Oklahoma football: QB Dillon Gabriel a winner; Sooners will be, too, with him

Oklahoma's Trey Morrison (6) and Dillon Gabriel (8) talk during the University of Oklahoma's Spring football practice in Norman, Okla. on Thursday, March 24, 2022.Ou Spring Fb Practice
Oklahoma's Trey Morrison (6) and Dillon Gabriel (8) talk during the University of Oklahoma's Spring football practice in Norman, Okla. on Thursday, March 24, 2022.Ou Spring Fb Practice /

Oklahoma football fans may not realize it yet, but they have a winner in quarterback Dillon Gabriel.

Over the last five seasons — and some would say over the past two decades — the Sooners have been blessed with some of the very best quarterbacks in the college game. Some would also remind us that Oklahoma’s history of great quarterback play goes beyond Lincoln Riley’s time in Norman.

It’s hard to overlook however, how exceptional the quarterbacks have been under Riley’s tutelage. A couple of Heisman winners and a Heisman runner-up in three consecutive years will do that for you. And that was followed by commitments from three five-star, No. 1 QB prospects, two of which signed with the Sooners and actually played for OU but ended up leaving the program following the coaching transition after last season.

Spencer Rattler, the No. 1 quarterback in the 2019 class, entered the transfer portal after last season and is now at South Carolina. And Caleb Williams, the No. 1 QB recruit in the 2021 class who replaced Rattler as the Sooner starter last season, left to follow Riley to USC.

As the new calendar year dawned, Oklahoma and new head coach Brent Venables were not only faced with the prospect of introducing a new starting quarterback for the fifth time in as many seasons but having only one scholarship QB on the roster, Micah Bowens, a redshirt freshman transfer from Penn State. And to make matters even more perilous, Bowens has yet to take one collegiate snap.

Enter Dillon Gabriel as the next quarterback of the Oklahoma Sooners. College football experts have been saying Gabriel is the right fit to run new offensive coordinator Jeff Lebby’s OU offense. And the Sooner players are feeling and seeing that for themselves in the short time since Gabriel joined the program.

“He’s stepped in really nicely,” Drake Stoops told reporters recently, including Ryan Aber, the Sooner beat writer for The Oklahoman. “Everyone accepted him and bought in. He definitely stepped into the role pretty smoothly.”

Gabriel was literally a couple of days away from enrolling at UCLA, the school he had committed to, when Lebby reached out to him and asked him to hit the pause button and consider a different option. Gabriel entered the transfer portal at the end of last season. He started the first three games of the 2021 season, his third at the University of Central Florida (UCF), before suffering a broken collarbone that ended his season.

To point out how timely Lebby’s contact with Gabriel was, had Gabriel enrolled and started classes at UCLA, he would have been ineligible to transfer or play for any other team without sitting out a full year.

Two compelling reasons why the Hawaiian native is an ideal choice among the available options to be the next Oklahoma quarterback: 1) he comes in with experience at the Power Five college level and the production to support his quality standing, and 2) he and Lebby have a prior working relationship from the time the OU offensive coordinator was in the same role at UCF.

Given the talent level the Sooners return on offense and are adding with another top-10 ranked recruiting class, there should be very little drop off, if any, in Oklahoma’s offensive capability and output in the coming season.

In his true freshman season at UCF in 2018 and under Lebby direction as offensive coordinator, Gabriel led an offense that ranked second in the nation in yards per game (540.5) and second in scoring (43.4). The following season he was a semifinalist for both the Maxwell and Davey O’Brien Quarterback of the Year Awards.

Gabriel may not be as big a name as Baker Mayfield, Kyler Murray and or last season’s freshman sensation Caleb Williams, largely because of where he played, but his career numbers in the two full seasons he was at UCF are highly impressive: 8,037 yards passing and 70 touchdowns with just 14 interceptions in 26 starts. He also is able to get it done with his legs with 374 yards on the ground and eight touchdowns.

"“He’s a guy who wants to be coached,” Lebby told reporters. “He wants to get better. Good isn’t good enough. He understands that.”"

And that’s exactly the kind of attitude you want from the player at the most important position on the offense.

Not only have the Oklahoma coaches praised Gabriel’s presence in the locker room and on the practice field since he arrived in Norman, but the Sooner players have also been impressed with his leadership and the way he conducts himself on and off the field.

His teammates describe Gabriel as calm and composed. Nothing seems to rattle him.

“Probably one of my best friends,” says Sooner wide receiver Marvin Mims, “(and) I’ve known him for two months. That’s just the kind of person he (Gabriel) is.”

“DG, that’s my guy,” said wide receiver Theo Wease. “He’s an all-around leader and just an all-around great guy. He’s a great example of what you want as a quarterback.”

And it’s not just the offensive guys that have taken notice of the new OU quarterback. “Man, this dude is so dedicated,” said cornerback D.J. Graham. “I’m in the locker room getting dressed, ready to go to class, and he’s in there going through his drops and going through his progressions by himself.”

Behind Gabriel on the depth chart is freshman Nick Evers, a four-star prospect who decommitted from Florida to come to Oklahoma. Evers gets the benefit of learning for a year or two from Gabriel while he becomes acclimated to football at the college level and more familiar with the Sooner offensive system.

The bottom line here is: The sky is not falling in Norman, Oklahoma, and fans should still expect a highly formidable Oklahoma football team next season and for years thereafter.