Oklahoma Sooners: Isaac Ijalana

This summer, ESPN.com is taking a closer look at each scholarship player on the Oklahoma Sooners' roster in our Crimson Countdown series. Each day, we analyze each player’s impact on the program since arriving on campus, his potential impact this fall and his long-term projection. Starting with No. 1 Dominique Alexander, the series follows the roster numerically through No. 98 Chuka Ndulue.

No. 80 Isaac Ijalana, tight end, 6-foot-4, 247 pounds, sophomore

Impact thus far: As a spring enrollee, Ijalana has only spent one semester with the Sooners. He was a member of the ESPN JC 50.

Impact in 2014: The competition at tight end has amped up with Blake Bell’s position change and Taylor McNamara’s continued development. He will have to earn any playing time he gets this fall, but he’s one of the reasons the Sooners should feel better about the overall talent at the position heading into this season.

Long-term upside: The Sooners are hopeful he can eventually provide a versatile receiving target at tight end, even if it is not this season.

Evaluation grade for Ijalana: C. The junior-college transfer has only been on campus for one semester, so it’s hard to expect him to walk right into a starting spot or critical role in the offense. But he has three seasons to make an impact and the skill set to do so.

Development grade for Ijalana: NA.
Oklahoma fans yearn for the time when Jermaine Gresham was catching long touchdown passes to help knock off Oklahoma State and Texas. Or even James Hanna keeping defenses honest with his forays down the hash mark.

It has been two years since a tight end caught more than three passes in a season at OU, although Trey Millard filled a tight end/fullback role in 2012 and 2013, catching 30 passes in 2012 and 11 passes in 2013.

When you're young you want to blame it on other things. As I've matured I've realized, anywhere you go, they want to play the best players, get the best 11 on the field. And I think I can be one of those [eleven] here.

-- Oklahoma TE Taylor McNamara
The Sooners are hopeful a strong receiving threat emerges this season with Blake Bell, Taylor McNamara, Connor Knight and Isaac Ijalana competing for time at tight end. OU has used players in the role of tight ends, with Millard and Aaron Ripkowski filling the void, during the past two seasons. But a passing threat like Gresham has escaped its grasp.

“There’s just not a lot of Jermaine Greshams running around,” coach Bob Stoops said. “You have to have the right people and they have to be experienced, so when they go on the field they have to be better than another personnel grouping you might have out there.”

The Sooners’ depth at receiver made wideout-heavy personnel groupings in passing situations the right move during the past two seasons with OU preferring to have Jalen Saunders and Sterling Shepard working the middle of the field instead of a bigger threat.

As OU builds the offense around Trevor Knight, the desire for a versatile threat at tight end increases thanks to Knight’s run-pass skills.

“It makes it more versatile as an offense,” McNamara said of the use of versatile tight ends. “If you have them in there and don’t know what personnel to put out there, you can run it and throw it so it’s a benefit, for sure.”

And McNamara is hoping to be that guy.

The junior’s development has been overshadowed by Bell’s move to tight end and Ijalana’s recent arrival from the junior college ranks but the California native stepped on campus with plenty of accolades of his own. A four-star signee and Army All-American, a lot was expected from McNamara but he will enter his redshirt sophomore season without much fanfare. Yet, after briefly wondering if OU was the right place for him, McNamara decided he was willing to shoulder the blame for his lack of an impact during his first two years in Norman, Okla.

“When you’re young you want to blame it on other things,” he said. “As I’ve matured I’ve realized, anywhere you go, they want to play the best players, get the best 11 on the field. And I think I can be one of those [11] here.”

His progress as a redshirt freshman brings hope that he can fulfill the promise he brought with him as an early enrollee in the spring of 2012. After a strong showing in bowl preparations, McNamara’s lone catch in crimson and cream is a four-yard reception in the Sooners’ Allstate Sugar Bowl win over Alabama.

“The whole year I was working to get better,” he said. “Eventually I got good enough to help the team and get to play a little bit. Getting to play at all was a blessing, it’s a lot more fun when you’re involved.”

