Oklahoma’s unlikely pipeline to Iowa Western College certainly has paid off.
Defensive line coach Calvin Thibodeaux, himself a former junior college coach, has tapped into that pipeline to land impact players in back to back seasons now.
The latest is Isaiah Coe, a member of the 2021 recruiting class after starring last year on the d-line in Council Bluffs. He followed in the footsteps of Perrion Winfrey, who was a juco All-America in 2019 and is having a breakout senior year for the Sooners.
They’ve been a meaningful 1-2 punch, at times living in the opponents’ backfield, at times delivering game-changing plays.
Winfrey, with a year at OU already under his belt, was widely projected to be dominant this season.
Coe, on the other hand, was not — not on a defensive line stacked with experienced playmakers.
“You've noticed him,” defensive coordinator Alex Grinch said. “He’s made some plays for us. He has a quickness that we like, and a strength to go with it. I think his rep count will just continue to go up. I'm pleased with him.”
Fans noticed his block of an extra-point kick last week against Nebraska — mostly because it was returned 102 yards by Pat Fields for a momentum-chasing defensive 2-point conversion.
Through the Sooners’ first three games, Coe only has four tackles. But he’s tied for second on the team — with Winfrey — with 3.0 tackles for loss. They both trail All-American edge rusher Nik Bonitto, who has 3.5.
Winfrey, of course, has his own blocked kick legend, knocking down a go-ahead field goal last year in overtime against Texas.
While Winfrey was enjoying immediate success at OU last year, Coe was still back at Iowa Western — and wasn’t even playing.
“It was hard just because I didn’t play for awhile myself and him doing all these great things,” Coe said on Tuesday. “It was really hard because I had to wait my turn. I had to sit out the whole 2020 year, of course, because of COVID. We still talked all the time. I was still one of his biggest supporters. From the Texas game to the TCU game, any game that he had, I was letting him know that I was rooting for him and it was just, I was real proud of him and real happy for him to see all the success he got.”
Winfrey wasn’t surprised by his immediate success last year, but he did sound sort of humbled by it. He said ”the No. 1 thing” was his desire to “come in and change an organization.” He’s certainly done his part. Winfrey might be the Sooners’ most talented, most intimidating defensive lineman in the past 10 years.
“I just wanted to come in and add on to what they already had,” Winfrey said last week. “Because there were already great pieces in the room like Isaiah Thomas, Nik Bonitto and Jalen Redmond, and I just wanted to add that doggish mentality and that hunting mentality to what we were already doing, and I feel like we did that so far.”
One of the most visible tenets in football is how good defensive line play can impact the rest of the defense. Linebacker Brian Asamoah certainly sees it.
“The thing with Perrion, man — Perrion is a fantastic football player,” Asamoah said Wednesday. “He has this certain way he carries himself around and obviously you guys know who Perrion is on the football field. You know, the thigh pads, the 8-Ball, the Chucky — that’s just how Perrion is, man. A guy that is very dominant on the football field and also a great person outside of football.
“But he wants you to know that he’s gonna dominate you on the football field, man. That’s what he displays with his thigh pads and with his play production.”
Coe continues to learn from and emulate Winfrey. In the spring, Thibodeaux said he might be the Sooners’ most powerful defensive lineman, and he’s flashed that at times by blowing up plays in the opposing backfield.
“We just embrace competition here,” Coe said. “Every day we just try to go out and compete with one another and just try to get each other better as much as we can. Coach Thibs just really tried to emphasizes on enhancing ourselves week by week, day by day. You know, never let anything just slide by, try to take something out of every day. So kind of taking that mentality and going day by day to try and get better and better as we go on during the season.”