Oklahoma football: Sooner transfer portal a two-way highway

Oct 12, 2019; Knoxville, TN, USA; Tennessee Volunteers offensive lineman Wanya Morris (64) and the line of scrimmage in front of Mississippi State Bulldogs defensive end Fletcher Adams (43) during the second half at Neyland Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Bryan Lynn-USA TODAY Sports
Oct 12, 2019; Knoxville, TN, USA; Tennessee Volunteers offensive lineman Wanya Morris (64) and the line of scrimmage in front of Mississippi State Bulldogs defensive end Fletcher Adams (43) during the second half at Neyland Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Bryan Lynn-USA TODAY Sports /

Big is not a big enough word to describe the impact of transfers to the Oklahoma football program in the past decade.

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And in this Sooner offseason, we are seeing the largest movement yet, with players both coming and going.

During the past 10 seasons, the Sooners have generally added one or two transfers to the roster every year. This offseason, however, Oklahoma is gaining five players through the free-agent-like pipeline known as the transfer portal.

Transfers are not factored into recruiting class rankings. With no additions on late national signing day on Wednesday, Oklahoma’s 2021 recruiting class size remained at 16, the same as it was at the December early signing period. This would appear to be a much smaller class size than a normal OU recruiting cycle, but that is more by design than OU’s inability to attract recruits.

Oklahoma Sooners Football
Oklahoma Sooners Football /

Oklahoma Sooners Football

Lincoln Riley and his staff were hopeful they could sign several widely targeted top recruits who remained uncommitted after the early signing day, but they lost out to other major programs.

One was five-star running back prospect Camar Wheaton, another was highly touted offensive tackle Tristan Leigh. Both at one time were believed to be leaning toward the Sooners, but Wheaton ended up at Alabama. and Leigh signed with Clemson.

This is where the transfer pipeline has become as valuable filling immediate and near-term roster needs as the conventional recruiting process that combs the high school and junior-college ranks for talent.

In just the past few weeks, OU has struck gold through the transfer portal, bringing five players through that process. Three of those roster additions are former Tennessee Volunteers and couldn’t have come along at a better time. All three come with playing experience as starters at the major college level and fill immediate needs.

The three Tennessee transfers coming to Oklahoma are among up to 15 Volunteer players who have announced plans to leave the program amid an investigation of recruiting improprieties and the firing of head coach Jeremy Pruitt. Joining the Sooners are offensive tackle Wanya Morris, defensive back Key Lawrence and running back Eric Gray. All are former five- and four-star prospects and have at least a couple of seasons of eligibility remaining.

Riley is excited about the immediate impact all three of the Tennessee players can have at Oklahoma.

“Two of the guys we had (previously) recruited,” Riley told reporters on Wednesday, including Nick Kosko of 247Sports.

"“Wanya and Keyshawn, we had recruited both in their original recruitment,” Riley said. “We thought we had a pretty good chance to land those guys, and I think we were pretty close before they ultimately chose to go to Tennessee.”"

Gray was a different story. The Sooners didn’t recruit him that much. “But we felt there was an opportunity here,” the OU head coach said, “and once he got in the portal, he reached out and expressed some interest. We evaluated him and thought he could help our football team.”

Gray rushed for more than 1,000 yards combined in two highly productive seasons at Tennessee and will help fill the gap created in the Sooner backfield by the loss of Rhamondre Stevenson. OU also has Kennedy Brooks returning in 2021 after opting out of the 2020 season because of COVID-19 concerns.

In addition to the Tennessee transfers, Oklahoma also is bringing in former Penn State quarterback Micah Bowens. a former four-star, dual-threat QB. His addition gives the Sooners three scholarship players at the QB position going into the 2021 season.

Former Arizona offensive lineman Robert Congel is also joining OU through the transfer route, adding more depth to the veteran Sooner offensive front.

If you were to factor in the five transferees as part of the 2021 Oklahoma recruiting class, given the talent and experience that the transfers bring, it is a fairly safe assumption that the 2021 OU class would rank higher than its current top-15 position and changes the perception of the Sooner class size.

While OU welcomes a nice haul of incoming talent from the transfer portal, it hasn’t been a one-way street. The Sooners gain five transfers, but they are losing five players who have chosen to take their talents elsewhere.

The list of players who are heading out of Norman numbers nine and includes six offensive players and four more on the defensive side.

Perhaps the most notable announced departure is former five-star defensive recruit Brendan Riley-Hiles, who has played 37 games at Oklahoma as a defensive back. Riley has not ruled out the possibility that Riley-Hiles could return to the program

The others who are leaving the Oklahoma program are quarterbacks Tanner Mordecai (for SMU) and Chandler Morris (TCU), running back T.J. Pledger (Utah), wide receiver Charleston Rambo (Miami),  offensive lineman E.J. Ndoma-Ogar (Missouri), tight end Jalin Conyers (Arizona State), safety/linebacker Robert Barnes (Colorado), defensive lineman Zacchaeus McKinney (Hawaii), and linebacker Jon-Michael Terry (Tulsa).

There’s definitely talent in the group the Sooners are losing and a net loss of five, but Oklahoma has good depth in all the position groups affected.