Oklahoma football: Sooners’ 2022 recruiting cycle critical to future success

Oklahoma football recruiting is always integral to the program’s continued success. That’s why the 2022 cycle is a pivotal building block looking out the next two to three years.

Since Lincoln Riley became head coach in 2017, Oklahoma has had top-10 recruiting classes in three of the last five cycles. In the five years previous to that, the Sooners had no classes ranked in the top-10 nationally.

That talent infusion over the past five years is a big reason OU has appeared in three of the last four College Football Playoffs and is one of the favorites to do so again in the 2021 campaign.

The Sooners are off to a strong start in assembling their 2022 recruiting class. They have nine verbal commitments in their 2022 class, which currently ranks as fifth best nationally, according to 247Sports and Rivals, and No. 8 based on the ESPN class rankings.

The makeup of the Sooners’ 2022 class so far is one five-star prospect, WR Luther Burden, and six four-stars. The offensive/defensive breakdown is six on offense, three on defense.

The recruiting process for top 2022 prospects is about to get much busier and a lot more competitive, however. The NCAA recruiting dead period, which has been in place since March of 2020 because of the COVID-19 pandemic, will end on May 31, allowing recruits to again be able to make in-person campus visits.

There are a number of 2021 recruits arriving at schools around the country, including DT Kelvin Gilliam Jr and DB Damond Harmon, teammates at the same Virginia high school. who committed and later signed without making a visit to the school. When Gilliam Jr and Harmon arrive at OU this summer, it will be the first time they have been in the state of Oklahoma.

The Sooners are expected to be in the thick of the hunt as the summer temperatures heat up along with the recruiting battles for the nation’s best uncommitted prospects.

On June 18-20, Oklahoma will host one of its biggest recruiting events of the year, the ChampU BBQ.

Here are several top targets for 2022 that Lincoln Riley and his staff have in their sights and are working hard to land:

RB Gavin Sawchuck, out of Littleton, Colorado: Rated as the No. 2 running back in the class. He rushed for 1,239 yards and 17 touchdowns as a junior last season at Valor Christian High School, the same school that produced Christian McCaffrey, former Stanford All-American and now NFL star for the Carolina Panthers.

RB Jovantae Barnes, Las Vegas Nevada: The Sooners are going to need to bring in a couple of running backs in the 2022 class because Kennedy Brooks will all but certainly turn to the draft after his 2021 return, and Eric Gray, the Tennessee transfer, will become draft eligible after the 2021 season and is a good bet to at least test the NFL waters. Barnes has several big-time programs on his consideration list, including Oklahoma.

OU running backs coach DeMarco Murray, also from Las Vegas, has been developing a relationship with Barnes, who rushed for 1,022 yards, 13 touchdowns and averaged 8.1 yards per carry as a sophomore in 2019. He did not play in 2020 because of COVID cancellation.

CB Myles Pollard, Brentwood, Tennessee: The Sooners are hopeful their recent success drawing players out of the state of Tennessee will help them land Pollard, the No. 37 overall cornerback prospect, according to the 247Sports Composite. The 6-foot, 2-inch, 185-pound defensive back fits the mold that defensive coordinator Alex Grinch and cornerbacks coach Roy Manning are looking for in reshaping the OU secondary.

CB Gentry Williams, Tulsa, Oklahoma: Williams, rated a five-star prospect by 247Sports, is listed as an athlete, but the Sooners are looking at him as a defensive back. He has played quarterback, wide receiver and cornerback on his high school team at Booker T. Washington High School. A program like Oklahoma doesn’t want a player of this talent level to go out of state or even end up in rival territory in Stillwater.

Williams says he grew up a fan of the Sooners and he likes what Alex Grinch is doing with the OU defense, but he also says he doesn’t want his youth interest in Sooner football over influence which program he decides to go with.

S Chace Biddle, Garland, Texas: Biddle’s high school teammate, WR Jordan Hudson, has already committed to Oklahoma’s 2022 class. 247Sports rates him the No. 7 safety in the 2022 class.

OT Jacob Sexton, Edmond, Oklahoma: Sexton is another high-quality prospect out of the state of Oklahoma. The four-star prospect grew up a Texas fan, and the Longhorns are one of the five teams Sexton has on his short list. The 247Sports Composite lists him as the No. 25 offensive tackle in the 2022 class.

A number of top prospects, including some of the names above, will be in attendance at OU’s annual ChampU BBQ weekend in mid-June.