NORMAN — A 6-5 record ahead of Saturday’s season finale at Texas Tech means Oklahoma has at least one eye on the future.
The Sooners put on a colossal recruiting weekend as they defeated Oklahoma State in a memorable Bedlam game. There is no official list of high school and junior college prospects who attended, but they were easily in their 40s.
This list included members of the Class of 2023, Class of 2024, Class of 2025 and a 2026 or two. There were up to seven 5 stars (according to the 247 Sports rankings) and a few who volunteer elsewhere, of which the OU staff hope they’ll keel over.
And as expected, there was an immediate payoff when OU 2023 received verbal commitments from 3-star defensive tackle Ashton Sanders and 3-star edge rusher Taylor Wein.
“Obviously,” head coach Brent Venables said Tuesday, “that’s what you hoped and intended.”
I asked Venables to elaborate on the process of taking on so many recruits from so many classes at once while preparing and playing one game and trying to prepare for the next game.
“From the moment you arrive here, you have a great experience,” he said. “It doesn’t matter whether it’s an official visit or an unofficial visit. We have really good, strong employees. And these are full-time staff, these are recruiting staff, these are other support staff, student workers — bringing everyone together. I thought so Lee Davis and JR Sandlin do a great job. And then everyone I just named – all hands on deck. There’s a lot of coordination going on, a lot of detail.
“It changes all the time. Lots of communication – from the moment the first visitor arrives. And that’s why you want it to be a wonderful experience, even if it’s someone you don’t necessarily have at the top of your list yet or ever plan to visit. When we bring them to our campus, we have a responsibility to make sure that we teach them all the good things about (OU) that make Oklahoma a special place. And so it’s our responsibility to have a great experience, to make sure everyone does that, and I think everyone did just that great.
“But they start rolling on Thursday. It’s not an easy thing. And they’re here a good part of Sunday. but we have commitments (to the current team) that we have to fulfill.’ During the week you have limited time, there is a schedule that we have to follow, from preparation, finishing the last game, studying the film, taking notes, our players come here expecting us 100 percent ready. And it’s not easy to manage either. And because you want to give people the right goodbyes and things like that – end the visits properly.
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“So everything from coming to the team hotel with the guys, with the players and seeing how that looks, your Friday night meetings and dinners and movies, even meetings after the movie. And then Saturday morning, what that looks like too – game day, game day meetings.
“It’s about a lot. It’s not just, you know, gosh, walk into a room and there’s a meeting. There’s philosophy, there’s the athletic performance side, that you always want to help guide guys and encourage them to do the right thing. So they’re exposed to a lot of things.
“And then going to campus and what that’s like to make sure they’re exposed to a game day environment. And we always try to work as employees too. We have staff who are very experienced and have been at really great places in college football, so we’re always looking at how we can make things better. “Okay, that’s good. How can we make it better?” So if it looks like it’s going to be a hatchback, you know we work hard, really, for the people.
“Because I think that’s — you know, you want a connected environment. And so have meetings with me on game day – I don’t have that much time; I’ll be here two hours and 15 minutes before the game. And that’s why you want some one-on-ones with dedicated guys, guys that you’ve offered in the current grade and the next grade. You see, you have to prioritize – I try to prioritize first and foremost the dedicated guys.
“When you go onto the field, people come out to say hello on the field, and you’re always aware that you’re not trying to hurt anyone’s feelings. And someone will always be hurt. But as soon as we leave the meetings, you know, I’m running the defensive meeting, Jeff is running the offensive meeting, and then the other full-time staff are with the players at the hotel all day, working tirelessly here.
“…With lunch and tours – just like Daylan Smothers – oh sorry I can’t say his name. We had a recruit (whose) mother was never here. From abroad. And we had that to make sure she got some sort of official visit while she’s here, the things you’re allowed to do on an unofficial visit to make sure she had great peace of mind. She had a great experience. And so there are, you know, several such cases.
“So all the time there are other recruits that are not here that you try to keep in touch with throughout the day. Maybe congratulate them on a great win or send them words of encouragement (because) their senior year is now over.
“So we’re doing a great job. There’s a section of our staff that’s always updating you on what’s going on with other recruits, guys who are still playing and competing or where they are in terms of recruitment, and so there’s a lot of communication, a lot Information flowing… across your desk, non-stop, if you will.
“You have breakfast at my house early in the morning, Sunday morning. You know, we have meetings here a trainer from a preparation standpoint. And so you have to face it all together.