NORMAN — Rodney Redmond remembers his son’s reaction after finishing his first football practice in roughly three seasons.
Midwest City defensive end Jalen Redmond reconnected with the sport during the spring of his sophomore year. After one workout, his commitment was evident.
“He said, ‘Dad, I’m gonna stick with it,’” Rodney said. “I said, now you’ve got to find a position you’re comfortable with on the football field. He said, ‘Dad, I don’t want to play the offensive side of the ball.’
“He more wanted to hit somebody.”
Redmond’s decision to play football and dedicate himself to becoming an elite pass-rusher is still paying off. So too was his decision to sign with Oklahoma on Wednesday and become an early enrollee for the Sooners.
Of OU’s nine 2018 signees who plan to enroll for the spring semester, Redmond and four-star defensive end Ronnie Perkins, along with Tulsa Union safety Patrick Fields, are among the most critical.
The Sooners will graduate defensive ends Ogbonnia Okoronkwo and D.J. Ward, as well as safeties Will Johnson and Steven Parker.
Redmond’s rapid development and gym-rat nature — as well as his 6-foot-3, 255-pound build — make him a prime candidate to gain immediate playing time. He said it was difficult completing online courses in order to graduate early, but well worth the chance to get a head start.
“Every freshman wants to get in,” Redmond said. “But if you’re not ready, you’re not ready. Hopefully I can get in there. I should be ready by the time spring hits.”
OU coach Lincoln Riley envisions Redmond having a role from the start, as the Sooners try to replace Okoronkwo’s pass rushing ability, which has produced eight sacks.
“We think Jalen’s a guy who can help do that,” Riley said. “He’s a guy who just keeps getting bigger and bigger but he maintains his athleticism and is skill really fluid. … We’ve got a lot of hopes for him. He’s one of those guys that’s gonna have an opportunity right away.”
Perkins revealed earlier this week his intention to enroll early. It was likely good news for defensive coordinator Mike Stoops, who called Wednesday’s entire defensive line haul “probably the most athletic group we’ve signed in a while.”
OU also fulfilled a need at safety on opening day of the 72-hour early signing period.
Fields isn’t overly touted by recruiting services — he’s a consensus three-star prospect — but has been viewed as an emotional ringleader in the 2018 class. The Sooners will need such a player after graduating Johnson and Parker, who are mindful veterans.
Johnson sees the similarities he and Fields share, the ones coaches have pointed out before. The two players developed a friendship from texting back and forth.
Fields always has plenty of questions.
“For one, I know he’s a bright kid. He’s got a 4.0 GPA all through high school. I just like his personality. I’m a people person, so I can tell how he approaches people,” Johnson said. “He’s come up here often for visits and I can tell by how he interacts with people and stuff like that, that he’s a leader.”
Not every player is suited for early enrollment, which was rare a decade ago but has become more common. Riley said the coaching staff identifies the capable athletes and presents it as an option.
It’s to OU’s benefit that three of its early enrollees are at two key defensive positions.
Redmond gripped hands, hugged shoulders and posed for pictures in his red-tinged dreadlocks and red shoes Wednesday at Midwest City High School, making sure to soak in the moment.
But he had an eye on the future.
“I’ve got a ton of room to improve,” Redmond said. “I feel like I’m not even the player I can be. I got a lot of work to get done, so that’s another another part of going into the spring.”