Oklahoma Sooners: Devante Harris

Secondary help was a priority for Oklahoma as national signing day approached. The Sooners secondary was torched by pass-heavy offenses from Oklahoma State, Baylor and Texas Tech.

De-commitments from De'Vante Harris (Mesquite, Texas/Horn) and Kevin Peterson (Wagoner, Okla./Wagoner) didn’t help the cause, but OU finished strong with the signing of Gary Simon (St. Petersburg/Gibbs) and Zack Sanchez (Keller, Texas/Central) in addition to having junior college cornerback Kass Everett already on campus.

Even though it came together late, new defensive coordinator and defensive backs coach Mike Stoops likes the group.

“I think you have to have lockdown corners,” Stoops said. “There’s a premium on those players and we feel like we were able to land a couple of those guys.”

Everett is a player who could step in immediately, replacing All-Big 12 performer Jamell Fleming, opposite returning starter Demontre Hurst.

“He’s a confident player,” Stoops said. “He’s a very intelligent player. He understands the concepts very well from talking with him, as well. I’m impressed with his knowledge.”

Simon and Sanchez are cornerbacks with good size, who Stoops said could end up playing some safety as well because of the transformation of the position from run-supporting safeties to coverage safeties.

“Those [run supporting safeties] are hard to play with any more just because the field is so spread out,” Stoops said. “You almost need corners that can play some safety.”

Simon could be one of the most overlooked gems in this year’s class with his size -- 6-foot-1, 180 pounds -- coverage ability and willingness to hit.

“Gary Simon’s one of the premier cover guys I’ve seen,” Stoops said. “He has a unique blend of size, speed and athletic ability that you don’t see in a big guy. So he gives us a lot of flexibility.”

Sanchez is fairly raw as a cornerback but he intrigued the Sooners coaching staff with his overall ability.

“When you look at his athletic ability and what he’s able to do as a receiver, as a DB, just his toughness as a player is something that really gravitated to me,” Stoops said. “I just thought we hit it off, and I can just tell he’s a very ornery player and likes to compete at a very high level.”
Three thoughts this morning:

1. As signing day quickly approaches, the impact of Willie Martinez' departure from Oklahoma’s football program has become more and more apparent. So the question for Sooner fans is this: Is it worth losing recruits in the 2012 class for a potential long-term gain? DeVante Harris (Mesquite, Texas/Horn) and Kevin Peterson (Wagoner, Okla./Wagoner) each pointed to Martinez departure as a reason for their de-commitments. Mike Stoops' ability to coach defensive backs is well-chronicled and the Sooners appear to be in good position to land either Gary Simon (St. Petersburg, Fla./Gibbs) or Zack Sanchez (Keller, Texas/Central) to help replace Harris and Peterson. And we learned in 2011, that talent only gets you so far, particularly if that talent keeps getting caught out of position or using poor fundamentals.

2. It sounds like Jamell Fleming is having a solid showing at the Senior Bowl in Mobile, Ala., this week. The former Sooners cornerback was a difference maker on defense as a senior. Fleming has impressed scouts with his coverage and ability to turn and run with receivers. He was overshadowed by Nebraska’s Alfonzo Dennard on the North squad heading into the week. Not anymore.

3. OU fans get the opportunity to see a rare athlete when Brittney Griner visits Norman on Thursday night. The Sooners host No. 1 Baylor at 7 p.m. CT at the Lloyd Noble Center. Griner, the lone collegian to play for Team USA this summer, is averaging 22.7 points and 10.3 rebounds per game this season. With Joanna McFarland out, sophomore Nicole Griffin, with plenty of help from her teammates, will be given the task of trying to handle Griner.

Przybylo's Mailbag: Sanchez could switch 

January, 25, 2012

We’re a week away from national signing day and with each day, Oklahoma’s 2012 class is starting to get more clear. There is still a lot to be determined at this point. Bob Przybylo answers all your recruiting questions. Have a question? Send it to his mailbag at bprzybyloespn@gmail.com.

