Each year, hundreds of college football coaches flock into the homes and high schools of elite prep players. All are trying to sell the pros of their program. Some have a better product to offer, but just about all share one pitch.
“Coaches always tell you that you can come right in and play,” OU freshman running back Brennan Clay said.
The odd thing about OU’s 2010 recruiting class is the oversell turned out to be true.
The sixth-ranked Sooners improved to 5-0 with last week’s 28-20 victory over Texas and did so with four true freshmen starters and several more playing significant roles.
Wide receiver Kenny Stills was OU’s leading receiver with five catches for 78 yards and a one-handed touchdown grab. Fullback Trey Millard had five carries and caught two passes.
On defense, safety/linebacker Tony Jefferson made nine tackles while cornerback Aaron Colvin produced seven in his first career start.
The last time OU had that many freshmen in the starting lineup against Texas was 2005. That team was whipped 45-12 by a Longhorn team that went on to win the national championship.
The current Sooners seemed to thrive on the enormous stage that comes with the Red River Rivalry.
OU coach Bob Stoops wasn’t surprised.
“Those guys are good players. I saw it before the game,” Stoops said. “They couldn’t wait to play. There wasn’t a bit of doubt in their eyes and they played that way.”
Then again, Stoops has raved about the class since the first preseason practice.
“I think they have a chance to be a really special group,” he said on Aug. 6.
In the two months since, they’ve shown more than a few glimpses of what energized their coach in the preseason.
Stills, who is OU’s third-leading receiver this season, knew he was getting a standard line when the Sooner coaching staff told him there was a chance he could play as a freshman. But it didn’t stop him from believing it could be true.
The rest of the class bought into it as well.
“I think we all felt if we just do our job, we were going to go out there and play,” he said. “We were going to do that to the best of our ability. We work hard in the weight room. We watch all the film. We just felt like if we took care of business, they’d put us on the field.”
Of course, Stills was a five-star recruit from California. Colvin was a three-star recruit from Owasso. They both had the same expectations for themselves.
“I’ve always felt like I was good enough to play with anybody,” Colvin said.
Thus far, the four that have made their way into the starting lineup have. Colvin earned his start after an injury to junior cornerback Jamell Fleming. Fleming will be healthy when the Sooners face Iowa State next Saturday at Owen Field. But Colvin is still expected to play.
In that respect, he’ll join defensive tackle Daniel Noble as a true freshman that doesn’t start but is playing a significant role. Stoops said linebacker Corey Nelson, who’s played a major role on special teams, is deserving of more snaps on defense.
On offense, Clay hasn’t had a carry since suffering a concussion Sept. 11 against Florida State, but that likely to change. Stoops also said Roy Finch, who missed the first five games due a stress fracture, is going to get a look in the second half of the season. Wide receiver Trey Franks has started to play in the last two games.
In all, the Sooners brought in 29 players this season. Some have played more than others. Obviously some will end up redshirting and won’t play a snap until next season.
Stoops gathered all of them the night before the Texas game for a pep talk. If the first five games of the 2010 season is a proper indication, they could wind up being the backbone the next four years.
“Those guys need to be encouraged because their time will be next year or sooner than you think,” Stoops said with the smile that only comes when his current team is undefeated and the future looks even brighter. “It’s a really strong class. A bunch of them that you’re not even talking about are really strong players.”