Nobody wants Oklahoma’s transition to the Southeastern Conference to happen in 2022 more than the Sooners’ SEC transfers in 2021.
OU has six players who initially signed up to play in college football’s mightiest league — running back Kevontre Bradford, offensive lineman Robert Congel, running back Eric Gray, defensive back Key Lawrence, offensive tackle Wanya Morris and wide receiver Mike Woods — and it’s a good bet they’re all hoping this will be OU’s final season in the Big 12.
That would mean they’re playing next year back in the SEC.
In reality, even if OU does migrate to 2022 membership in the SEC, Congel is a senior and Morris is projected as a high draft pick. And in the age of the transfer portal, there’s no guarantee any of them will be in Norman next year.
And all the contracts and talking points so far say the Sooners can’t be SEC members until the 2025 season (although that’s certain to be negotiated to an earlier date).
But, for so many OU players who started in the SEC and then came to play for Lincoln Riley, it seems natural they’d be eager to prove their mettle back in college football’s premier conference as soon as possible. Three of the six even hail from deep in SEC territory, while two more come from Texas.
As 2021 training camp opens later this week, none of them have locked up a position yet, but all should be major contributors.
Three of the Sooners’ new transfers are from Tennessee, one is from LSU, one is from Arkansas and one started his career at Texas A&M. They’ve all upgraded the Oklahoma roster in 2021 — and might continue to do so in 2022 and beyond.
The 6-foot-5, 312-pound Morris, a native of Grayson, GA, will be a junior this year after starting for two years at Tennessee. As a potential early entry into the NFL Draft, he may want to test the waters if he wins the job and has a good year with the Sooners. He’s played 17 games against SEC teams.
“The one thing I really like is he asks a lot of questions,” said OU offensive line coach Bill Bedenbaugh. “As good as he’s played in the past, started I think 19 games, started as a true freshman at the place he came from, has had some success, but he’s not resting on what he’s done. Everything — how he works, how he approaches it, asks questions, comes up here and meets with me on his own. I’ve been impressed with him so far.”
The 5-9, 206-pound Gray, from Memphis, is another former starter during his two seasons with the Vols and could also be a candidate to leave early for the draft — if he lives up to his spring game billing and has an impactful junior year in Lincoln Riley’s offense. He’s also played in 17 career SEC games.
“He's a true pro on and off the field,” said OU running backs coach DeMarco Murray. “He's a guy that shows up early, stays late, extremely smart. The transition for him offensively, scheme-wise has been very, honestly, easy for him. And our offense is extremely complicated — I’m still obviously learning every day. You can just kinda tell his professionalism and his approach to the game, and what he wants to accomplish. … He’s an extremely versatile guy and we plan to use him all over the place.”
The 6-1, 208-pound Lawrence, from Nashville, played only one year in Knoxville and so begins his sophomore season at OU. He’s athletic and explosive and will be expected to contribute right away, but his versatility make him something of a wildcard in a secondary that suddenly seems packed with athletic talent. Lawrence played in 10 SEC games last season.
“One thing I see that Keshawn brings to our team is grit,” said Sooners senior DB Justin Broiles. “We’re still working to get him to bring that grit out every play, but when Key wants to turn it up and lock in, he can do that, and when he does that, he’s probably one of the best players on the team.”
The 6-4, 326-pound Congel, a native of Greenwood Village, CO, comes to OU from Arizona but began his collegiate career at Texas A&M. He played 53 snaps during his true freshman season as a backup offensive guard and played against three SEC opponents (Arkansas, South Carolina and Mississippi State). He wants to fill Creed Humphrey’s shoes at center, but he got plenty of experience at guard in his two seasons as a starter at Arizona and could contribute there as well.
“He reminded us of a couple of guys that we’d had before with some of his position flexibility and some of the experience that he had,” Riley said. “And obviously, gave us a little bit of depth in there with losing a couple of guys. And a guy that’s played both center and guard that we’re going to work at both. … Getting the right guy at center is a big priority in replacing what we had there. We’re going to try to make some decisions there early in camp and then try to get everybody in a position where they can settle in.”
The 5-11, 211-pound Bradford, from the Dallas suburb of Lancaster, TX, played in three SEC games as a true freshman at LSU late last season (Alabama, Florida, Ole Miss) and finished with 53 yards on nine attempts against the Rebels. He’ll begin his sophomore season behind Gray and Kennedy Brooks but will have plenty of opportunities to contribute in 2021.
“We’re excited about him,” Riley said. “Know about him certainly (from) high school, and how explosive he is. And he’s certainly fit the bill. He can really, really, really run. Explosiveness probably a little bit different than what we've had in the running back room here as of late, so I think he’ll be a nice compliment our guys.”
The 6-1, 198-pound Woods, from Magnolia, TX, was a three-year starter at Arkansas and still has two years of eligibility remaining, although with a big season in Norman, he could also be a potential NFL Draft pick next year. Last season Woods produced two 100-yard games (Florida and LSU in back-to-back weeks) and over his final two seasons in Fayetteville had 52 receptions against SEC opposition.
“I’ve been able to see him run around some this summer, and he’s an explosive kid,” Riley said. “So we'll give him an opportunity, but I think he's got a chance to help us.”
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