This spring is a critical time for McNamara, who at 6-foot-5 and 240 pounds brings good size and could become the receiving threat the Sooners have been searching for in recent years.

“I’m here to play,” McNamara said. “I don’t want to sit my whole career here. I want to make an impact.”
Across the Big 12, teams are looking for instant impact from their recruiting classes. Several of those potential instant impact players have enrolled at their schools early, looking for a chance to play right away.

Below is a breakdown of all the Big 12 early enrollees, and their outlooks for the spring:

BAYLOR

Juco

OG Jarell Broxton: Could grab a starting role with All-American guard Cyril Richardson gone.

CB Chris Sanders: Was a favorite to start, but is out for the spring after shoulder surgery.

CB Tion Wright: Less highly-touted than Sanders, but has an opportunity with Sanders out.

LB Grant Campbell: With All-Big 12 LB Eddie Lackey gone, Bears hoping Campbell can fill a starting role alongside Bryce Hager.

High school

WR Davion Hall: Recruited as a receiver, Hall is a powerful athlete who gives Baylor another potential dynamic playmaker.

RB Terence Williams: A bruising runner destined to someday fill the role held last season by Glasco Martin.

TE Jordan Feuerbacher: Baylor lost tight ends Jordan Najvar and Jerod Monk off last season's team so there’s an opportunity for Feuerbacher.

IOWA STATE

Juco

LB Jordan Harris: Harris was the No. 5 juco ILB in the country, and will help ease the sting of losing All-Big 12 LB Jeremiah George.

S Devron Moore: The Cyclones graduated both Jacques Washington and Deon Broomfield so help is needed here.

DE Gabe Luna: Luna is one of three juco DEs the Cyclones signed, but the first to arrive on campus.

KANSAS

Juco

OG/C Keyon Haughton: Charlie Weis calls him “a bad muchacho,” and the Jayhawks will need him to play right away.

CB Ronnie Davis: The Jayhawks return starting cornerbacks Dexter McDonald and JaCorey Shepherd, but you can never have enough corners in the Big 12.

S Anthony Smithson: Adds depth and versatility to an already deep and experienced secondary.

KANSAS STATE

Juco

WR Andre Davis: All-Big 12 WR Tyler Lockett needs someone to emerge on the other side, and the No. 5-ranked juco WR has a great chance to do just that.

OT Luke Hayes: Could answer the call at a key spot vacated by departing All-Big 12 OT Cornelius Lucas.

CB Danzel McDaniel: One of the top juco corners in the country, McDaniel could lock up a starting role quickly.

Grayshirt

TE Dayton Valentine: Adds depth as a blocking tight end.

OL Bryce Fitzner: Will have time to fill out his 6-7 frame.

OKLAHOMA

Juco

TE Isaac Ijalana: The No. 1 juco TE in the country, Ijalana could help stabilize a position that has given the Sooners trouble the past couple seasons.

LB Devante Bond: Bond adds depth to what potentially could be one of the best linebacking corps in the country.

High school

QB Justice Hansen: Will be the third-team QB with Blake Bell moving to TE and Baker Mayfield ineligible until 2015.

FB Dimitri Flowers: The Sooners need a replacement for departing all-conference blocking fullback Trey Millard.

OKLAHOMA STATE

Juco

LB Devante Averette: The hard-hitting Averette has an opportunity to nail down a starting role this spring with All-Big LBs Caleb Lavey and Shaun Lewis gone.

WR Tyreek Hill: Hill is running track this spring and has already broken several records; he gives the Cowboys a speedy playmaker to help ease the early loss of Josh Stewart.

High school

QB Mason Rudolph: One of the highest-rated QBs ever to sign with the Cowboys, Rudolph will battle J.W. Walsh immediately for the starting job.

RB Devon Thomas: Thomas was the highest-rated running back from the state of Oklahoma, and adds depth to a position that could use some help.

TCU

Juco

S Kenny Iloka: Iloka has already impressed, and pads a deep and talented safety rotation at TCU.

OG Frank Kee: Will be asked to fill a starting job inside on the TCU offensive line.