Charles in Oklahoma City asks: Is Tim Kish a good hire in terms of recruiting?

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Triple Option: Another OU-OSU battle 

January, 24, 2012
Three thoughts this morning:

1. Former defensive backs coach Willie Martinez obviously meant a lot more on the recruiting trail than what people previously thought. It is starting to become clear that cornerbacks Kevin Peterson (Wagoner, Okla./Wagoner) and De’Vante Harris (Mesquite, Texas/Horn) left Oklahoma mainly because of the departure of Martinez. Midway through the season, the whispers started about Mike Stoops replacing Martinez, and I don’t think anybody thought that would have a negative effect on the class. With Peterson now verbally committed to Oklahoma State and Harris verbally committed to Texas A&M, however, this year’s defensive backs class already will have Mike Stoops’ imprints on it.

2. Will Peterson going from OU to OSU have any long term impact in the Bedlam battles? Peterson is a little different case because he grew up a Cowboys fan, but it’s obvious what Mike Gundy is doing in Stillwater has a lot of home-grown kids excited. It is no longer a slam dunk that the best in-state recruits are going to be wearing the crimson and cream. And it remains to be seen what OSU’s 44-10 dismantling of the Sooners in December is going to mean in future recruiting battles.

3. OU should wait until after national signing day before hiring a linebackers coach. Unless Bob Stoops is 100 percent confident that he has found his man, patience is the right move here. It would be tough to bring in a linebacker prospect or two at this point, anyway. Most of the focus to fill out the 2012 defensive class is at defensive back and defensive end Michael Onuoha (Edmond, Okla./Santa Fe). Let the signing day hoopla subside and then go find the right man.

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Three thoughts this morning:

1. Oklahoma defensive recruiting class in 2012 isn’t all that strong to begin with, and the murky situation with Brent Venables is not doing the team any favors with two weeks left until National Signing Day. Junior college signees cornerback Kass Everett (Philadelphia/Pierce College) and defensive end Chaz Nelson (Columbus, Ohio/Garden City CC) don’t have a choice but to accept what happens. However, this is a horrible time to be possibly making such a huge move like this. Venables is a fantastic recruiter and has really hit the road hard, maybe even harder than usual in last month. He has been all over prospective linebackers and defensive backs. OU needs help at both spots, but right now a legitimate question by any high school recruit is what OU coach am I supposed to be talking to?

2. OU’s best defensive recruit was four-star cornerback De’Vante Harris (Mesquite, Texas/Horn) until he de-committed last week. It didn’t take Harris long to find his new home, committing to his father’s alma mater, Texas A&M on Monday night. Harris obviously didn’t follow former OU defensive backs coach Willie Martinez to his next school so it’s safe to say that though a coaching change wasn’t the best news, there is no way that was the sole reason for Harris looking elsewhere. Harris still won’t talk about why he de-committed.

3. I’m wondering how the OU men’s basketball team is going to perform as a favorite Tuesday against Texas Tech. In three of the Sooners’ first four conference games, they were the overwhelming underdog. In the other game, everyone knew it would be tough to win at Oklahoma State. That won’t be the case for OU (11-5, 1-3 Big 12) in this one. Coming off a big win against Kansas State, will there be an emotional hangover against the Red Raiders? And since Tuesday is the first day of the spring semester, I'm intrigued to see if the students come out to cheer for Lon Kruger and the Sooners.

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De'Vante Harris commits to Texas A&M 

January, 16, 2012
Four-star cornerback De'Vante Harris (Mesquite, Texas/Horn) de-committed on Twitter, so why not announce his new commitment to Texas A&M on the social media network?

With one tweet Monday night, Harris became the latest verbal commitment to the Aggies.

Harris tweeted, “Officially committed to Texas A&M University! Joining the #AGGSWAGGMOVEMENT!! Wazzam!! Hollaa10x!!! We finna mob in the SEC!”

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Trotter's Mailbag: Mike Stoops' impact

January, 13, 2012
Jake Trotter answers readers' questions about Oklahoma football in his mailbag every Friday. Got a question for Jake? Submit it here.

