Oklahoma Sooners: Demontre Hurst

The spring evaluation period is upon us.

Oklahoma has made a living out of evaluating and developing well, helping the Sooners go 51-15 during their past five seasons, including four straight seasons with double-digit wins. During Bob Stoops' tenure, the Sooners have been able to consistently compete for championships thanks in part to their ability to land hidden gems such as Aaron Colvin and Dominique Alexander. Over the next two weeks we’ll count down the Top 10 hidden gems of the past five years at Oklahoma. Today we look at No. 9.

[+] EnlargeDemontre Hurst
Kevin Jairaj/USA TODAY SportsFormer Oklahoma cornerback Demontre Hurst was a three-year starter for the Sooners.
No. 9 Demontre Hurst, cornerback, Class of 2009

Recruiting rank: 75 (out of 100) ESPN.com scout rating, No. 58 cornerback, No. 256 in the Midlands region

What we said: “Hurst is a well-rounded cornerback prospect with good skills as a both a run and pass supporter. He possesses adequate size with his taller, rangy frame, but lacks great bulk to match up vs. today's bigger college receivers. Good defensive back prospect in the right system.” — ESPN.com recruiting analyst

Other reported offers: Oklahoma State, Tennessee, Michigan, Miami (Fla.), Wisconsin

Career production: He started 40 of 53 career games, finishing with 178 tackles, 33 pass breakups and two interceptions in his career. ... In 2012, he had a career-high 59 tackles while starting all 13 games as a senior. ... In 2011, Hurst had 55 tackles and a career-high two fumble recoveries as a junior. … In 2010, he had 50 tackles and a career-high three forced fumbles in 14 games. ... In 2009, Hurst played his way out of a redshirt season to record 14 tackles and one sack in spot duty.

Why Hurst is No. 9: Hurst was exceptionally productive and durable, starting every game during his final three years after seeing limited action as a freshman. He wasn’t the biggest or most physical corner on the roster, nor did he make game-changing interceptions. But Hurst was incredibly consistent and the coaches could count on him to show up, play hard and do his job every Saturday, an underrated trait in college football. His competitive nature consistently showed against some of the best receivers that college football had to offer during his Sooners’ career.

Gabe Lynn stepped on campus has the highly regarded defensive back in OU’s 2009 class, but Hurst immediately separated himself as a impact freshman, then locked down a spot in the secondary for three seasons. The Sooners signed six ESPN 300 prospects in that class, but none were as durable and productive as Hurst.

The rest of the list:

No. 10: Guard Tyler Evans

Grading the class: 2009

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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.

Bull's-eye

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.

Signee Q&A: CB Dakota Austin

June, 11, 2013
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Four years ago, the Sooners unearthed quite the gem in lightly recruited cornerback Aaron Colvin. The Sooners hope they have unearthed a gem in another lightly recruited corner. The weekend before signing day, OU snagged a commitment from Dakota Austin, who went largely under the radar with both major college coaches and recruiting services. Like Colvin, Austin turned heads at the OU camp going into his senior year, which ultimately led to his OU offer.

As he prepared to arrive in Norman, Austin checked in with SoonerNation to talk about the OU defense, his frustrations through the recruiting process and what he's been doing to get ready for the season:

[+] EnlargeDakota Austin
Bob Przybylo/ESPN.comCornerback Dakota Austin didn't have many offers before the Sooners offered in late January.
SoonerNation: Who are you going to room with?

Dakota Austin: Either Hatari (Byrd) or L.J. (Moore) -- one of those two. I’m not sure yet.

SN: What have the coaches told you about a potential role?

Austin: They told me the defense will be a little bit different. But they told me I’ll be playing the nickel or cornerback. I’ve played both in high school.

SN: What is going to be different about the defense?

Austin: They said they’re going to run some more 4-2-5.

SN: What personal goals do you have?

Austin: I just want to play a significant role on the team this year. That’s all I want to do.

SN: What are your thoughts on your chances to do that?

