shell this season. He’s more vocal and has been making a lot of plays. It has been fun to watch him develop.”

Mastrogiovanni sees himself as Wort

Damon Sayles/
Could Jordan Mastrogiovanni lure another high-profile recruit to OU?

ESPN 300 linebacker commit Jordan Mastrogiovanni (Dallas/Jesuit) has been pretty quiet since his commitment, but he is still 100 percent with OU.

Mastrogiovanni was another commit who made an unofficial visit for the Kansas State game. He said it was a little different going there as a commit instead of as a recruit.

“I actually took the time to see the campus and start to realize this is where my home is going to be,” Mastrogiovanni said. “It was really exciting. I had never took the time to tour the campus before.”

During the game, Mastrogiovanni said he had his eyes locked in on one person -- middle linebacker Tom Wort. Mastrogiovanni said he feels like he will be the next Wort.

“I want to play like him,” Mastrogiovanni said. “He has a great understanding of the defense and knows how to find the ball. He is somebody I look up to a lot.”

Mastriogiovanni still sees himself as a recruiter, too. His No. 1 target remains ESPN 150 linebacker Mike Mitchell (Plano, Texas/Prestonwood Christian).

Hampton building bond with Kish

It is evident Kish is becoming more and more comfortable in his recruiting role at OU, and he has already made a big splash with one of the top 2014 area linebackers.

Dallas Carter’s Cameron Hampton, also in the ESPN Watch List, has not been shy about saying what a great impression Kish has made on him so far.

“Coach Kish, yeah, I like him the best so far,” Hampton said. “He’s the best linebacker coach I’ve talked with so far. He’s just a cool coach. He’s real honest and tells you everything upfront. When I went to the OU camp in June, I just had a feeling I would be talking to him for a long time.”

That’s not to say the Sooners are the favorites by any stretch of the imagination. Texas A&M is right in that mix and so are the Longhorns. All three schools have offered Hampton, and he said he will be at the Red River Rivalry game next week.

Hampton’s junior season couldn’t be going much better. Entering last week’s game he had 82 tackles, four forced fumbles, two fumble recoveries, a blocked punt and an interception.

“I’m more of a vocal leader this year,” Hampton said. “My teammates follow me. My coverage ability is great now. And nobody can run on me -- that hasn’t changed.”

Hampton knows the attention isn’t going to stop anytime soon, but he’s not worried about that. He said he is focused on maintaining his grades and finishing his junior season strong.

OU high on Barrett’s list

Every recruit remembers that first school that reached out to him. Luckily for OU, the Sooners are that school for 2014 offensive tackle Ty Barrett (Dallas/Skyline).

Barrett, a member of the ESPN Watch List, is 6-5 and 285 pounds and said the best relationship he has with any school is with OU.

“They were the first ones to notice me,” Barrett said. “It was right after my freshman year, and they started talking to me.”

Barrett was hopeful to attend OU’s game against Kansas State but was unable to make it because his parents had to work. He said he was really disappointed, but he knows there will be other times to see the Sooners.

One of those times is next week for the Red River Rivalry. But he is hoping to add one more trip to his itinerary.

“It’s cool because that game is in Dallas, but I also want to see an OU home game this season,” Barrett said. “I want to see what it’s like up there.”

Texas Tech, West Virginia and Ole Miss are among the schools that have already offered Barrett.

Beyer defends Kittle

One of the more talked about topics with OU this week has been its treatment of four-star offensive tackle Matt Beyer (San Antonio/Reagan).

Beyer committed to the Sooners in July and never thought about switching his commitment. But his OU career is over before it ever got a chance to begin because of a spinal condition called cervical stenosis.

He was born with the condition, but it wasn’t officially diagnosed until a month ago. After talking with Kittle last week, Beyer learned the Sooners will not honor his scholarship offer.

Beyer is not defensive about that decision. But he is defensive about the way some OU fans perceive Kittle.

“It gets me fired up sometimes,” Beyer said. “I see what some fans are saying about Coach Kittle. He doesn’t get the respect he deserves. Not at all.

“He’s a lot more than a coach to me. He’s a friend, and I bet all of the offensive tackles he talks with would tell you the same thing.”

Beyer attended OU’s junior day but still wasn’t really on the Sooners radar until they felt he was fully recovered from a back injury he suffered during his junior season.

Once he was, Kittle went to work. And Beyer said it didn’t take long for Kittle to convince him OU was the place to be.

“Seriously, two weeks. That’s all it took,” Beyer said. “I knew after talking with him for two weeks that I wanted to be a Sooner.”

Beyer is still hoping to attend OU even if it’s not to play football. He said he is going re-take the ACT and SAT and hopes to qualify for an academic scholarship.

His high school coach, David Wetzel, said don’t bet against Beyer.

“Beyer is the best offensive lineman I’ve ever coached,” Wetzel said. “He was a huge part of this team. A huge leader for us. But he’s also one of the smartest guys I’ve had. He is very intelligent, and he is going to be successful no matter what he does.”

I end every interview with a recruit with “do you have anything else you’d like to add?” Beyer has said the same thing each and every time, including last week: “Boomer Sooner! It’s always Boomer Sooner with me.”

Key gets some advice and his RB back

Nobody has been a tougher critic on himself than 2014 quarterback Coleman Key (Broken Arrow, Okla./Broken Arrow).

He entered the season with a target on his back. He had lights out performances at camps at OU and Michigan. He was transferring from Owasso, Okla., to Broken Arrow because he thought it would be his best to win a state championship.

But through the first four games, he was a wreck. Inconsistent. Erratic. He didn’t hide behind it.

Bob Przybylo/
Coleman Key hasn't had the junior season he had hoped for.

“I don’t know what happened,” Key said. “I just wasn’t playing to the level I know I’m capable of. There is a lot of pressure, but there is always going to be a lot of pressure.

“There were times when things were going well and then times when I couldn’t tell you what was going on.”

Broken Arrow coach Steve Spavital stepped in. His son, Jake Spavital, is the quarterbacks coach at West Virginia. Jake won’t take all the credit for Geno Smith, but he has played a role in his development. Jake took a look at Key’s early film and gave him some pointers.

“He said he needed to work on his fundamentals more,” Steve Spavital said. “He was trying to do too much and forgetting about the little things that you always need to do.”

It worked as Key had his best performance of the season, going 8 of 10 for 153 yards and three touchdowns in a 41-7 win against Bixby, Okla.

Know what else helped? The return of 2014 ESPN Watch List running back Devon Thomas. Suspended for the first four games for unspecified reasons, Thomas returned with 105 yards on 10 carries and two touchdowns.

Thomas and Key were both at OU’s game against Kansas State. It’s clear OU has not forgotten about Thomas, who already has a Sooners offer. And it’s also clear Heupel hopes to be in touch with Key a lot more.

“He told me when would be the best times to call him moving forward,” Key said. “He wants to develop a better relationship with me and that means a lot.”

SoonerNation will get another chance to see Key and Thomas on Friday night against Jenks, Okla. Jenks, of course, has OU wide receiver commit Jordan Smallwood and 2014 defensive back offer Steven Parker.