Matt in Soonerville, U.S.A., writes: Would [defensive backs coach Willie] Martinez have been cut even if he didn't accept another job? Were they unhappy with his job performance? Am I right in thinking he did a much better job in 2010 than 2011?

Jake Trotter: Probably. Once Bob Stoops made the decision to bring his brother back that was it for Martinez. I agree that Martinez was solid in ’10. But his unit was nowhere good enough in ’11 to persuade Stoops from hiring Mike back.

Tosh in Dallas writes: Could the Mike Stoops hiring cause big-time defensive recruits to second guess their original commitments and put OU on the radar?

Jake Trotter: This late in the process I doubt it. OU fans hold Mike Stoops in much higher regard than 17-year-old kids do. Mike could make an impact on uncommitted recruits. And he certainly will make an impact in 2013. But I would be surprised if he got a big-time committed prospect to flip this close to signing day.

(Read full post)

Video: Recruiting Nation 411

January, 12, 2012

Michele Steele and ESPN Regional Coordinators Jaime Newberg, Dave Hooker, Damon Sayles, Jared Shanker and Mitch Sherman take you through the latest news on the college football recruiting scene.
Though the recent departure of four-star cornerback De’Vante Harris (Mesquite, Texas/Horn) is a big blow to Oklahoma 2012 defensive backs class, it hasn’t really impacted the Sooners' standing in the rankings.

The Sooners dropped to No. 10 in the latest ESPN class rankings released on Thursday. But once again, it was a case of what another team did more than what OU failed to do.

California had a huge recruiting weekend, picking up one big-time commit after another at the U.S. Army All-American Bowl and vaulted from No. 19 to No. 8.

In the last set of rankings, it was Georgia who scored some quality prospects to jump OU.

While it’s nice the Sooners haven’t fallen too far behind, it would be nice for OU fans if they had something to celebrate.

Nothing has changed with OU’s class, where clearly the strength of the group is on offense. The Sooners’ top 11-ranked recruits are on offense, including all four in the ESPNU 150.

And if the Sooners are going to make a leap up in the rankings, it will most likely happen because of the offense once again as OU is in the hunt for third-ranked prospect Dorial Green-Beckham (Springfield, Mo./Hillcrest) and offensive tackle Zach Banner (Lakewood, Wash./Lakes), ranked No. 123. Green-Beckham's final five are OU, Arkansas, Texas, Missouri and Alabama, while Banner's top three are OU, USC and Washington.

The Sooners are also in the mix for a couple of three-star running backs in David Smith (Midlothian, Ill./Bremen) and Boston College commit Akeel Lynch (Athol Springs, N.Y./St. Francis). Both are making official visits to OU this weekend and Smith has narrowed his choices down to OU or West Virginia.

On defense the name to watch is cornerback Brandon Beaver (Compton, Calif./Dominguez). A four-star defensive back, Beaver is ranked No. 20 at the position and is making an official visit to OU next weekend.

De'Vante Harris visiting Texas A&M 

January, 10, 2012
Four-star cornerback and Under Armour All-American De’Vante Harris (Mesquite, Texas/Horn) has been very active through social media in letting the world know how the recruiting life has been for him. On Tuesday, Harris announced via his Twitter site (@Official_DH10) that he has picked up offers from both Tennessee and Texas A&M.

“Tennessee offered... #AnotherBlessing,” one of Harris’ tweets said early Tuesday evening.

“A&M just offered. Another blessing...,” said another tweet roughly an hour later.

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Przybylo's Mailbag: Harris questions 

January, 9, 2012
Following an eventful week for Oklahoma verbal commits and targets in the Under Armour All-America Game and U.S. Army All-American Bowl, it appeared the week would end quietly. But four-star prospect De’Vante Harris (Mesquite, Texas/Horn) changed all that when he de-committed on Saturday. Bob Przybylo answers your recruiting questions each week. Have a question? Send it to his mailbag at bprzybyloespn@gmail.com.

