Why Nathan Rawlins-Kibonge Chose Oklahoma Over Stanford

Parker Thune

Make it nine commitments in the 2021 class for Oklahoma, as four-star DE Nathan Rawlins-Kibonge announced Wednesday afternoon that he'd chosen the Sooners.

Rawlins-Kibonge joins a Sooner recruiting class that already includes four-star DE prospects Clayton Smith and Ethan Downs. Other 2021 defenders that have pledged their talents to Oklahoma include DB Jordan Mukes, OLB Danny Stutsman and DT Isaiah Coe.

It's the culmination of an unbelievable rise to gridiron stardom for the former Washington State basketball commit. Rawlins-Kibonge had never played competitive football prior to 2019, but burst onto the scene with a vengeance. The 6-foot-7, 248-pound specimen immediately shot up recruiting rankings with his dominant play at defensive end, and earned football offers from a plethora of Power 5 programs.

But in the end, it was Alex Grinch's decisive pitch that won the Portland native over.

“Boomer Sooner," said Rawlins-Kibonge. "I weighed every option, looked at every school, and eventually the decision came down to them, ASU and Stanford. Coach Grinch told me that I could either come there [to Oklahoma] or watch them play in the playoff. And I was like… wow, I don’t really want to be doing that.”

Rawlins-Kibonge, owner of a 4.0 GPA, had previously told SI Sooners that he wants to pursue a doctorate degree in addition to a football career. Thus, when Stanford offered him back in May, it seemed that the value of the education might sway him to Palo Alto. But Rawlins-Kibonge's dreams of NFL glory took precedence.

“I felt like if I went to Stanford, I’d fall back on my Plan B," he said. "Going to Oklahoma, I feel like I want to get to the NFL.”

Not long after receiving the offer from the Cardinal, Rawlins-Kibonge took a virtual visit to OU. His relationship with outside linebackers coach Jamar Cain had spurred his initial interest in the Sooners, but he soon learned that it wasn't just Cain who knew his name. The hospitality and personalization of the experience blew Rawlins-Kibonge away.

“Honestly, that was one of the biggest [factors]," he said. "All the other virtual visits I took were pre-recorded videos that could be played for anybody. And at Oklahoma, they were saying my name in the video. They had me on the field. They had me in the basketball arena. They were talking to me. They were showing me my name and where I would be. If they were the only ones willing to do that, then they must want me the most.”

And it wasn't just the Sooner football staff that left a lasting impression upon Rawlins-Kibonge. Head basketball coach Lon Kruger, well known for his congenial and upbeat demeanor, spoke to the two-sport standout and offered him a roster spot.

“They brought [Kruger] on while I was on the virtual visit," Rawlins-Kibonge said. "That was another thing that nobody else did. I talked to him, and he said they’d love to have me on their hoops team. That’s just another box to check, you know what I mean? I definitely want to play both sports; I don’t think my basketball career is over just yet.”

However, his future on the gridiron is the priority, at least for the moment. Rawlins-Kibonge is all-in on the Speed D vision, and says he's already spoken to Grinch and Cain about where he'll fit into the picture.

“They want me to be a strong-side D-end, but they also want me to be able to drop back in coverage if I need to," he said. "They harped on my athleticism, because I’m long and I’m fast. They want me to get bigger; I talked to the strength and conditioning coach [Bennie Wylie]. He said that he wants to get me to 265 or 270 pounds. I'm just excited to work.”

Above all, Rawlins-Kibonge said he appreciated Grinch's transparency. The second-year defensive coordinator isn't satisfied with the state of his Sooner unit, and he's on a mission to reverse the public perception of Oklahoma's oft-maligned defense. In the meantime, he's making no bones about the upheaval that he's initiated within the program.

"Coach Grinch told me that I'm coming to be part of a winning program," Rawlins-Kibonge said. "[But] he also said, ‘We’re not even good yet. I’d never lie to anybody; I don’t even think we’re good yet.' And I have the same mentality. I’m not good until I’m number one."

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