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Oklahoma high school football: Here are the top defensive linemen for the 2023 season

Versatility defines this season's group of players in the defensive trenches

This year’s group of top Oklahoma defensive linemen is headlined by its versatility. 

Obviously, they specifically shine in the trenches, but many of them are all-around athletes who contribute for their team elsewhere. A number of them have already won state or national championship rings and will look for more hardware in 2023.

While others, on the other hand, are superstars looking to help their team get back to winning seasons from Class 6AI all the way down to Class A. 

Oklahoma's Top Players To Watch in 2023

Quarterbacks | Running Backs | Receivers/Tight Ends | Offensive Linemen

Here is SBLive Oklahoma's list of some of the defensive linemen to watch this fall:

Luke Brooks, 6-2, 190, Sr., Poteau

This list features a few small-school players that won’t wow with their size but play at a high level, and Poteau pass rusher Luke Brooks embodies that statement. Brooks is a vicious hitter and does a great job of creating turnover opportunities once he gets to the quarterback.

He came off the blindside spot with such force that he caused three fumbles last season. He’s got a tremendous career stat line through four seasons with 113 tackles, 20.5 tackles for loss and 14.5 sacks.

Montiel Crane, 5-10, 230, Sr., Clinton

One of under-the-radar picks from out west is Crane, He’s built low to the ground and can win the leverage battle, but he’s also an underrated athlete that can run down plays from the other side of the field.

His strength speaks for itself as he’s a state champion thrower in track and field. Crane also slides in at tight end at times and can make a reception or two in a pinch.

Caden Davis, 6-1, 210, Jr., Midwest City Carl Albert

This one is a slight reach only because Davis plays multiple positions on defense. As a sophomore, he rolled up 20 sacks.

This season, he’s still getting after the passer up front, but also plays some linebacker, too. Either way, he’s racked up 130 tackles, 33 tackles for loss and 23 sacks in 17 varsity games.

Dominic Grein, 6-7, 215, Sr., Tonkawa

It can be difficult for anyone at 6-foot-7 to get leverage, but Grein has had no such issues in his career. Instead, his length allows him to make plays from tackle to tackle and stack the stat sheet in every aspect.

He’s accounted for 240 career tackles, nearly 50 tackles for loss and nine sacks. Grein also plays tight end on offense for Tonkawa.

Bergin Kysar, 6-3, 240, Sr., Edmond Santa Fe

Much like the rest of this list, Kysar is a multi-purposed weapon that primarily stars up front. Kysar plays defensive end, defensive tackle, tight end and wide receiver for the Wolves. In all those positions, he showcased a high motor on film that keeps going well after the snap.

His chase-down sack in the team’s win against Jenks this year says it all. The play lasted nearly 10 seconds and despite initially not bringing the QB down, he finally made the play. He’s a three-star defensive end according to Rivals that boasts a bevy of Div. I offers, but recently committed to play at the University of Oklahoma.

C.J. Nickson, 6-5, 220, Jr., Weatherford

There’s almost nothing that Nickson can’t do. He could play Division I basketball or Division I football and is a difference maker on both sides of the ball in the latter. He’s listed as a four-star edge rusher according to 247Sports, where he’s compiled 59 total tackles, five tackles for loss, five forced fumbles and three sacks. However, he’s also recorded more than 1,000 receiving yards and caught 14 TDs as a receiver.

It doesn’t matter where he plays, Nickson will find a way to utilize his create-a-player physique to make an impact.

Jayden Oates, 6-2, Sr., 205, Tulsa Booker T. Washington

Speed off the edge is dangerous, and Oates possesses plenty of it. Oates plays in a two-point stance and jumps off the snap before most linemen can get a hand on him.

He proved to be a havoc-inducer for the Hornets in his first years on varsity. Furthermore, he became more productive in each season leading to a 17 tackles-for-loss, 10-sack 2022 masterclass.

Danny Okoye, 6-4, 240, Sr., Tulsa NOAH

The 2022 season couldn’t have gone better for Okoye. He helped Tulsa NOAH win the homeschool national title and became a huge DI prospect in the process. He’s an absolute force, powering through or zooming past any obstacle in his way.

His film makes him look like a man amongst boys, tossing poor offensive players around with ease and tracking down the ball. Okoye heads into 2023 looking to add to his 37 career tackles for loss and 16.5 career sacks.

Later in September, Okoye will announce his commitment, narrowing his list to a final three of Oklahoma, Texas and Tennessee.

Jentry Pendergraft, 6-1, 215, Sr., Kiefer

Hidden gems are always abound in Oklahoma high school football and one that definitely stands out this year is Class 2A’s own Pendergraft.

Pendergraft plays with his hair on fire and with a brutal edge. From the opening highlight of his game against Adair this year, he demonstrates his physical playing style. He sprinted to the ballcarrier and sent him flying parallel with the ground.

He plays that way every game and is the most productive player on this list, boasting 231 career tackles, 72 tackles for loss and 26 sacks.

Deacon Peterson, 6-2, 260, Sr., Coweta

Peterson is perfectly suited to play and win in his defensive line matchups. Peterson’s skill set as a wrestler translates well to his play up front.

The senior defensive end uses his tremendous hand-fighting skills to shuck blockers and make a play on the ball. Furthermore, he even showcased a spin move a time or two to get off a block.

Peterson looks to add to a nice career, including 93 total tackles and 15.5 sacks.

Alex Shieldnight, 6-3, 220, Jr., Wagoner

Wagoner’s defensive line pipeline looks to continue its growth with another superstar in Shieldnight. Just like 2021 Wagoner grad and current Texas Tech linebacker Isaac Smith, Shieldnight's ability to destroy backfields helped the Bulldogs capture their sixth state title in school history.

It was an unreal sophomore campaign for Shieldnight. He compiled 83 tackles, 21 tackles for loss and 12 sacks. He used his length to close off attempts at escape.

Xadavien Sims, 6-3, 275, Sr., Durant

Sims has the prototypical size and dominance for a DI defensive lineman. The Oregon commit flashed versatility, playing inside and outside up front, utilizing his powerful frame to bully opponents and wreak havoc in the backfield.

Although he’s not known as much for his speed, he did show an ability to chase the ballcarrier down well past the line of scrimmage.

Will Smith, 6-3, 235, Sr., Choctaw

Smith became a household name last season for Choctaw, helping the Yellowjackets reach the 6AII state title game. He finished second on the team in sacks with seven and third in tackles for loss with eight on defense.

Much like Nickson, Smith also starred at receiver, where he rolled up 445 yards and four TDs on more than 21 yards per catch.

Kay’vonte Swain, 5-10, 175, Sr., Star Spencer

Star Spencer already topped last year’s 1-9 record with a pair of wins to open the year, and Swain played a big part in that, notching 11 tackles, four tackles for loss and three sacks across those games.

Despite his smaller build, he’s a nightmare for offensive lines. His speed and ability to get around the edge makes him a mismatch. Swain boasts 12 career sacks and will look for more in game No. 3.

Colton Yarbrough, 6-5, 220, So., Durant

Durant boasts a scary D-line tandem with Yarbrough playing opposite of Sims. The sophomore is the lanky, long, athletic pass rusher that college programs dream of.

His 6-foot-5 height and 82-inch wingspan allows him to get his hands on his opponent first and chop down ballcarriers in pursuit. He’s received nine DI offers and is a four-star prospect with two-plus seasons remaining to add to his collegiate list.

Stats courtesy of 247Sports, Vype and Maxpreps

Photo of Tulsa NOAH's Danny Okoye by

-- Collin Wieder | @SBLiveOK