How OU football used transfer portal to create quiet National Signing Day: 'It’s a reality that we all live in now'
NORMAN — There was no scrambling in the OU football offices leading up to Wednesday’s National Signing Day.
The Sooners didn’t even send out a single National Letter of Intent to a recruit, much less have to hold their breath that they’d get one back.
In adding Micah Bowens, Robert Congel, Eric Gray, Key Lawrence and Wanya Morris, the Sooners made additions over the last month through the transfer portal rather than signing high school or junior college players.
“That honestly made today a lot easier because then kind of the last part of the plan was, if there’s something that we need that we don’t get in the transfer portal, then we could look to sign them out of high school today,” Sooners coach Lincoln Riley said. “With the guys we brought in, it made today pretty easy.
“We knew we weren’t going to sign another high school player once the transfer portal shook out the way that it did.”
The Sooners particularly took advantage of the situation in Tennessee, where a large group of Volunteers decided to transfer in the wake of Jeremy Pruitt’s firing.
OU scooped up three former Vols. They’d been heavily involved in Morris, an offensive tackle, and Lawrence, a safety, out of high school and then added Gray, a running back, from Tennessee as well.
“The situations weren’t really connected at all,” Riley said. “Two of the guys, we recruited. … We thought we had a pretty decent chance to land those guys, and I think we were right there pretty close before they ultimately chose to go to Tennessee. I think it was pretty natural for them that when they made the decision to leave that this was going to be one of the places they considered because we had relationships with those guys.
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“I wasn’t really a domino-effect type deal. I think it was three separate situations and they just happened to be from the same university.”
With losing Rhamondre Stevenson to the NFL and T.J. Pledger to transfer, Riley wanted to add depth at running back, opening the door for Gray to come aboard.
“Eric was a little bit different. Didn’t recruit him as much,” Riley said of Gray, who signed with Tennessee in the same class where the Sooners added Stevenson and Marcus Major. “Didn’t know him as well, but felt like there was an opportunity here and once he got in the portal, we reached out and expressed some interest and evaluated him and we thought he could help our football team.”
Riley said the transfer portal has changed the recruiting dynamic, especially as it relates to players they ultimately miss out on, since — like in the cases of Morris and Lawrence — they could wind up on campus eventually after signing elsewhere.
“I think you have to be aware of that because it’s reality right now,” Riley said. “It hasn’t changed how we operate. We’re not the group that, if a guy tells us he’s not going to come here, we end it yelling and screaming. I mean, that’s just not who we are or what we believe in. But it’s natural to think that if you’ve built relationships with guys, and now with this transfer portal and the likely passing of the one-time transfer, it’s a reality that we all live in now.
“You never know what’s going to happen with these kids.”