Brent Venables: ‘We got the guys we wanted,’ and ‘we’re not finished yet’

OU football coach Brent Venables speaks to the crowd at halftime of the Sooner men's basketball game against Baylor on Jan. 22 in Norman.cover main
OU football coach Brent Venables speaks to the crowd at halftime of the Sooner men's basketball game against Baylor on Jan. 22 in Norman.cover main /

Oklahoma football coach Brent Venables had a look of great satisfaction on his face — like someone who had just put all he had into a major project with a short timeline and knew he had done well — as he addressed the media on National Signing Day on Wednesday.

Venables met with the media again on Thursday after Wednesday’s press conference was interrupted multiple times by a bad internet connection.

Venables said he and his staff are incredibly excited about the five new additions the Sooners were able to add to the 2022 signing class on Wednesday as well as the 16 early signees who formalized their commitments on the early signing day in December.

“We’ve met needs at almost every position with this group of guys,” the new OU head coach said, and “we’re excited about the talent we’ve been able to attract. The Sooners’ 2022 class included 15 blue-chip recruits (rated four-stars or above).

Wednesday’s additions included Top 100 athlete Gentry Williams; four-star defensive lineman Gracen Halton, who flipped from Oregon; three-star edge rushers R Mason Thomas, who flipped from Iowa State, and Kevonte Henry, who was previously committed to Michigan; and three-star athlete Jamarrien Burt.

“(It’s) been a sprint here for the last couple of months,” Venables said. “Our support staff, our recruiting staff and all of our coaches just did an amazing job of pulling this class together.”

Case in point: The Sooners’ 2022 class was ranked in the top 15 at the time of Lincoln Riley’s abrupt exit in late November. The class suffered some fallout in the aftermath of Riley’s departure, including a couple of five-star prospects and a pair of four-star recruits. Despite that, Oklahoma’s race to the February signing day finish line netted Venables and his staff a class ranked as the eighth best in college football by both 247Sports and Rivals.

“(And) we’re not finished yet.” Venables told reporters. “We’ve got a couple more spots we’re going to push forward here throughout the rest of the semester and look to continue to strengthen a couple of positions where we see fit when we find the right guys.”

One of those positions is at running back, where OU is trying to build depth after the departure of Kennedy Brooks for the NFL Draft. On Friday, the Sooners announced the commitment of junior-college RB Tawee Walker, who played in 11 games last season for Palomar College in California, where he rushed for 875 yards and eight touchdowns and averaged 4.7 yards per carry.

Eric Gray and Marcus Major are expected to be the featured running backs for Oklahoma next season, but Walker will add depth to a position that is prone to injury. The Sooners also have two highly rated recruits at the position in the 2022 class: Gavin Sawchuk and Javontae Barnes, both rated as four-stars.

In addition to bringing in a 21-member 2022 recruiting class, Oklahoma also went to the transfer portal in an effort to fill out some immediate position needs, most notably at quarterback. The Sooners were left with just one scholarship QB on the roster after the transfer of former No. 1 QB recruit Spencer Rattler to South Carolina and the anticipated transfer of another No. 1 QB recruit, Caleb Williams (which became official early this week with his commitment to join Riley at USC).

The Sooners signed former Florida commitment and four-star QB Nick Evers to their 2022 class, but that was after acquiring former UCF quarterback Dillon Gabriel, literally hours after learning of Williams intent to enter the transfer portal

Venables was asked how the transfer portal affected the way they filled out the 2022 class”

"“I think the pool of players in the high school area wasn’t as deep, as far as probably the quality,” he said. “The most difficult part was finding the right people in the portal that not only can play, but also (whose) values align and they’re about the right stuff.“I thought our coaches did a great job of bridging those gaps…I thought we hit a home run doing so.”"

In truth, programs like Oklahoma are always in recruiting mode, whether it’s for 2022 or even one or two years further out. Sooner fans should feel good in knowing that Venables philosophy on coaching, recruiting and developing college student-athletes has been honed from his time under three of college football’s all-time best at their positions: former Kansas State head coach Bill Snyder, Bob Stoops and most recently Dabo Swinney at Clemson.

The Sooners aren’t just looking for players with top physical talent, but ones of high character and values that align with the locker room, the university and the culture that Venables is passionate about carrying on in the Oklahoma football program.