Austin: To me, the spot is open. (Aaron) Colvin is going to be on corner. The other one is for the taking. I think I’m the guy to do it. I’ve been putting in the work with some D-1 athletes, so I’m going to be ready.

SN: Sounds like preparation has made you more confident?

Austin: That’s the key. I feel more confident when I’m working every day versus taking time off. I’ve been working and I feel confident.

SN: Who are some of the guys you’ve been working with?

Austin: Jalen Mills, a cornerback at LSU. Some juco guys. A corner from Texas, a guy from K-State. Receiver from Baylor. Guy from Abilene Christian. We’ve been getting in some good work.

SN: When did you know OU was the place for you?

Austin: I’ve been liking OU since my sophomore year. I thought I could get the offer long time ago if Brent Venables had stayed. He really loved me. But it picked back up after I went to camp over the summer. I connected with the new coaches.

SN: So the OU camp, it picked back up?

Austin: I had a pretty good camp. Coach Mike (Stoops) and Coach (Josh) Heupel started talking to me.

SN: You really didn’t get recruited hard until late. What was that like to go through?

Austin: Real frustrating. Real frustrating throughout the whole recruiting process. I started my high school career with a really good high school recruiting coordinator. Then the whole staff, and he left, too. The next dude didn’t have as many connections. So my recruiting slowed down. Then my going into my junior year I broke my wrist. They had to take bone from hip and put it in my wrist. I was stitched up the whole summer, so couldn’t go to any camps. But going into my senior year, I was healthy. I was able to work out, and get well conditioned.

SN: Sounds like you’ve traveled a road similar to Colvin, who because of an injury went under the radar during recruiting for awhile.

Austin: I think it’s kinda like Demontre (Hurst) too. He went to my high school, got the (OU) offer late.

Oklahoma Sooners spring wrap

May, 1, 2013
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OKLAHOMA SOONERS

2012 record: 10-3

2012 conference record: 8-1 (tied for first, Big 12)

Returning starters: Offense: 7; defense: 4; kicker/punter: 1

Top returners

RB Damien Williams, FB Trey Millard, WR Jalen Saunders, WR Sterling Shepard, C Gabe Ikard, DE/DT Chuka Ndulue, LB Corey Nelson, CB Aaron Colvin

Key losses

QB Landry Jones, WR Justin Brown, WR Kenny Stills, OT Lane Johnson, DE David King, CB Demontre Hurst, FS Tony Jefferson, SS Javon Harris

2012 statistical leaders (*returners)

Rushing: Damien Williams* (946 yards)
Passing: Landry Jones (4,267yards)
Receiving: Kenny Stills (959 yards)
Tackles: Tony Jefferson (119)
Sacks: Chuka Ndulue* (5)
Interceptions: Javon Harris (6)

Spring answers

1. Playmakers abound: The Sooners might have lost leading receivers Kenny Stills and Justin Brown, but there’s plenty of firepower back to support whoever wins the starting quarterback job. Jalen Saunders was actually Oklahoma’s most efficient receiver the second half of last season and seems primed to take over as the go-to target. The Sooners also have several talented up-and-coming receivers who had good springs, led by slot extraordinaire Sterling Shepard. The backfield is even deeper, with leading rushers Damien Williams and Brennan Clay back, to go along with Trey Millard, one of the top all-around fullbacks in the country.

2. Cortez will flank Colvin: The secondary was decimated by graduation and Tony Jefferson’s early entry into the NFL draft. One of those voids was cornerback, where Demontre Hurst had started the previous years. That void at least, however, appears to have been filled. Arizona transfer Cortez Johnson seized the job from the first day of spring drills, and has given the Sooners every indication to believe they’ll have a big, physical corner to pair with All-American candidate Aaron Colvin in the fall.

3. The linebackers will play: In a desperate move to slow down the high-powered passing attacks of the Big 12, defensive coordinator Mike Stoops pulled his linebackers off the field. The plan backfired, as opposing offenses ran at will over the linebacker-less Sooners. This spring, Stoops has renewed his commitment to the linebacker, which, ironically, could be the strength of the defense. Corey Nelson, Frank Shannon and Aaron Franklin are all athletic and capable of generating negative plays, something Oklahoma’s defense sorely lacked last season.

