Oklahoma Sooners: Ronnell Lewis

Grading the class: 2009

February, 3, 2014
Oklahoma is poised to add several recruits on Wednesday with an eye on creating the foundation of a future championship team. Yet recruiting is an inexact science. Some projected stars rise to meet high expectations while others struggle to make a difference in the Big 12. Thus it’s the perfect time to look back at OU’s last five recruiting classes. On Monday we begin with a review of the Class of 2009, including recruits who exceeded expectations, recruits who were solid signees, and those who were busts.

When OU signed this group in February 2009, it looked like a quality class that could feature some future stars. Yet the best and most productive players signed were afterthoughts on signing day. The class was ranked No. 11 nationally by ESPN.com.

Transcendent figures

Center Gabe Ikard: A high school tight end who developed into an All-Big 12 interior lineman, Ikard is the perfect example of terrific evaluation by OU. He didn’t have the traits to become an elite tight end, but ESPN.com’s No. 19 ranked tight end had intelligence, a physical nature and toughness that made him perfect for a move inside. He earned 50 career starts after a redshirt season in 2009 and earned All-Big 12 first-team honors in each of his final three seasons.

[+] EnlargeLane Johnson
Rick Yeatts/Getty ImagesLane Johnson was unranked coming out of Groveton, Texas, but became the No. 4 pick in the NFL draft in 2013.
Tackle Lane Johnson: The unknown Johnson went from afterthought to NFL top-five draft pick. He played several positions in junior college, then lined up at tight end, defensive end and tackle at OU before being selected No. 4 overall by the Philadelphia Eagles in the 2013 NFL draft. He was solid and versatile during his two years as a starting tackle for the Sooners.

Cornerback Demontre Hurst: A three-year starter, Hurst was consistent and durable during his time as a cornerback for the Sooners. The No. 58-ranked cornerback in the nation, Hurst finished his career with 178 tackles and 33 pass breakups after stepping on campus with minimal fanfare.


Safety Javon Harris: The No. 32-ranked safety in the nation, Harris was a two-year starter and contributor on special teams throughout his career. He finished with 162 career tackles and nine interceptions in 44 career games (21 starts).

Defensive end Ronnell Lewis: Lewis, No. 83 in the ESPN 150, would have exceed expectations if he had remained in school for all four seasons. He was on the path to have a dominant senior season but chose to leave early. Nonetheless he was a force on special teams as soon as he stepped on campus then developed into a quality defensive end as a junior. He had 118 tackles, including 20.5 tackles for loss, and started at least one game during each of his three seasons, finishing with 14 starts in 34 games.

Guard Tyler Evans: The No. 25 offensive guard in the nation, Evans started in 29 games in three seasons as a Sooner before knee injuries derailed his career. If every offensive lineman the Sooners recruited turned out like Evans, they’d be pretty happy.

Defensive tackle Jamarkus McFarland: As the No. 54 player in the ESPN 150, McFarland shouldered a lofty ranking and expectations to match Gerald McCoy and Tommie Harris when he arrived on campus. He fell short of that duo, but he was a valuable asset during his final three seasons with the Sooners. He started 22 games and had at least 20 tackles for three consecutive seasons.

Safety Gabe Lynn: Another guy who had high expectations as the No. 80 player in the rankings and another guy who started games in each of his final three seasons. Lynn never became a star, but he was a key piece in an OU defense that ranked among the Big 12's best during his final two seasons. He had 116 tackles and four interceptions in 44 career games (25 starts).

Completely missed the mark

Linebacker Gus Jones: The No. 8 inside linebacker never stepped on the field at OU. He transferred after one semester in Norman.

Overall grade: B

Not an outstanding recruiting class, but far from a bad class. Some of the projected stars turned out to be just starters, but hidden gems such as Ikard, Johnson and Hurst elevated this grade above average. A class that won a lot of games, but the lack of skill-position stars meant it wasn’t strong enough to be the foundation of a national championship run.

Oklahoma Sooners Class of 2009 review 

January, 24, 2013
Oklahoma’s 2009 recruiting class had some hidden gems, including cornerback Demontre Hurst and center Gabe Ikard, but it had some disappointments as well, such as safety Kevin Brent and linebacker Gus Jones.