TEXAS

Juco

TE Blake Whiteley: The nation’s No. 2 juco tight end, the Longhorns signed to fill a position that’s been inconsistent for them.

High school

OLB Andrew Beck: With Texas’ depth at LB, Beck most likely is a redshirt candidate.

OG Alex Anderson: Recruited by Joe Wickline when still at Oklahoma State, Anderson was a late addition to the class.

TEXAS TECH

Juco

S Josh Keys: The nation’s No. 5 juco safety, Keys could step into the spot vacated be departing veteran Tre’ Porter.

DT Keland McElrath: Has been dealing with a foot stress fracture, but the Red Raiders need help at DT with Kerry Hyder and Dartwan Bush gone.

WR Devin Lauderdale: Was a four-star player coming out of high school and will give QB Davis Webb another weapon on the inside.

WEST VIRGINIA

Juco

QB Skyler Howard: Has a chance to make a move on the QB competition, especially with Clint Trickett out for the spring.

S Keishawn Richardson: Opened up the spring as the second-string cornerback behind Daryl Worley, who started as a true freshman in 2013.

LB Edward Muldrow II: Currently backing up returning starter Isaiah Bruce as the Sam linebacker.

OT Sylvester Townes: The Mountaineers have two holes at tackle, giving Townes a chance to make an instant impact.

High school

DE Davonte James: The ESPN 300 signee brings speed to West Virginia’s D-end position.

WR Ricky Rogers: Rogers is a redshirt candidate with the entire West Virginia WR rotation back from last season.

Top overall position classes in 2014 

February, 21, 2014
Feb 21
9:00
AM ET


With national signing day in the books, RecruitingNation is looking at which programs compiled the nation's best overall position classes in 2014. For the full top position classes series, click here.

Quarterbacks: Florida
The Florida Gators had a major need at quarterback in the Class of 2014, and Will Muschamp and staff more than filled it, signing two of the nation’s top signal-callers. Third-ranked dual-threat prospect Will Grier (Davidson, N.C./Davidson Day School) is already on campus and preparing for spring practice, while No. 7 dual-threat prospect Treon Harris (Miami/Booker T. Washington) was a huge signing-day flip from Florida State. Both prospects are great athletes who are accustomed to operating up-tempo offenses. This should also help newly hired offensive coordinator Kurt Roper, who will install a similar scheme in Gainesville.

Top position classes: TEs 

February, 13, 2014
Feb 13
9:00
AM ET


With national signing day in the books, RecruitingNation is looking at the top position classes. For the full series, click here.

Nationally (and Big 12)
Oklahoma addressed many needs with its top-15 recruiting class, and that certainly includes the tight end position. Coach Bob Stoops and his staff signed a trio of tight ends, including ESPN 300s No. 277 Carson Meier (Tulsa, Okla./Union) and No. 295 Mark Andrews (Scottsdale, Ariz./Desert Mountain), as well as three-star junior college prospect Isaac Ijalana (Mount Holly, N.J./Pierce College). All three players have terrific size of at least 6-foot-5, and Meier and Andrews possess the frame to add mass and strength. Meier has good initial burst and above-average ball skills, while Andrews has excellent hand-eye coordination and the ability to beat linebackers and safeties with regularity.

The Sooners had the nation’s best tight end class; here’s which schools had the best in each of the remaining power conferences:


To continue reading this article you must be an Insider

Spring football is just over the horizon.

Oklahoma is coming off a banner 2013 campaign featuring an 11-win season and a Sugar Bowl win over SEC power Alabama, yet the Sooners have several position groups they need to address if they hope to make a national title run in 2014. This week, we’ll take a closer look at the top five position groups that need to improve during OU’s spring practices. On Monday, we kick off the series with the Sooners tight ends at No. 5.

The breakdown

On campus: Blake Bell, Sr.; Sam Grant, So.; Connor Knight, So.; Taylor McNamara, So.; Isaac Ijalana, So.

Summer arrival: Carson Meier, Fr.

