Oklahoma coach: recruiting is a 'revolving door,' but players now form 'a brotherhood'

Dennis Simmons says even with all the potential roster movement, a big part of recruiting is the bond and friendship the players form before the ever get to campus
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With some 140 scholarship offers having been extended in the 2022 recruiting class, Oklahoma coaches know with absolute certainty they can't get everyone they really want.

But with the NCAA Transfer Portal always open, they’re also now taking into account the likelihood they’ll see some of these players later on down the road. Going into a new year not knowing who’s transferring in, who might be transferring out, who’s going pro, who’s coming back — it’s a jumbled up equation coaches must solve now.

“It just makes recruiting kind of an every day revolving door,” said OU assistant head coach and passing game coordinator Dennis Simmons.

Dennis Simmons

Dennis Simmons

OU only signed 15 freshmen and one junior college transfer when the early signing period opened in December. No one else was added on the first Wednesday in February because the Sooners had already filled needs through the transfer portal.

Still officially less than a month into the final year of the 2022 recruiting cycle, OU has landed six verbal commitments (non-binding, of course). The first was Lubbock, TX, linebacker Kobie McKinizie, who committed back in January 2020. The most recent was Aledo, TX, tight end Jason Llewellyn, who committed Friday.

2022 OU verbal commitments

Simmons said recently that managing early pledges through National Signing Day has its challenges — not the least of which is other schools continuing to recruit them. There are no gentlemen’s agreements in college football recruiting.

“Hold your breath,” Simmons said. “Recruiting — honestly, in my opinion — is a lot like dating. You continue to do a lot of the little things that you did to get that kid interested in your school. Once he says, ‘Hey I’m going to show my hand; this is where I want to come to school,’ if anything, even with the way the times are now, when guys do commit to you, when they come to your program, when they’re there … that relationship has to be genuine, first of all. It can’t end there.

“All of these guys that are coming to Power 5 universities are coming for a reason: to get their education, to get developed at their craft and hopefully move on to the next level. One of the things you have to continue to show them is, ‘Hey, here’s ways I can help you.’ If you’re able to do that and they trust you, you’ve got a 90 percent chance of keeping them involved in your program and keeping (other schools) away.”

Simmons coaches wide receivers at OU, and the results he’s produced as a recruiter have been nothing short of phenomenal.

While coaching Dede Westbrook to OU’s only Biletnikoff Award, he recruited Marquise Brown (like Westbrook a first-round NFL Draft pick), then CeeDee Lamb (an All-American and another first-rounder), as well as three 5-star receivers in the 2019 class (Trejan Bridges, Jadon Haselwood and Theo Wease), a freshman All-American in 2020 (Marvin Mims) and an incoming class in 2021 that could rival anyone’s (Billy Bowman, Jalil Farooq, Cody Jackson and Mario Williams).

Three of those newcomers in the receiver room (Farooq, Williams and Bowman) all committed to OU after 2021 quarterback Caleb Williams announced his commitment on July 4. Having a quarterback in the class, Simmons said, never hurts in landing receivers.

Dennis Simmons

Dennis Simmons

“By virtue of the (receiver) position, you know that you’re going to have to lean and depend on other guys on the field with you,” Simmons said. “Obviously, there would have been no Jerry Rice without a Steve Young or a Joe Montana. So kids nowadays, especially with the way social media is so actively involved in their life, understand that.”

In the big picture, the nature of recruiting in general has evolved. Players are able to form stronger bonds and stay in touch easier than they ever could in previous generations. And anecdotally, at least, the formation of those relationships might be leading to a lower percentage of decommitments than just a decade ago. Players aren’t just committing to a school or a coach anymore, they’re sometimes committing to each other.

“It’s different than when you and I played football,” Simmons said. “You’re able (as a player) to travel to tournaments and, through social media and FaceTime and Live, you’re able to establish those relationships a lot easier and quicker nowadays. In doing that and being able to play with ‘em, it creates a bond, it creates a brotherhood, a friendship. You want to carry that on throughout your college career. It does play a big factor in the recruiting process — of not just the receivers, but all the skill positions.”