Ultimately the class should be considered sub-par. About half of the 24 signees became contributors, with Hurst, Ikard, defensive end Ronnell Lewis and tackle Lane Johnson highlighting the list as the only all-conference performers. OU’s class featured six ESPN 150 members but only Lewis learned All-Big 12 honors.

Sooner Snapshot: DE Jordan Evans 

December, 4, 2012
To gear up for 2013 national signing day, SoonerNation's Brandon Chatmon is breaking down every commitment in the Sooners' 2013 recruiting class. View the full archive here.

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In 2011, the Sooners defense leaned on one of the better defensive end combos in school history: Frank Alexander and Ronnell Lewis. The two combined for 14 sacks. Alexander earned Big 12 Defensive Player of the Year honors, and Lewis became a fourth-round draft pick of the Detroit Lions.

[+] EnlargeChuka Ndulue
Ty Russell/University of OklahomaSophomore Chuka Ndulue will be the Sooners' third defensive end in 2012.
Replacing their production won’t be easy, but Bob Stoops is confident in veterans R.J. Washington and David King. Both will be full-time starters for the first time in their careers as seniors, but Washington and King were critical pieces of OU’s “Endy” package – four defensive ends on the field at once – that was highly disruptive last season. Desping coming off the bench, Washington finished with five sacks and King recorded 31 tackles.

“They've played a lot of football for us,” Stoops said.

The Sooners will also lean on Chuka Ndulue, who emerged as the third defensive end in the spring over junior-college transfer Chaz Nelson and Geneo Grissom, who has since moved to tight end.

“We've got some young guys coming up,” Stoops said. “Chuka is doing an excellent job, and then even Michael Onuoha and Charles Tapper, two young freshmen that we're really excited about that we hope can jump in there help us some.”
Monday, Merv Johnson discussed his time as an assistant at Notre Dame. In the final half of his Q&A, OU’s director of football operations and color analyst for the Sooner Radio Network spoke with SoonerNation about his role in getting Troy Aikman to Norman, the best player he ever coached and his thoughts on the upcoming season:

Jake Trotter: You were the first one at OU to realize how special Troy Aikman was. How did that come about?

Merv Johnson: He was a kid from a small town over in Henryetta that really was a fine-looking specimen, all-around athlete, all sports and everything. Found out, we got him to agree to come to camp. I told Barry [Switzer], you need to look at him. Barry watched him throw, and that was it. There was no arm twisting. He watched him throw the football, and he was 100 percent sold.

Rick Stewart/Getty Images
Merv Johnson was the first OU coach to see Troy Aikman throw the football.

Trotter: How did you hear about Aikman?

Johnson: He was kind of a local phenom over there, we get those things all the time. But once you go and eyeball him and see what a physical specimen he is, his personality, then you really get excited.

Trotter: Aikman is one of many Oklahoma kids who went on to great college careers. OU obviously has taken a more national approach to recruiting in recent years. But how important is it to still recruit the Oklahoma kids?

Johnson: It’s critically important. It’s hard. You want to recruit the best player available. When you break down the number of scholarships you have, it’s not very many. And then you count the positions on a team, it’s 22 positions and two kickers, basically. And you may be able to recruit only one linebacker, or two, as an example. And you want the best you can find. The best athlete, best player, the guy that you think can project the furthest. That guy might be off somewhere else, and there might be a pretty good one in Oklahoma. But you can only take one of them. It’s hard, it’s hard – the superstar that you’ve seen really makes you feel like you’ve got a shot. You hate to say, well, we can’t take you because we want to recruit this Oklahoma guy. By the same token, after a very short time, the way recruiting is so accelerated, the youngster in Oklahoma may say, well, they’re not interested in me, I’ going to go somewhere else. And so, it comes down to evaluation, and you can’t do a lot of that, because there’s only so many times you can go to their campus or their games. You have to do a lot of it by video. But you’ve got to collectively as a staff study that player, and make sure you’re OK if you can’t take the Oklahoma kid. You need those kind of guys that always love the program. But if their talent level is not the same, you have to get the best talent you can.

Trotter: So if the Oklahoma kid is even with the national kid, you suggest going for the Oklahoma kid?

