DUNCAN, OK — Brent Venables is committed to supporting his players on and off the field.
From the S.O.U.L. Mission to the major importance Oklahoma’s new head coach is placing on his players graduating, Venables is committed to the wholistic development he pledged upon his hiring.
But the work off the field should bleed over into better results on the field as well.
Sure, every recruiting class brings in the promise of fresh talent and endless possibilities to help the Sooners make another jump on the field. But there’s value in being around the program for multiple seasons that can’t be replaced when a team is trying to take a jump forward between the white lines.
“Sometimes it’s maturity. Guys just being older and more experienced,” Venables said in Duncan, OK, last Thursday ahead of his Sooner Caravan stop. “Some of those things… you’re gonna have to have organically. You can’t just, ‘Oh hey let’s give them a can of experience!’ It doesn’t work like that. I wish it did.
“And so that’s how you get better, by playing the game. It’s a developmental game. The more you play, the better you get. That’s why the fifth year senior is so valuable.”
The Oklahoma defense will have to replace a trio of experienced starters in 2022.
Isaiah Thomas, Pat Fields and Delarrin Turner-Yell all moved on after 2021, and all three had spent at least four years in the program.
But as Venables and his coaching staff look to replace the lost experience, the changes in Norman have provided Venables with an opportunity to set a culture which lifts up the veterans on the team.
“We’re gonna try and create an environment and a culture that it means something,” Venables said. “It’s a big time honor to be a senior. That’s significant in finishing your race, finishing your opportunity, graduating, being a leader.
“You come in our team meeting room, the seniors are all sitting up front. And it’s not my best players, it’s my guys that have paid a price. That have been there. That means something.”
Not every single starter on each side of the ball is going to be a former 5-star recruit. But striking a balance between those guys and talented players who also bring a wealth of experience to the table is Venables’ recipe for success.
“I do believe your backbone of your team are guys who know how to pay a price. How to work,” he said. “They’ve got an incredible level of toughness and investment and commitment.
“They’ve been there, done that and they know how to play the game in their sleep at a really high level. And then you put some generational-type players in there too and that’s a great blend.”
So as the latest generation of Oklahoma football players walked across the graduation stage this past weekend in Norman, Venables said it was important to take some time and be there for them. Because just as important as it is to win games, Venables stressed the value of college graduation being a massive achievement off the field.
“That’s got to be the foundation of your program, your leadership, your seniors,” he said. “I want it to be a really big deal. I want to create loyalty to the brand. And you do that by promoting graduation… And being there for them.”