Fall questions

1. Who the QB will be in October: Bob Stoops said he would wait until the fall before naming a starter, and so far, he’s made good on his word. Junior Blake Bell took a lead in the competition during the spring, as expected. But sophomore Kendal Thompson and redshirt freshman Trevor Knight, who both got equal reps as Bell, played well at times, too. It’s hard to see Bell not starting the first game. But if he struggles against a tough September schedule, it’s not unthinkable one of the younger QBs would be given a shot.

2. How the new offense will fare: Looking to utilize the skill sets of their mobile quarterbacks, the Sooners will be running a very different offense from the one Sam Bradford and Landry Jones both operated. Offensive coordinator Josh Heupel kept most of these new plays - including loads of read option -- in his hip pocket during the spring game. But it will be interesting to see how the Sooners -- and just as important, opposing defenses -- adjust to this new era of offense in Norman.

3. Defensive line play: The Sooners went into spring ball with just three defensive tackles on the roster, and little experience at defensive end. The unit showed strides during the spring, with Chuka Ndulue making a smooth transition from end to tackle, and tackle Jordan Phillips coming up big in the spring game. But that was the spring. The defensive line will have to continue to grow rapidly in the fall for the Sooners to have any hope of improving from last year defensively.
NORMAN, Okla. -- With four practices in the books and spring break upon us, spring football is in its early stages at Oklahoma.

Already, however, there are murmurs of a spring star emerging in Norman for the Sooners.

[+] EnlargeCortez Johnson
Jesse Beals/ Icon SMICortez Johnson spent a year at Arizona and was recruited by Mike Stoops.
“Cortez Johnson has been a big surprise,” cornerbacks coach Bobby Jack Wright said. “I love the way he’s been working, his work ethic has been great. He’s a guy that wants to be good, he listens, he pays attention and tries to do everything we ask him to do.”

A transfer from Arizona, Johnson brings unique size to the cornerback position at 6-foot-2, 198 pounds. Johnson has been impressive early this spring, making it known that he plans to be a major contributor on OU’s defense.

With Demontre Hurst completing his eligibility after starting the last three seasons at cornerback, Johnson is staking claim to the starting spot opposite returning All-Big 12 cornerback Aaron Colvin. Redshirt freshman Zack Sanchez and walkon Brandon Young have been battling Johnson for the job but neither player has ignited the rave reviews from teammates and coaches like Johnson has.

“He’s made more plays and batted more balls down, just in four practices, than we’ve probably had around here the past two years,” Wright said.

Johnson, a redshirt sophomore, has a combination of ball skills, long arms and overall athleticism which could help him be up to the task if he wins the starting job and opponents decide to test him instead of challenging Colvin.

“Cortez is a big, physical guy,” Colvin said. “He’s really strong at the line of scrimmage.”

Sophomore receiver Sterling Shepard, who battles Johnson regularly in practices, has become a believer during his one-on-one matchups with the transfer.

“He’s a great corner,” Shepard said. “Cortez has long arms. He can break up some stuff you don’t even think he can break up but his arms are so long, he’ll end up getting it.”

With Wright transitioning from coaching defensive ends to coaching cornerbacks, he sees Johnson as a player with tremendous upside if his work ethic remains high. Otherwise, the Sooners have multiple newcomers, including February signee Stanvon Taylor (Tulsa, Okla/East Central), who could amp up the competition opposite Colvin and seize Johnson’s opportunity to start at that spot.

“He’s got the physical stature,” Wright said of Johnson. “What he has to do now is continue [improving] his technique.”

As teams will undoubtedly be hesitant to test his side, Colvin knows the Sooners defense is going to need a quality cornerback on the other side of the field. And what he’s seen from Johnson leads him to believe the lanky cover man can be the guy.

