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Next Generation, Part 5: Which Five Freshmen Will Impact Oklahoma in 2023?

After losing a handful of defensive backs to the transfer portal over the offseason, Makari Vickers could earn significant time on the field in his first season with the Sooners.

Part four of a series in which AllSooners examines five true freshmen who should make an impact on Oklahoma’s 2023 football season:

Makari Vickers 

Securing a commitment from 4-star defensive back Makari Vickers was a huge victory for Brent Venables and company on the recruiting trail. 

Venables still had yet to coach a game at OU when Vickers committed, giving Oklahoma fans an early hope that the Sooners' new regime would be able to win recruiting battles over the nation's best programs based on their pedigree and track record. 

Over a year later, Vickers will suit up for OU as a freshman after arriving in Norman with Jackson Arnold and other members of the Sooners' 2023 class in January. 

With Vickers’ early arrival, the talented freshman's size and athleticism, and with the droves of transfers out of Oklahoma's defensive defensive back room, Vickers may earn a spot on the field early in his career at OU.

Rated one of the top six safeties in the country according to the 247Sports Composite, Vickers held over 30 offers coming out of high school. The Monroe Day School (FL) product chose the Sooners over Alabama, Georgia, Texas, Michigan and others. 

247Sports Director of Scouting Andrew Ivins compared Vickers to Atlanta Falcons' DB DeMarcco Hellams, saying that Vickers is "A bigger defensive back with legit top-end speed."

Listed at 6-foot-1 and 195 pounds, Vickers is already a good size for a collegiate defensive back. And the Tallahassee, FL, native ran a 10.89 in the 100 meter dash and long jumped nearly 22 feet in high school, proving that he is athletic enough to make an early impact in Norman. 

"I’ve been trying to just work out and get my body and my mind prepared for getting ready for the next — for college," Vickers told AllSooners. "Because everything is gonna be 10 times stronger, 10 times faster, to do a lot more thinking with less time. So I definitely hopped back on the grind as soon as the season ended, just to get myself prepared for that."

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According to assistant coaches Jay Valai and Brandon Hall, Vickers is slated to play cornerback for OU this season. Venables mentioned Vickers and some of the team's other newcomers playing corner for his defense during the spring.

"We've got Jasiah (Wagoner), we've got Makari (Vickers) and we've got Kendel (Dolby) working at corner," Venables said. "Those three guys in particular are guys who are instinctive. They play big. They've got really good cover skills. They're aggressive with just natural instincts. They've been well-coached. They're hungry, driven and intelligent."

With high praise already from his head coach, it would not be shocking to see Vickers get time on the field early during his first collegiate season. Over the offseason, OU lost defensive backs Bryson Washington, Joshua Eaton, Kendall Dennis, Jamarrien Burt and Damond Harmon to the transfer portal, which could open up plenty of space for Vickers to get meaningful snaps during his freshman season. 

Many of the players who transferred away from Norman were not recruited by Valai. Vickers, on the other hand, cited Valai as one of his biggest reasons for taking an interest in Oklahoma. 

"(Valai) was definitely a big factor," Vickers said. "Because he was recruiting me heavily at Alabama. We had a pretty solid relationship at Alabama. But when he transferred to Oklahoma, our relationship kind of — it just kind of expanded and grew as days passed. Because at Alabama, he was a little more laid back. But at Oklahoma, he kind of showed a little bit more of his personality. He's a really funny guy. Really energetic guy, his energy is infectious."

Whether on special teams or in the defensive backfield, Vickers will bring a hard-hitting, ball-hawk attitude to the field when he plays. The standout defender also said that he feels the best at corner and that he prefers to play there rather than safety. 

"So at corner, you know, I'm a bigger, physical guy. So I like to get my hands on and kind of deter the route," Vickers said. "Deter the wide receivers’ route before they actual start running it. If you press and get a good enough jam, you can pretty much take them out of the equation before they even start the route. So I definitely like how physical and aggressive I can be at corner."

This sentiment will be encouraging for not only the OU coaching staff, but fans as well. The Sooners have been missing a physical, aggressive presence in the defensive backfield for years, and if Vickers is able to provide that, then he will likely become a fan-favorite very quickly. 

Vickers comes from a good football lineage, with his father, Ron, playing college football at Florida A&M. The former 4-star prospect told AllSooners that he was originally going to choose Alabama, but that Venables and company were able to change Vickers' mind with their future plans for the program.

"So it was actually gonna be Alabama at first but when we started making our rounds as far as visits and things of that nature," Vickers said earlier in the year. "Oklahoma grew on me because you can tell that they, coach Venables and his staff was changing the culture there. You know, I’m a defensive player. Oklahoma was always known for the offense, but the defense is kind of a little (sketchy) at times. So you know, with him bringing in his defensive mindset, it’ll definitely change a lot of things around for that defense."

Nicknamed "Seatbelt", Vickers will likely have the opportunity to show Sooner Fans how he earned his alias this season during Oklahoma's final stint in the Big 12. Vickers explained his nickname to AllSooners prior to his arrival in Norman.

"I'm locked in," Vickers said. "When you’re in the car, you're strapped in. And when you lock someone up, you say they're strapped, or they're locked. Just, Seatbelt just kind of completes the whole little phrase and celebration." 

The stellar freshman will wear No. 6 this season, previously worn by North Carolina transfer Trey Morrison in 2022. If Vickers' does raise eyebrows as a true freshman, he could be one of the keys to the future of Venables' SEC defenses.