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Monday, April 1, 2013
Montgomery must reverse fortune at DT

By Bob Przybylo

NORMAN, Okla. -- OK, Jerry Montgomery, this is a big reason you were brought to Oklahoma. Defensive tackle Trey Lealaimatafao (San Antonio/Warren) unexpectedly committing to Texas on Saturday night is another example of the Sooners falling short at defensive tackle.

And an example of the work ahead for Montgomery.

For OU’s 2012 class, the Sooners had a plan to not lobby too hard for a defensive tackle. They didn’t attack any high school or junior college prospects and were content with who was on campus.

Quincy Russell
While he's committed to OU, juco DT Quincy Russell is now somewhat up for grabs.
That wasn’t the case for the Class of 2013. OU was in the mix for several ESPN 150 defensive tackles -- only to fall short with every single one of them.

The Sooners bounced back with the addition of three three-star defensive tackles: Dallas Skyline’s Kerrick Huggins, Port Arthur (Texas) Memorial’s Matthew Romar and Garland (Texas) High School’s Charles Walker to close out the class, but it still irked a lot of OU fans to constantly be the bridesmaid on the trail.

OU coach Bob Stoops noticed the trend, too, and made a startling move a week after signing day. Defensive tackles coach Jackie Shipp had been with Stoops since 1999, but it was time for a change.

Shipp was let go, and OU backed up the Brinks truck in luring Montgomery from a prime spot at Michigan. Montgomery was making $205,000 per year with the Wolverines. His salary of $325,000 per year at OU was approved last week.

Now the real battle begins.

Lealaimatafao’s commitment marks the fourth offered defensive tackle to give his pledge to another school for the Class of 2014. He was also one of the first targets for Montgomery when he took over. Lealaimatafao was high on OU’s board, but without a defensive line coach for a week no offer was made.

Once Montgomery was hired, Lealaimatafao was the first offer to go out at the position. He was at OU’s junior day in February. But when Texas made the offer a few weeks later, it almost felt like it was a countdown for OU fans as to when he would pledge to the Longhorns.

Right now, that’s what the fans are accustomed to -- the Sooners being right there but falling just short. Defensive tackle was a position of need for the 2013 class, and it’s an even bigger priority for the 2014 group. The Sooners simply do not have any depth at the position.

If immediate playing time speaks to a recruit at the position, OU is a place to look. But so far even that appeal hasn’t won over any top-notch recruits.

Defensive tackle Zaycoven Henderson (Longview, Texas/Longview) said he had OU as his No. 1 school following his visit for junior day in February. But he said he based that off the relationship he had developed with Shipp.

With Shipp out, OU went from No. 1 to No. 3, and Henderson committed to TCU a few weeks later. There’s still 10 months until national signing day, but Henderson has been firm with the Horned Frogs so far.

The Shipp effect is also being felt with ESPN JC 100 tackle Quincy Russell (Athens, Texas/Trinity Valley CC). Russell signed with OU during the early juco period in December but was unable to meet the academic requirements to enroll in January, and he has essentially become a free agent.

He had a great bond with Shipp, who is now the defensive tackles coach at Arizona State. Russell is technically with OU, but the Sun Devils are in the hunt if they can get Russell on campus.

OU has had tremendous success at Fresno (Calif.) Central East, landing four-star defensive backs cornerback L.J. Moore and safety Hatari Byrd for its 2013 crop. The Sooners went back to the well with defensive tackleTashon Smallwood and offered him in February.

But once Smallwood received a USC offer, he committed on the spot to the Trojans. OU also made a push for DeShawn Washington (Nederland, Texas/Nederland), who committed to Texas A&M in March.

Montgomery is known as a solid recruiter. He was already doing a great job of building Michigan’s 2014 class when he departed. These first two months illustrate exactly why Montgomery was brought to Norman, Okla., and exactly how tough that job is going to be.

The spring evaluation period begins April 15, and it couldn’t come soon enough for OU or Montgomery. The question now is: Where will Montgomery be able to find help?

Welcome to OU, Montgomery. Time to work your magic.