Johnson: I think you’d go on it. It didn’t take them long to go on [Sam] Bradford, and guys like that. And I think they had an opportunity with camp here and him being nearby to see Bradford, the coaches recognized what a great future he had. That’s what you have to do. You can’t just let it slip by you that easily.

Trotter: Which OU team you’ve been around was the best?

(Read full post)

Every weekday morning, a member of the SoonerNation gives his take on three things happening in the Sooner sports world.

1. The Sooners unveiled their 2012 season roster Wednesday with a couple of wrinkles. As we confirmed last week, former defensive end Geneo Grissom was moved to tight end. Grissom has already endured a tumultuous career in Norman. He was on the verge of cracking the defensive end rotation as a true freshman two years ago, then suffered a broken foot just before the opener, prompting a redshirt. Last season, Grissom failed to break into Bobby Jack Wright's four-man rotation at end, and watched most of the season from the sidelines. With Frank Alexander and Ronnell Lewis both gone, Grissom had a golden chance this spring to earn playing time. Instead, he broke his other foot and missed the entire spring, as classmate Chuka Ndulue ascended past him on the depth chart. Now, Grissom has been moved to tight end. It will be interesting to see if Grissom gets any time at tight end this season. The Sooners are low on experience, but junior-college transfer Brannon Green proved to be a useful blocker during the spring, and true freshman Taylor McNamara flashed some of his receiving skills in the Red-White game. Ideally, the Sooners would prefer to redshirt Grissom as he adapts to his new position. But A) they may need him this season and B) he already burned his redshirt two years ago.

2. With Grissom moving from end, ex-linebacker Rashod Favors is listed as a defensive end. The Sooners could also use linebacker Frank Shannon at end, similar to the way they used Ronnell Lewis as a rush two years ago. Shannon has impressed linebackers coach Tim Kish the last few months.

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To begin the season, I see six teams with a legitimate chance to win the Big 12. Today begins a series looking at why each team will or will not win the league. We'll start with the prohibitive favorite, Oklahoma.

Why the Sooners will win the Big 12

[+] EnlargeLandry Jones
Matthew Emmons/US PresswireLandry Jones gives Oklahoma experience at quarterback, but he'll be throwing to several untested targets this season.
1. They've been there before: Never, ever underestimate the importance of experience. Oklahoma lost a lot from last season's team, but it still boasts essentially a four-year starter at quarterback in Landry Jones, receiver Kenny Stills, and defenders like Tony Jefferson, Tom Wort, and Demontre Hurst. They were all key cogs in a 2010 title run that included a gutsy comeback on a neutral site against a very good Nebraska team. Oklahoma has a lot on its to-do list, but outside of a trip to West Virginia, the Sooners won't encounter anything too foreign this season.

2. Its secondary is fierce, and revitalized: Texas probably has the league's best overall secondary, but Oklahoma's not far behind. Cornerbacks Hurst and Aaron Colvin are solid, and safety Tony Jefferson might, by the end of the season, have a case for being the league's best overall defender after moving back to safety from nickel back. Fellow safety Javon Harris re-emerged this spring after a midseason benching, but still must prove he can prevent the big play in the fall. The best news of all for the unit? Coordinator Mike Stoops is back in Norman coaching them after nearly a decade as the Arizona head coach.

3. Oklahoma has more talent than anyone else: This one's pretty simple. If you line up every team in the league, truly examining everybody's two-deep, Oklahoma stands tall as the league's best team, especially at important positions like quarterback and the secondary. There are some questions along the defensive line, but the Sooners have solid athletes with potential. The same is true of the receivers, and running back will be a strength, even if Dominique Whaley isn't 100 percent next season. The linebackers are loaded again, and so is the offensive line, which might be the most important aspect of this year's team. If these games were played on paper, Oklahoma would be the champs.

Why the Sooners won't win the Big 12

1. Does Landry Jones have enough help? Ryan Broyles is gone, and Oklahoma's passing game seemed to self-destruct when he was gone. There's a lot of talent back, but offseason suspensions mean Stills will be flanked by a horde of freshmen targets. Can Trey Metoyer, Sterling Shepard, Durron Neal and Courtney Gardner be enough? And can Jones string together enough solid games to lead Oklahoma to a Big 12 title? The solid offensive line gives some reason to believe he will.