[+] EnlargeCarson Meier
Bob Przybylo/ESPNSignee Carson Meier could be a factor at TE sooner rather than later.
Summary: The actual numbers are pretty brutal. In 2013, OU had more tight ends on the roster than actual receptions from the position. The Sooners’ four tight ends combined to catch three passes in 13 games. Coaches keep saying they’d like to get the tight ends more involved in the offense. Is 2014 finally the year? Not unless someone steps up at the position to prove they can be a major factor in the passing game.

Bell’s move to tight end gives the Sooners a talented, big target. While his inexperience at the position will be difficult to overcome, he will understand defenses and coverages much better than most tight ends. He’ll have to work hard in the spring to get familiar with the position.

McNamara is the lone returning tight end who had a reception in 2013, a 4-yard catch in the Sugar Bowl. It’s a make-or-break year for the junior in a lot of ways. This spring will be his opportunity to carve himself a role in the offense and force the coaches to use the summer months to devise ways to get him involved in the offensive plans for 2014.

Ijalana is a athletic junior college signee who will have three seasons to make a mark on the program. The Sooners hope he starts making an impact this fall and this spring provides the opportunity to show he's ready to make an impact right away.

Knight, the twin brother of quarterback Trevor Knight, has proven to be a valuable asset who earned himself a spot on the depth chart last season as a walk on. The underdog of the group, he could become a contributor.

Grant is known for his blocking prowess and could become a contributor in running situations. If he shows he can be a factor in the passing game during the spring, he could rise up the depth chart.

Meier will arrive in the summer and could be the most complete prospect of the bunch. He might not make an immediate impact, but he has the skill set to develop into a tight end who can excel in the running game and make defenses account for him in the passing game.

Recruit and return: Oklahoma Sooners 

January, 3, 2014
Jan 3
12:50
AM ET
Oklahoma did what many thought couldn’t be done -- it shocked two-time defending BCS champion Alabama and ended its 2013 season with a 45-31 victory in the Allstate Sugar Bowl. The Sooners, a two-touchdown underdog entering the game, finished the year with an 11-2 record and left the Mercedes-Benz Superdome with one of the biggest wins in the program’s history.

Recruiting season has now hit Norman, and the Sooners hope to build off this win to find stars in the 2014 class. There are a couple of voids to fill from this year’s squad.


To continue reading this article you must be an Insider

Midyear signings: Oklahoma

December, 20, 2013
12/20/13
9:28
PM ET
According to SoonersSports.com, the following players have signed with Oklahoma:

Isaac Ijalana, TE-Y, Mount Holly, N.J./Pierce College
HT: 6-5 WT: 255
Positional Rank: #1 TE-Y Juco
Stars: 3
ESPN JC50 (#46)

Devante Bond, OLB, Roseville, Calif./Sierra College
HT: 6-3 WT: 240
Positional Rank: #9 OLB Juco
Stars: 3

Weekend recruiting wrap: Big 12 

December, 16, 2013
12/16/13
8:00
AM ET

If all eyes weren’t on the Heisman Trophy race Saturday, then they were on Mack Brown's impending resignation as head coach of the Texas Longhorns. Add that in with the multiple junior college pledges to Big 12 programs, and you have a pretty solid weekend of recruiting as we approach the middle of the month.

Official visits and in-home visits were major topics of discussion last week. Here are some of the top storylines over the weekend:


To continue reading this article you must be an Insider

Big 12 top juco targets 

December, 3, 2013
12/03/13
4:30
PM ET


Several programs in the Big 12 have long searched the junior college ranks for quick fixes for their football program. Others are just warming up the idea. Here is a look at the top five junior college players in the ESPN JC 50 that Big 12 programs are going after for 2014:

Tyreek Hill
Jeremy Crabtree/ESPNTyreek Hill, who came to Oklahoma State from Garden City (Kan.) CC, might be a track star, but he'll admit football is his first love.
ATH Tyreek Hill (Garden City Community College): Oklahoma State’s future at running back is set with the commitment of Hill, who gave his verbal pledge to the Cowboys on Sept. 30. Mike Gundy and his coaching staff have to feel really good about landing Hill, as they fended off several top programs, including Alabama, Florida State, Arizona State, Baylor, Kansas State, Nebraska, Oklahoma, Tennessee and USC. Hill was a Georgia high school sprinting champion, who, as a senior at Coffee High School in Douglas, Ga., won the 100- and 200-meter dashes at the Georgia 5A state meet.