“He’s been really good,” Colvin said. “I’m probably the hardest on Cortez. And he probably doesn’t like that sometimes, but he’s going to be special.”

Adding Austin sign of things to come? 

February, 2, 2013
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Oklahoma is looking to make some changes in its defense heading into the 2013 season after the Sooners defense was exposed in the final few games of the 2012 season. It's safe to say changes are coming for OU's defensive system. Yet, the Sooners landed a cornerback commitment Saturday that could be a sign of OU's defensive approach this fall.

Oklahoma Sooners Class of 2009 review 

January, 24, 2013
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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.


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Colleague Travis Haney took a look at the 10 teams who will lose the most talent in the country from 2012 to 2013.

There's only one Big 12 team on his list, and it's the 2012 preseason favorite: Oklahoma, which is sitting at No. 3 on a list you probably don't want to see your team on.

Landry Jones is the biggest name gone, but Haney says this might be Bob Stoops' biggest rebuild project ever in more than a decade in Norman.

The team's three most talented players -- Jones, receiver Kenny Stills and safety Tony Jefferson -- are the biggest losses, but don't overlook guys like tackle Lane Johnson and defensive linemen David King and Jamarkus McFarland. Defensive backs Demontre Hurst and Javon Harris won't be easy to replace, either.

Oklahoma was fortunate to keep cornerback Aaron Colvin and do-everything offensive Swiss army knife Trey Millard, who I'd expect to get a whole lot more touches next season. He was criminally underused in the Sooners' offense this past season. Just ask Texas if Millard should get more touches.

Oklahoma's offensive renaissance should be interesting. There won't be major changes, but Stoops is always going to build around what his personnel does best, and next season, likely with Blake Bell at the helm, you can expect the quarterback running game to be featured. It's still likely going to be a pass-first offense, but with Millard and Bell, next season's team might be a little more physical between the tackles.

I'd agree with Haney in that the top of the Big 12 looks really weak for 2013, which may provide opportunity for the Sooners to make a Big 12 title run, despite all the losses.
Oklahoma’s hopes of fielding a strong defense in 2013 just received a boost.

[+] EnlargeAaron Colvin
Matthew Emmons/US PresswireAaron Colvin had four interceptions for the Sooners as a junior.
Cornerback Aaron Colvin announced he would return to OU on Monday afternoon. The All-Big 12 first-team selection was considering making himself available for the 2013 NFL draft but elected to return for his senior season.

It’s a huge boost for defensive coordinator Mike Stoops’ defense. If Colvin had declared, OU would have had to replace four of five starters in its defensive backfield. With Colvin’s return, the Sooners secondary now has a cornerstone to build around.

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2012 review: Improvement, regression 

January, 8, 2013
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For the second straight year, Oklahoma finished the season with a 10-3 record. Both seasons featured disappointments late in the season (Oklahoma State in 2011, Texas A&M in 2012) yet the Sooners were in the Big 12 championship mix heading into the final game of the regular season each season. OU saw some improvements in 2012, but they were joined by some clear steps backward. Here’s a look at how the Sooners improved, how they regressed and how they maintained in 2012.

Improved

[+] EnlargeJalen Saunders
William Purnell/Icon SMIJalen Saunders was one of four explosive receivers that Landry Jones had at his disposal this season.
• Passing game

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Scout talks Jones, Sooners in Cotton Bowl

January, 7, 2013
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On ESPN Insider today, Scouts Inc. NFL draft writer Kevin Weidl wrote about several Sooners and Aggies in the AT&T Cotton Bowl last weekend. Check out his evaluations of QB Landry Jones, WR Kenny Stills, S Tony Jefferson, CB Demontre Hurst, S Javon Harris, DE David King and WR Justin Brown here. Insider
Oklahoma saw the Landry Jones Era end in unspectacular fashion on Friday night, with a 41-13 loss to ex-Big 12 rival Texas A&M. Jones is done, and the defense showed it needed some work under Mike Stoops for 2013, but that job just got a little bit tougher.

