For a junior college recruit, playing time is usually one of the top priorities. And it definitely was for wide receiver Courtney Gardner (Reno, Nev./Sierra College).
But when you’re as talented as Gardner is, every program that offers is going to put playing time at the forefront of the conversation.
What no other program could produce for Gardner, however, is quarterback Landry Jones, who played a big role in helping convince Gardner to go from being an Arkansas commit last week to an Oklahoma signee on Wednesday. Gardner signed at a ceremony at his old high school in Reno.
“It was a great feeling today, no doubt,” Gardner said. “I actually de-committed from Arkansas and committed to OU on Sunday, but I didn’t want to tell anybody about it.”
Gardner kept his promise, but the secret was let out early as fellow OU signee Zack Sanchez (Keller, Texas/Central) let it slip during a radio interview Monday that Gardner was joining him at OU.
Gardner said he knew Sunday morning after talking to OU coach Bob Stoops and also spending a bulk of the weekend with his future quarterback.
“I talked to Landry for a long time that first full night I was there," he said. "We ate dinner, and I really enjoyed getting to know him."
Eventually the talk came to football and Gardner knows what is expected of him. He told Jones he could be a downfield threat. Maybe even more importantly, Gardner stressed he will be a red zone target.
OU had great difficulty converting red zone opportunities into touchdowns through the air in 2011, but Gardner said that won’t be the case in 2012.
When he committed to Arkansas in December, he let the Razorbacks know he was still going to look around.
He had scheduled official visits to Florida and Florida State in January, but he canceled both.
“I didn’t think Florida’s offense would do the best job of taking advantage of my skills with their I-formation offense,” Gardner said. “At Florida State, that is a great place to play. But right now it’s a great place to play defense. No program gives me an opportunity to do everything I want like OU.”
Gardner originally didn't consider the Sooners, but he was open to the possibility when OU wide receivers coach Jay Norvell approached him and his coaches in December.
Since then, the two have grown close.
“When I talk to him, it feels like I’ve known him for a long time. He has been a man of his word the entire time,” Gardner said.
All that was left was for Gardner to enjoy his official visit last weekend. That wasn’t a problem for anybody as Oklahoma earned the signatures of all four official visitors. Once again, it was the “Cali trio” at the center of everything.
“They showed me a great time. Tony [Jefferson] showed me a great time. Kenny [Stills], I had a good time talking to him and getting to know him. And Jaz [Reynolds], too.”
Gardner was convinced Sunday that OU was the place for him, but he still wanted to give himself some time to think things over.
Gardner declined to give any interviews about his visit and at times completely turned off his phone so that neither OU nor Arkansas coaches could get in touch with him.
When it was all said and done, though, he knew OU was still the place he wanted to be.
“Coach Stoops did a great job of showing me the opportunities I can have at OU," Gardner said. "I’m going to come in and play and be a big factor from the start. I’ve got two years, and I’m going to make the most of them.”
Gardner was forced to go the juco route because he had trouble in math in high school. It’s his only regret throughout the process, and he said he is going to make sure it never happens again.
With Gardner’s signature, it punctuated the best receiving class in OU history. The Sooners have three of the top 19 wide receivers for 2012 to go with 2011 standout Trey Metoyer, who was ranked No. 8 last year. And with Gardner, OU now has one of the best juco products in the nation.