To continue reading this article you must be an Insider

Oklahoma loses TE pledge 

December, 3, 2013
12/03/13
12:16
AM ET
Oklahoma lost a commitment Monday night in junior college tight end Isaac Ijalana (Woodland Hills, Calif./Pierce College). The 6-foot-5, 255-pound tight end tweeted the announcement and then confirmed it via text message.

To continue reading this article you must be an Insider

Big 12 recruiting storylines: Nov. 21 

November, 21, 2013
11/21/13
2:00
PM ET


The beginning of the month didn't start out so hot for Oklahoma, who was routed in a highly-anticipated game at Baylor on Nov. 7. But the Sooners have rebounded well on the recruiting trail with a handful of commitments since the calendar turned.

We'll take a look at who exactly those recruits are as well as talk about the big weekend ahead in Stillwater in this week's edition of Big 12 recruiting storylines.

OU on a roll


To continue reading this article you must be an Insider

Weekend recruiting wrap: Big 12 

November, 18, 2013
11/18/13
8:00
AM ET

While Kansas broke its recruiting slump, Oklahoma managed to pick up two players on Sunday. One of them filled a huge need.

There were several other updates involving Big 12 targets from this weekend, including one four-star athlete announcing when he will make his final decision. That player said he most likely will end up in the Big 12.

Here are some of last week’s highlights:


To continue reading this article you must be an Insider

Sooners get need, want in commits

November, 17, 2013
11/17/13
10:35
PM ET
In college football recruiting, there are necessities and there are luxuries. Oklahoma picked up one of each Sunday.

The Sooners first addressed a need by getting a commitment from defensive end Dwayne Orso Jr. (Birmingham, Ala./Homewood). Orso, a 6-foot-5, 251-pound end, flipped his commitment to Oklahoma after pledging to Western Kentucky in September.


Orso, recruited to Oklahoma by defensive lineman coach Jerry Montgomery, also had offers from UAB, Arkansas State and Middle Tennessee. Orso’s commitment is huge for Oklahoma, as he is the first defensive end commit and only the second defensive lineman commit for the Sooners’ 2014 class.

While Oklahoma is looking for more defensive linemen, it has done a solid job in recruiting tight ends. The Sooners managed to add depth to the position by picking up junior college tight end Isaac Ijalana (Woodland Hills, Calif./Pierce College). A 6-5, 255-pound blocking tight end, Ijalana chose the Sooners over offers from Illinois, Bowling Green and other schools.

Ijalana was recruited to Oklahoma by tight ends coach Jay Boulware. Ijalana is the younger brother of Ben Ijalana, a left tackle for the New York Jets.

Oklahoma already had two ESPN 300 tight ends committed in blocker Carson Meier (Tulsa, Okla./Union) and flex Mark Andrews (Scottsdale, Ariz./Desert Mountain), as well as three-star athlete Dimitri Flowers (San Antonio/Churchill), who could be used similarly to how multipurpose standout Trey Millard was used prior to a season-ending knee injury.

Oklahoma also has juco tight end Jean Sifrin (Torrance, Calif./El Camino College), who has formally committed but is awaiting academic clearance to enroll, according to ESPN’s Blair Angulo. Coach Bob Stoops will have a myriad of options at the position next season and should benefit with a good number of returning offensive starters back from this year.

With the two new pledges, Oklahoma is now at 18 commitments for the 2014 class.

SPONSORED HEADLINES

Drive Through: Projecting the Playoff Field
Week one of the college football season is in the books. Time to talk playoffs, right? Adam Rittenberg and Heather Dinich take an early look at what the playoff field looks like.
VIDEO PLAYLIST video