Colleague Joe Schad cited a source who told him safety Tony Jefferson and receiver Kenny Stills would be leaving early to enter the NFL draft.

Jones is obviously the Sooners' biggest loss, but Jefferson's one of the defense's most talented members, and cornerback Aaron Colvin still has a draft decision to make. The transition to Jones' successor (Blake Bell, Drew Allen or scout team standout Trevor Knight?) gets a little rougher without an experienced receiver like Stills to smooth it over, too.

Oklahoma, though, will have a very tall order to try and restore a defense that struggled down the stretch after giving up 49 points to West Virginia and 48 to Oklahoma State, which was playing Clint Chelf, who began the season as the team's No. 3 quarterback.

Defensive tackle Jamarkus McFarland, Stacy McGee and Casey Walker are all gone, as is star defensive end David King. Safety Javon Harris, the Sooners' biggest standout in the Cotton Bowl loss, ended his career on Friday, as did cornerback Demontre Hurst.

Point is, if Oklahoma's going to fix its defense, it will have to do so without experience. That's difficult in any league, but especially so in the Big 12, where the only thing faster than the receivers is the rate at which offenses evolve and become more difficult to stop.

Expect the Sooners' spring depth chart to look a little crazy and be very fluid throughout spring practice, but without Jefferson and Stills, both sides of the ball will be moving on to 2013 without their most talented pieces.

Oklahoma 10: Final power rankings 

January, 6, 2013
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Each week, SoonerNation ranked Oklahoma’s top 10 performers of the season. Following OU’s 41-13 loss to Texas A&M in the AT&T Cotton Bowl, here is the final Oklahoma 10 of 2012:

[+] EnlargeLandry Jones
Rick Scuteri/AP ImagesOklahoma quarterback finishes his career as the most prolific signal-caller in school history.
1. QB Landry Jones (Last week: No. 1): Jones didn’t have the kind of career finale he had hoped for. But without him, the Sooners go 8-5 this season, at best. His turnovers can drive one crazy, but Jones was OU’s best player this season. He will be tougher to replace than most OU fans think.

2. FB Trey Millard (5): The only silver lining to come out of Friday night was Millard’s announcement that he’s coming back to school for his senior season. Millard finished with 198 yards on 33 carries. If the Sooners are going to be a serious team in 2013, Millard’s touches need to triple.

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3 Up, 3 Down: Texas A&M 41, Oklahoma 13 

January, 5, 2013
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Who was up and who was down in Oklahoma’s 41-13 loss to Texas A&M in the AT&T Cotton Bowl.

THREE UP

1. FB Trey Millard: With 28 yards on four carries, Millard was one of the few Sooners to have a decent day. More importantly, Millard declared during the postgame that after contemplating going pro he has decided to come back to school for his senior season. Millard has been one of OU’s best players the last three seasons, and his return gives the Sooners one of their best playmakers and blockers for another season.

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OU position grades: Safeties 

January, 2, 2013
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In the weeks leading up to the Cotton Bowl, SoonerNation will take a look back at how the Sooners performed position-by-position and give each group a grade based on that performance. Today, we examine the safety position.

GradeHighlights: Tony Jefferson delivered one of the best seasons by an OU safety in the Bob Stoops era, while Javon Harris bounced back from an inconsistent 2011 season with a strong senior campaign. Jefferson led the Sooners with 113 tackles and two interceptions on his way to all-Big 12 honors. Harris had a team-high five interceptions, and was second with 77 tackles. The heart and soul of the Mike Stoops defense is the safeties, and Jefferson and Harris were solid to stout the majority of the season.

Lowlights: The safeties were awesome the first half of the season, but struggled in November – along with the rest of the defense. Harris was much better about not getting beat than he was last season, but was late helping Demontre Hurst on a critical throw down the middle in the loss to Notre Dame. The same thing happened against TCU, resulting in an 80-yard touchdown for wideout Brandon Carter. Jefferson, a sure-handed tackler all season, struggled to wrap up anyone in Bedlam.

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