OU football: Oklahoma's Brendan Radley-Hiles eyeing bounce-back sophomore season

Oklahoma defensive back Brendan Radley-Hiles (44) celebrates a play during the Sooners' game against Kansas State on Oct. 27, 2018. Radley-Hiles was eventually injured in the game and dealt with struggles the rest of the year. (Kyle Phillips / The Transcript)

Brendan Radley-Hiles was injured and not practicing. So he began walking around to different position groups and realized something.

He didn’t know some of these guys that well.

“If I don’t know my own teammates, what am I doing?” he asked himself.

Of all that the Oklahoma sophomore defensive back wants to improve upon next season, he says being a better teammate tops the list. It never would have occurred to him, he said, if not for being sidelined the week before the 2018 Texas Tech game.

Radley-Hiles was injured during a violent collision against Kansas State and was never quite the same afterward. He eventually accepted a reserve role on special teams the final two games of the year, after making 11 starts.

“From that play on he wasn’t healthy the rest of the season,” OU coach Lincoln Riley said. “He fought through some things for us.”

It turned out to be a learning experience.

Radley-Hiles arrived in Norman with high expectations — perhaps none bigger than his own, he’ll admit now. He was OU’s first five-star defensive recruit since 2002 and viewed as the potential missing piece to a struggling defense.

His 39 tackles were 12th on the team. He trailed safety Kahlil Haughton, who appeared in eight games compared to Radley-Hiles’ 13.

His progression on the field will be watched closely by OU’s first-year defensive coordinator Alex Grinch, who coaches safeties. Riley likes that aspect of the situation.

“There’s a lot of really good things the kid did last year,” Riley said. “We certainly put a lot on him. He played such a large role for a young guy. He did a lot of great things. I think the thing now is getting him back healthy and getting him acclimated to coach Grinch’s defense.”

A cornerback in high school, Radley-Hiles expects to play another season at nickelback, but position changes could occur in the new system. Finding the right spot for him will be critical moving forward.

“We’re not trying to pigeonhole guys too much into positions,” Riley said. “We’re really trying to look at getting the best players on the field, really emphasizing the speed, the length that coach Grinch and his guys want defensively. And then who best fits and can go execute this system. I think there’s a great place for [Radley-Hiles] in this system at several different positions.”

In the meantime, Radley-Hiles said he’ll keep chatting up teammates he doesn’t know. In addition to expectations that surrounded him a year ago, he was also viewed as a young leader due to his charisma and maturity.

But after the injury he saw room for improvement there.

“I felt as if coming in, I came in with all this hype around me and stuff, and I didn't really take advantage of knowing my teammates,” he said. “I feel as if that's a big thing that I'm going for this year. I want to learn background stories of my teammates. I want to meet everybody's family.

“I want to be the best teammate I can be.”