[+] EnlargeDe'Vante Harris
Davide De Pas for ESPN.comIt's still unclear why cornerback De'Vante Harris de-committed from the Sooners.
Andy in Dallas asks: Why, De’Vante, why?

Bob Przybylo: I’ve had so many different versions of this question on Twitter and the inbox, but I liked how this one was phrased. At this point, I still do not know the exact reason why Harris de-committed from the Sooners on Saturday.

There are plenty of rumors about why he's looking around, but I haven't been able to reach him for an extended comment. I do know that Harris had a meeting with OU defensive coordinator Brent Venables on Friday night, and that’s when the wheels started to fall off. Whatever happened there had an impact on Harris. He already has scheduled an official visit to Oregon for this weekend and is trying to see if there is a spot for him at Texas A&M. Harris’ father, Rod, was a star receiver for the Aggies.

His potential will be missed but so, too, will his presence. If there was one face of this OU class, you could make a strong argument that it had been Harris. He had been everywhere talking up the Sooners since the spring. OU commits don’t have the answers and until Harris addresses the situation, nobody really knows what happened this weekend.

John in San Diego asks: You keep saying Zach Banner should be OU’s top priority. But honestly, do the Sooners really have a chance with him?

Bob Przybylo: Based on what he told everyone last week, yes, the Sooners are still in the mix for offensive tackle Zach Banner (Lakewood, Wash./Lakes). Banner listed OU, USC and Washington as his top three schools. He had a great time on his visit to Norman in September and that visit remained his favorite until the Washington visit in December. He never said the Washington visit was better, but he did say it was on par with the Sooners visit.

He still has one more official visit left, which will be at USC, though the date for that visit is not set in stone. OU was in his home in December, and I believe tackles coach Bruce Kittle and Bob Stoops need to make that trip to Washington. The Sooners need at least one more offensive lineman, and Banner seems to have a great future at right tackle.

Sam in Tulsa, Okla., asks: I’ve heard a lot about D.J. Ward and Brayden Scott so take those two out, who is the best offensive and defensive prospect in the state for 2013?

Bob Przybylo: Good question because there is no doubt that it appears that defensive end D.J. Ward (Lawton, Okla./Lawton) and quarterback Brayden Scott (Tahlequah, Okla./Sequoyah) are going to be the top two prospects in the state for the class of 2013.

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Triple Option: Bedlam basketball's back 

January, 9, 2012
Three thoughts this morning:

1. It didn’t take long for de-committed cornerback De’Vante Harris to pick up offers from some of the name programs in college football, including Ohio State, TCU and Oregon. Harris is scheduled to visit the Ducks this weekend. Initially, I thought the Sooners could get back in the mix for Harris even if/when Mike Stoops replaces Willie Martinez, Harris’ primary recruiter from OU. But reading Harris’ Twitter page, it seems as though he’s moved on. The Sooners probably will have to as well.

2. I can’t remember the last time a Bedlam basketball game arrived with such little fanfare (the two schools play tonight for those who didn’t know). It wasn’t that long ago Bedlam basketball was one of the main sporting events in Oklahoma. I doubt either game sells out, including tonight’s bout in Stillwater. Despite the injuries, OSU has the more talented team and the home-court advantage, but OU is playing better despite the 0-2 start in-conference. The Sooners hung tough with Kansas on Saturday, before getting outclassed in the second half. If the Sooners can keep Keiton Page from bombing 3s and exploit OSU’s problems at point guard, I like their chances.

3. Our Bob Przybylo pointed something out very interesting. Wide receivers coach and co-offensive coordinator coach Jay Norvell began following several University of Florida Web sites and reporters on Twitter over the weekend on. Coincidence? Probably so. But at one time Norvell was rumored to be a candidate for the offensive coordinator job with the Gators. Boise State assistant Brent Pease is believed to be Florida’s top choice, but Pease is also being interviewed at Alabama this week. If Pease ends up taking a job with the Crimson Tide, could Florida circle back to Norvell? It’s something worth keeping an eye on. Norvell is happy at OU, but he also wants to be a play-caller. Just last week, Norvell spoke with Wisconsin officials about their offensive coordinator position, but opted not to pursue the job. Norvell has done a terrific job recruiting for the Sooners this class; blue-chipper Durron Neal even telling SoonerNation he would have de-committed from OU had Norvell left.