2. There won't be enough pass rush: Ronnell Lewis and Frank Alexander were an absolute terror last season, even though both were plagued by injuries, and Lewis' season shut down early. Now, they must be replaced. R.J. Washington and David King have plenty of potential, but Lewis and Alexander were mostly experienced, known entities. Washington and King have never been relied on as heavily as they will be this season. Can they handle the load? Oklahoma's Big 12 title hopes -- and defensive passing statistics -- probably depend on it.

3. The pool of Big 12 title suitors is too deep: Oklahoma's the best team on paper, sure, but the Big 12 is going to be brutal, and wide open. Nine (maybe 10) teams could legitimately beat the Sooners. That's just one game. Five others (we'll get to them later in the series) have the chance to prove they're better than the Sooners over the course of a 12-game schedule. Will they do it? Ultimately, that might be up to the Sooners.

Chat wrap: Future of Franks, Reynolds

May, 22, 2012

SoonerNation writer Jake Trotter chatted with readers on Monday about Oklahoma football and recruiting. Here's the full transcript. If you didn't get your question answered, send it to Jake's mailbag.

Here are a few highlights from the chat:

matt (okcity): personally I think that Trey Franks and Jaz Reynolds should be kicked off the team..how many chances are they gonna get? share your opinion on this if you like, I'd love to hear it but doubt you'll give it. But my question is do you see Bob Stoops telling them to hit the road?

Jake Trotter: Can't argue. I mean this is the fourth time Reynolds has been suspended. From what I've been told, they've been given another chance to work their back out of the suspension. Whether they'll agree to the guidelines and be able to follow them is another story.

Nolan (Iowa City): With the suspensions at WR...do you see TE becoming more involved in the offense or is the position too much of a unknown commodity?

Jake Trotter: Even with the suspensions we know more about what's left of the WR position than we do TE. Brannon Green was brought in to block, and he'll probably get the majority of the snaps. Not only will tight end not become more involved, it might be less involved in the passing game than last season.

Brian (Tallahassee FL.): How big of impact will Mike Stoops have on the defense? Will there any noticable change in terms of strategy?

Jake Trotter: Not so much Xs and Os, but count on Mike Stoops to have more guys ready to play defensively then years past. Mike was using 7-8 guys in his defensive back rotation in the spring, and he didn't even have a healthy Aaron Colvin. The Sooners should be better prepared against injuries this season.

Greg Moore (Norman, OK): 3 sacks and 11 tackles for loss from the entire DT unit combined last season isn't that solid. I know traditionally our DTs aren't stat collectors under Stoops...but that seems low.

Jake Trotter: Yeah, the DT unit wasn't great, and it's basically the same group from last season. That's why I don't understand why some people are suggestion the d-line will suddenly be great despite losing Frank Alexander and Ronnell Lewis.

Ryan BroylesBrett Davis/US PresswireFormer OU receiver Ryan Broyles was one of three Sooners to be drafted by Detroit in 2012.
From Steve Owens to Billy Sims to Barry Sanders, the Detroit Lions have always had an affinity for drafting players from Oklahoma. But never anything like this.

Over the weekend, the Lions drafted three players from OU -- receiver Ryan Broyles in the second round, defensive end Ronnell Lewis in the fourth and outside linebacker Travis Lewis in the seventh. It's believed to be the first time the Lions have taken three players from one school in the same draft since 1958.

SoonerNation quizzed Lions beat writer Dave Birkett of the Detroit Free Press (you can follow him on Twitter at @davebirkett) about this haul and how each Sooner might fit in Motown.

1. Was it simply coincidence the Lions ended up drafting three OU players, or was there something about OU that intrigued them?

Birkett: Coincidence. That's not to say they don't like and value Oklahoma players and the program - they do. But drafting Ryan Broyles, Ronnell Lewis and Travis Lewis was about each player's individual fit in Detroit more than their ties to Oklahoma. Still, it's impressive to think this is the first time in more than 50 years they've taken three players from one program in the same draft.

Matthew Emmons/US Presswire
Former OU linebacker Travis Lewis will need to stand out on special teams in the NFL.

2. The Lions obviously have needs on defense. Why then did they take Ryan Broyles with their second pick, and do they believe he'll be ready to go for minicamp?

