Oklahoma football: Party at the Palace adds fuel to red-hot recruiting burst

OU coach Brent Venables greets players before the Sooners' spring game on April 23 at Gaylord Family-Oklahoma Memorial Stadium in Norman.cfb rankings -- print main
OU coach Brent Venables greets players before the Sooners' spring game on April 23 at Gaylord Family-Oklahoma Memorial Stadium in Norman.cfb rankings -- print main /

Wait for it…wait for it…wait for it. That was the de facto theme around Oklahoma football recruiting activity entering the final three months of the 2022 offseason.

Head coach Brent Venables’ recruiting philosophy is markedly different than what Sooner fans were familiar with under Lincoln Riley and even Bob Stoops, both of whom were highly successful pulling in top 10-rated national recruiting classes.

While other major programs were off and running in early spring and into May and June picking up a ton of verbal commitments and making an early splash in the 2023 recruiting class rankings, Venables and his OU coaching staff elected to take a more patient approach and, unlike many programs, not push for a commitment from a player early on in the process.

Instead of racing out in the early spring period in an attempt to fill out the scorecard early on in the process — much like a racehorse who jumps to the front of the pack right out of the gate — under Venables Oklahoma is choosing to play the long game and use the time early in the process to develop and build lasting relationships.

In other words, “instead of recruiting 250 guys, let’s find 75 guys that we can really recruit hard. That we can really develop relationships (with)” Venables said.

The Sooners took a lot of criticism from the media and fans alike for the paltry number of verbal commitments in the 2023 class early this spring. While other schools were well into double digits in 2023 recruiting commitments, Oklahoma’s class size stood at just four commitments at the end of May.

We want to be genuine and authentic in our recruiting effort, Venables said at Big 12 Media Days in early July. He wants players “to know that you know that you know that you know.” In a nutshell, he doesn’t want players to make a commitment to the Sooners and then continue to shop around. The Sooners aren’t just recruiting the best players, they’re recruiting players that are the best fit for both the performance on the field and the culture Venables and his staff are trying to build off of it.

While OU took a lot of heat for this approach early on, the results over the past 30 days or so have shown that it is truly paying off. Since the middle of June, the Sooners have received verbal commitments from 12 of their current 18-member 2023 class. Nine of those commitments have come in the month of July.

And that momentum is expected to carry over into August and September, when Oklahoma is anticipating adding several more elite recruits to a 2023 class that since the end of May has risen from No. 41 in the 247Sports class rankings to No. 6 nationally.

The catalyst for Oklahoma’s continued positive outlook moving forward in the 2023 recruiting cycle could well be its “Party at the Palace” recruiting event from this past weekend. The Sooners hosted top recruits from all across the country over the weekend. While the emphasis. of course, was on 2023 recruits, there were also prospects for 2024 in attendance.

All indications were that the weekend was a grand success. Several current OU 2023 commits, including 5-star QB recruit Jackson Arnold, were also in attendance to mingle with both committed and uncommitted recruits who were on hand.

A couple of Arnold’s Denton, Texas, defensive teammates whom the Sooners are hopeful of luring into the fold (Notre Dame commit S Peyton Bowen and LSU commit S Ryan Yaites) joined the OU QB commit over the weekend.

Perhaps the biggest recruit, in both a physical and figurative sense, at the Palace Party was David Hicks Jr., the nation’s No, 1 defensive line recruit. The battle for Hicks’ commitment appears to be between OU and Texas. For the longest time, Hicks was expected to ultimately end up at Texas, but Oklahoma is reported to have made serious strides in flipping Hicks’ favor toward the Sooners. If Oklahoma were able to land Hicks, it would be a major recruiting coup for Venables and his staff.

Other 2023 prospects who were in Norman over the weekend and are reported by one or more recruiting services to be leaning toward Oklahoma were defensive ends Colton Vasek, out of Austin, Texas, and Jordan Renaud, from Tyler, Texas. Also in attendance was 2023 four-star cornerback prospect Makari Vickers, from Tallahassee, Florida, who has crystal ball projections pointing toward the Sooners.

All in all, Oklahoma continues to trend high in the 2023 recruiting race, which speaks highly about how Brent Venables’ patient approach to recruiting is appealing and working well with targeted prospects and paying off for the Sooners.