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Shepard enjoys Under Armour experience 

January, 8, 2012
Oklahoma wide receiver verbal commit Sterling Shepard (Oklahoma City/Heritage Hall) has always had nerves before his football games. He had nerves playing in front of hundreds of people in high school, and it was multiplied significantly last week.

But nerves, however, have never impacted Shepard’s performance. It didn’t in four seasons at Oklahoma City Heritage Hall, and it didn’t last Thursday night at the Under Armour All-America Game.

“I think it’s a good thing to be nervous like that,” Shepard said. “It lets me know how important everything means to me. Once you get on the field, it goes away, and you just play your game.”

And few high school recruits play better than Shepard, ranked No. 7 at wide receiver and No. 58 in the ESPNU 150.

Davide De Pas for ESPN.com
Oklahoma receiver commit Sterling Shepard caught three passes for 29 yards in the Under Armour All-America Game.

Despite all the accolades and ability, Shepard said he knows some still doubt how he is going to fare in college at 5-foot-10 and 185 pounds. The Under Armour practices did a lot to help him silence more critics. Shepard also showed off his skills by winning the Under Armour Good Hands skills challenge Tuesday.

“This week showed me I could get off the ball against some of the best corners in the nation,” Shepard said. “I can compete on this level.”

The Under Armour game is just one part of a hectic week for the recruits. Shepard said one of the toughest parts of the week was signing the Topps trading cards. Each player had a Topps card created in his Under Armour jersey. They were given 250 cards apiece to keep as well.

“I like giving autographs, but that was like more than an hour of signing cards,” Shepard said. “I’m not used to that.”

Many distinguished football personalities watched practices. Though Shepard is a wide receiver, he said NFL Hall of Fame cornerback Deion Sanders made the biggest impression.

“I got to talk to him a couple of times, and it was a big help,” Shepard said. “He’s one of the best corners in the history of the game so I was definitely listening. He was giving me tips on what to do in certain situations.”

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One day after Oklahoma secondary coach Willie Martinez was rumored to be leaving for a jobs at either Illinois or Kansas, cornerback De’Vante Harris, the Sooners’ top defensive recruit, de-committed.

It’s not difficult to connect the dots.

Harris has not yet given his reasons for disclosing Saturday via Twitter that he is no longer committed to the Sooners. But something dramatic must have occurred to lead Harris to make such a stunning announcement.

[+] EnlargeDe'Vante Harris
Davide De Pas for ESPN.comLongtime Oklahoma commit De'Vante Harris shocked his high school coach by decommitting from the Sooners on Saturday.
Harris had been among the biggest OU cheerleaders from this class, talking up the Sooners to other prospective recruits. At one point, he even had “OU” shaved onto the side of his head. His future teammates were unaware of his decision, his high school coaches had no idea about his change of heart -- nobody knew that Harris was on the outs with OU. He was in Florida all week for the Under Armour All-America game and appeared in good spirits.

But Martinez was Harris’ primary recruiter. And it’s possible Harris was told Martinez would no longer be with the OU staff. That would explain Harris’ sudden change of heart.

Safety Tony Jefferson re-tweeted Harris’ de-commitment, then added “why?” It’s unclear if Harris then contacted Jefferson. But moments later, Jefferson tweeted this: “Idk if there’s coaches changes or not at OU. But I wish they would tell the players. We would like to kno too! Haha”

Jefferson then tweeted, “if he wanna go let EM. Gotta go where is best for him. No hard feelings.” To which Harris thanked Jefferson.

The worst kept secret in Norman is that Mike Stoops wants back on the OU staff. The Sooners want him back, too. Should Martinez depart for Illinois or some other job, it’s probable that Mike Stoops will summarily be named his replacement.