Birkett: They caught a lot of flack from fans for passing on defensive needs to take Broyles in Round 2, but he was their highest-ranked player, they stuck with their board and he does fill a need as a No. 4 receiver. As for minicamp, no, it's doubtful he'll be ready next month and he could open training camp on the physically unable to perform list. They're deep enough at receiver they can bring him along slowly, but they expect him to contribute this fall.

3. How will Broyles fit in on an offense with so many receiving weapons already in place?

Birkett: Initially, Broyles will be the Lions' No. 4 receiver behind Calvin Johnson, Nate Burleson and Titus Young. If he's healthy, he should handle punt-return duties, too - an area the Lions struggled in last year. Ideally, Broyles will be a weapon from the slot position for the next six or eight years.

4. The Lions run a 4-3, but given his skill set, seemingly everyone projected that Ronnell Lewis would be drafted into a 3-4 defense. How do you see the Lions utilizing Lewis in the 4-3?

Birkett: The Lions play their defensive ends in a wide-9 technique, so size isn't always an issue. It's more important that their pass rushers have a quick first step and the motor to pursue plays all over the field. Playing the run is secondary for the Lions' defensive line. Lewis might have a hard time cracking the rotation initially, but he should be a key contributor on all cover and return teams as a rookie.

5. What are the odds that Travis Lewis makes the team after falling all the way to the seventh round in the draft?

Birkett: Lewis probably has to earn a job on special teams, but he's got a shot to make the 53-man roster. The Lions return all three of their starters at linebacker and spent a fifth-round pick on Doug Hogue last year. Backup Ashlee Palmer has been a core special-teamer the last two years, and they traded up to get another linebacker, Tahir Whitehead, in the fifth round this year. Training camp will be important to Lewis.
Every weekday morning, a member of the SoonerNation gives his take on three things happening in the Sooner sports world.

1. Detroit must have liked what it saw in Norman this past season. The Lions took three Sooners in Ryan Broyles (2nd), Ronnell Lewis (4th) and Travis Lewis (7th). Detroit got excellent value in the Hammer, who some viewed as a potential early second round pick. It will be interesting to see what they do with Lewis though, since he projected out as a 3-4 outside linebacker. Detroit runs the 4-3. Right way, though, the Hammer will make a huge impact on special teams, which is something the Lions must have considered in selecting him. Broyles, meanwhile, couldn't have gone to a better situation. The Lions have a prolific offense, a stud QB and maybe the best WR in all of pro football. Broyles should be an instant starter in the slot, assuming he's healthy.

2. A few teams that might be interested in drafting Landry Jones next year: Arizona, San Francisco (remember: Jones beat Jim Harbaugh in the '09 Sun Bowl), Kansas City and Oakland.

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Every weekday morning, a member of the SoonerNation gives his take on three things happening in the Sooner sports world.

1. A crazy stat I heard on the radio yesterday: even if he goes in the middle of the second round tonight, Ronnell Lewis could wind up being the first defensive player from the Big 12 taken in the draft (that played in the Big 12 in 2011 since West Virginia's Bruce Irvin went No. 15 to Seattle). Alabama, meanwhile, alone had four defensive players go in the first round. The way the Big 12 has played defense lately, should we be surprised? The draft underscores that the talent is on the offensive side of the ball in the league.

2. The last time an Oklahoma State coach got chippy with the Sooners, his team lost 52-9. But what OSU offensive coordinator Todd Monken said this week about Landry Jones was far more egregious than anything Les Miles ever said. I'm sure that quote has already found its way to Norman, and will be posted all over the OU locker room come Bedlam this November.

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Where OU draftees ranked in high school 

April, 26, 2012
This weekend won’t resemble Oklahoma’s NFL draft class of 2010, when Sam Bradford, Gerald McCoy, Trent Williams and Jermaine Gresham all went in the first round.

That said, several Sooners with pro aspirations leave Norman with higher ESPN NFL draft rankings than high school recruiting rankings. Breaking down the OU draft class through that prism:

Frank Alexander

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Which Oklahoma player gets drafted first?

April, 26, 2012
With the 2012 NFL draft starting tonight (7 p.m. CT on ESPN), the SoonerNation staff predicts which Oklahoma player will be drafted first. Leave a comment with your prediction or talk about it in our "There's Only One" forum. View ESPN.com's NFL draft coverage here.

