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Wednesday, May 22, 2013
OU looking for instant impact from Byrd

By Jake Trotter

NORMAN, Okla. -- Oklahoma has struck gold in the Golden State before.

In 2010, the Sooners plucked safety Tony Jefferson out of San Diego and away from the West Coast powers. Jefferson became an instant starter in the secondary, leading Oklahoma with 119 tackles last season.

Hatari Byrd
ESPN 300 safety Hatari Byrd has a chance to play immediately for the Sooners.
Having bolted to the NFL early, Jefferson is gone. But the Sooners are hoping California will provide them with another instant impact freshman in their secondary in Fresno product Hatari Byrd.

Rated the No. 14 safety in the nation with an impressive offer list, Byrd will arrive in Norman this summer with high expectations at a spot in need of help. Not only do the Sooners have to replace Jefferson at free safety, they have to replace two-year starter Javon Harris at strong safety, as well.

Oklahoma has other safety options.

The Sooners moved nickelback Gabe Lynn to free safety during the spring. Quentin Hayes, who was on his way to being a top reserve before getting suspended last year, started at the other safety spot in the spring game.

Converted receiver Trey Franks surged late in spring ball as he got more comfortable with his new position, and early enrollee Ahmad Thomas turned heads with his ball instincts.

But the 6-foot-1, 190-pound Byrd figures to be in the mix for playing time, too – just like Jefferson was three years ago.

“Hatari is a big-time player,” said Mike Stoops, Oklahoma’s defensive coordinator and secondary coach. “He can cover a lot of ground, he can make things happen in the back end, he has great range.

“He plays like Tony. A great hitter, a great tackler -- but has even more range in his body type than Tony had.”

Even though he went undrafted surprisingly in April, Jefferson was quite prolific over three years in the Sooners’ defensive backfield. Especially as a freshman, when he finished with 65 tackles, two sacks and two interceptions to earn Big 12 co-defensive freshman of the year honors.

In Byrd, the Sooners believe they have another California safety capable of being the Big 12’s best defensive freshman next season.

“Hatari has got a ton of skill and ability,” coach Bob Stoops said. “He’s one of those guys we expect to play right away.”