As for Harris, who knows? Maybe Mike Stoops can talk him into giving the Sooners another look, though Harris figures to be a hot commodity as one of the nation’s top five uncommitted cornerbacks.

If the Sooners can’t reel him back in, it will be another major blow in terms of recruiting on the defensive side of the ball. In the last week, the No. 1-ranked prospect in the nation Mario Edwards (Denton, Texas/Ryan) basically eliminated OU from his favorites.

Also this week, former linebacker targets Quanzell Lambert (Sicklerville, N.J./Timber Creek) and Brian Nance (Euless, Texas/Trinity) committed to Rutgers and Baylor, respectively. There are no questions about how stacked the Sooners' offensive class is for 2012, but the defense has been a big concern with less than a month to National Signing Day.

The secondary class appeared to be in good shape, especially after the Sooners made progress with the nation's No. 20 cornerback in Brandon Beaver (Compton, Calif./Dominguez). But one of the reasons Beaver became interested in OU was because of Harris, who has become one of Beaver's close friends. Harris was one of the first people Beaver contacted after talking with defensive coordinator Brent Venables on Monday.

Beaver is still set to visit OU on Jan. 20, and is also friends with OU commits wide receiver Derrick Woods (Inglewood, Calif./Inglewood) and tight end Taylor McNamara (San Diego/Westview). All three competed in the U.S. Army All-American Bowl on Saturday afternoon, the same time that Harris announced his de-commitment. It's unclear what bearing Harris' decision will have on Beaver's recruitment. Beaver tweeted Saturday that he plans to wait until signing day to announce his college choice.

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Cornerback De’Vante Harris (Mesquite, Texas/Horn), who has been committed to Oklahoma since the spring, announced on Twitter that he has decommitted from the Sooners on Saturday and confirmed with a text message that the decommitment was true.

Harris, a four-star prospect ranked No. 14 at cornerback, had been one of the biggest recruiters for the Sooners since committing. He had made several unofficial visits and an official visit and had coaches for in-home visits recently. There were rumors two weeks ago of Harris looking at Texas, but Harris quickly shot those down.

[+] EnlargeDe'Vante Harris
Tom Hauck for ESPN.comLongtime Oklahoma commit De'Vante Harris decommitted from the Sooners on Saturday.
Reports have also surfaced of OU defensive backs coach Willie Martinez being considered for other jobs. He has been reported as a defensive coordinator candidate at both Kansas and Illinois in the last 24 hours. Martinez has been the primary recruiter for Harris.

The news wasn’t just a shock to OU fans, but also to Mesquite Horn coach Rodney Webb.

“Really? I have no knowledge of that,” Webb said about Harris decommitting. “I was with him in Orlando this week, and he was doing his thing.

“I saw him briefly after the game. Nothing seemed wrong. He seemed like himself, like he always is with his personality. I’m kind of at a loss because he has been such a solid commitment.”

Harris was in Florida all week for the Under Armour All-America game and returned home Friday still talking up the Sooners. Calls to Harris’ cell phone were not returned though he did text the confirmation so there would be no speculation about his Twitter account being hacked.

Harris had also developed a good bond with the secondary, including sophomore Tony Jefferson. When a fan tweeted Jefferson that the Cali Trio needed to bring back Harris, Jefferson replied: “if he wanna go let EM. Gotta go where his best for him. No hard feelings.”

Harris, in his first tweet after the announcement, tweeted back: “Thanks Tony.”

Future teammates were also unaware of Harris’ departure. Cornerback commit Kevin Peterson (Wagoner, Okla./Wagoner) said he found out via a text message from Wagoner coach Dale Condict.

“It’s a big shock. Coach Condict texted me like two minutes before you called,” Peterson said. “I have no idea what happened.”

Peterson said he has not heard from Martinez in more than a week, fueling the speculation about the future of Martinez. During the dead period, it was Bob Stoops that called Peterson.

Harris was OU’s top-ranked defensive prospect for the 2012 class.


Stoops, Players Want To Effect Change
Oklahoma coach Bob Stoops sits down with Gene Wojciechowski to discuss his team's stand against racism.