OU fills needs with junior college players

Under Bob Stoops, the Sooners have relied on junior-college players from time to time.

Nothing, however, like this.

Seeking immediate impact at various positions, OU added a Stoops-high six juco players to this year’s signing class in wideout Courtney Gardner (Reno, Nev./Sierra College), defensive end Chaz Nelson (Columbus, Ohio/Garden City CC), cornerback Kasseim Everett (Philadelphia/Pierce College), offensive tackle Will Latu (St. Petersburg, Fla./College of the Canyons), tight end Brannon Green (Altamont, Kan./Fort Scott CC) and running back Damien Williams (San Diego/Arizona Western College).

“I felt we had more immediate needs this year than maybe at some other times,” Stoops said. “I feel these guys all really fit what we need and are special players.”

Which ones could compete for starting jobs next season?

"I think all of them,” Stoops said. “I don't know how to, in my eyes, every one of them really fits a good, strong need really."

Other than Kenny Stills, the Sooners have no definite starters at wide receiver. Gardner, who caught 61 passes for 1,099 yards and 13 touchdowns as a sophomore at Sierra (Calif.) College last season, could step into one of those spots. At worst, he figures to vie for a rotation spot.

“He’s a big, strong guy with speed,” Stoops said. “What don’t you like about him?”

Williams, who rushed for almost 2,000 yards last season for Arizona Western College, could also provide the offense with immediate pop. With Dominique Whaley’s status still up in the air with the fractured ankle, Williams could complement scatback Roy Finch and others in a backfield that was incredibly thin by the end of last season.

“He has a chance to make an immediate impact in a very strong way for us,” running backs coach Cale Gundy said.

The Sooners desperately needed to add a junior-college tight end, where they had no returning players. Green, along with early enrollee Taylor McNamara should solidify the position.

“Another big, physical guy,” Stoops said of Green. “They're the kind of guys we're used to having and having success with.”

Latu won’t be with the Sooners until the summer because of academic reasons. But like the other jucos, he will have a chance to carve out playing time at one of the tackle spots before next season. The Sooners bring back only one experienced player at tackle in returning starter Lane Johnson.

Defensively, the Sooners picked up a pair of juco players who could be favorites to secure starting spots.

At cornerback, Everett will be given every opportunity to become Jamell Fleming’s replacement. The Sooners don’t have a proven corner to play on the boundary side opposite Demontre Hurst. Defensive coordinator Mike Stoops said finding that player will be one of his priorities in the spring.

At end, OU is replacing a pair of stalwarts in possible first-round draft pick Ronnell Lewis and last year’s Big 12 defensive player of the year, Frank Alexander. R.J. Washington showed signs of arriving last season, coming up with two sacks in the Insight Bowl. David King has proven to be a solid and versatile player. But Nelson gives the Sooners speed at the position, which figures to get him on the field early and often.

“I thought we really completed the class in a great way,” Bob Stoops said. “I felt, more than anything, that we answered all of our needs.”