I would be surprised if Ronnell Lewis didn't go first, perhaps as early as high in the second round. Jamell Fleming has really helped himself in the bowl game and the combine, but Lewis' upside is undeniable. But I could see somebody like Dallas (which by the way has shown a lot of interest in the Hammer) pulling the trigger on Lewis with its second-round pick. Lewis, with his background playing both outside linebacker and defensive end, is an ideal fit for a team running a 3-4 defense. And the best part is that Lewis, who only started one season at OU, hasn't quite figured it out -- he's a work in progress who's only going to get better.

-- Jake Trotter

[+] EnlargeRonnell Lewis, Frank Alexander
Jerome Miron/US PresswireFormer Oklahoma defensive ends Ronnell Lewis (56) and Frank Alexander are both projected to be drafted this weekend.
Ronnell Lewis will be the first Sooner taken in the NFL draft. An NFL team with multiple picks in the first three rounds (New England, Philadelphia, Cleveland) will find his exceptional athletic ability too difficult to ignore and pull the trigger on the second day of the draft. If a team feels like they are happy and have addressed their needs, they're more likely to take a chance on Lewis and his long-term potential.

-- Brandon Chatmon

Call it nothing more than a hunch, but the first Sooner to hear his name called is going to be cornerback Jamell Fleming. When talking about OU's secondary troubles in 2011, Fleming's name was hardly uttered. He finished the season strong, being named the defensive MVP of OU's Insight Bowl victory, and has carried that momentum throughout the pre-draft activities. NFL teams might question where Ronnell Lewis fits or just how healthy wide receiver Ryan Broyles is. Fleming isn't the most flashy pick, but he is about as steady as you get. With Fleming, what you see is what you get. And in this case, that's a very good thing.

-- Bob Przybylo

I've been on the Jamell Fleming bandwagon for a while and I think he's the first Sooner to be picked, likely on Friday night in the second or third round. Fleming is ready to play in the NFL immediately, while Ronnell Lewis -- a 'tweener without a true position -- is a project that will take time to develop into either a defensive end or an outside linebacker in the 3-4. Could teams pass on Lewis and pick a more NFL-ready player? After posting solid NFL combine numbers, Fleming could soar into the second round.

-- Dane Beavers
Every weekday morning, a member of the SoonerNation gives his take on three things happening in the Sooner sports world.

1. The NFL draft begins tonight at 7 p.m, and though it’s unlikely any Sooners will hear their names called during the first round, there will be plenty of familiar names coming off the board. Oklahoma’s defense was much maligned late last season but Baylor quarterback Robert Griffin III, who torched the Sooners' secondary, is set to get selected No. 2 overall by Washington and Oklahoma State receiver Justin Blackmon, who had 18 receptions for 200 yards and one touchdown in two games against OU, likely will be drafted in the top 10. ESPN draft guru Mel Kiper also has OSU quarterback Brandon Weeden going late in the first round. Clearly the Sooners weren’t the only team who struggled to stop Griffin or Weeden and Blackmon.

2. You have to wonder what it is like to be Landry Jones tonight. He could be walking across the stage to meet Roger Goodell, but instead he’s in class? There are several NFL teams looking for a quarterback in the draft and it’s easy to believe Jones would have been a top 10 pick if he had elected to declare early. Regardless, Sooners fans should be happy, they’ll have an NFL quarterback at the helm this fall, someone multiple NFL teams would love to have in their locker room.

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Every weekday morning, a member of the SoonerNation gives his take on three things happening in the Sooner sports world.

1. This will not be one of the more interesting drafts for OU fans. The Sooners won't have a first round pick, but do have four players capable of getting taken on day two in DE Ronnell Lewis, CB Jamell Fleming, WR Ryan Broyles and OT Donald Stephenson. All four, though, and especially the first three, have a chance to have very solid careers in the NFL.

2. OU RB commit Greg Bryant tore it up at the Orlando Nike Football Training Camp this weekend, and nearly came away with the MVP award for tailbacks. With Bryant and fellow ESPN 150 RB Keith Ford, along with incoming blue-chip freshman Alex Ross, the Sooners appear to be in unbelievable shape at running back for the foreseeable future.

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