The year before Julian Wilson joined Oklahoma, the Sooner roster was filled with highly recruited stars from around the country. Travis Lewis, DeMarco Murray and Quinton Carter were a few of the big names that populated the lineup.
Sam Bradford, Jermaine Gresham and Dominique Franks were a few of the top in-state players making a name for themselves.
However, one area that remained under-represented that 2009 season was Cleveland County. Norman North’s Bryce Easley, a kicker that never played and Norman High’s Ryan Broyles and Mossis Madu made up the sum total of Transcript area players on the Sooner roster.
Since Wilson stepped on campus in 2010, he has seen the area numbers grow each season
Heading into this year the Sooners have 10 players with roots in the area. They include Wilson (Southmoore), Jordan Evans (Norman North), Nick Hardaway (Westmoore), DJ Ward (Southmoore), Kane Snowden (Westmoore), Jaxon Uhles (Norman), Brian Walker (Westmoore), Nick Basquine (Norman North), Cade Parker (Norman High) and Riley Nolan (Norman North).
Wilson is the veteran of the group and is preparing for his final year with OU. Even though he graduated last year, he decided to go to graduate school and have one more chance to leave his mark on the Sooner program.
“Because (I’m) the senior of the group, a lot of those young freshman coming in are looking upon me for help,” Wilson said. “That’s one thing I had to do, was have an understanding of the defense and be able to answer any question that they have for me. I was going to have to be ready to play safety, corner, nickel, dime, linebacker, whatever. I knew I had to be ready at every position.”
While Wilson is expected to start at cornerback, Evans is also expected to see significant playing time at linebacker. After being thrown into the fire as a true freshman last season, his coaches n ow believe he’s ready to play an even bigger role at middle linebacker.
“I’m expecting Jordan to have a great year,” Oklahoma coach Bob Stoops said. “He’s a guy that’s really come on and he’s probably the biggest guy we’ve got (at inside linebacker), and he’s all of 220, 222 (pounds). He had a really good spring and summer. He’s very natural in there and we’re expecting Jordan to really make a difference for us this year.”
Evans injured his ankle last season and missed much of the second half of the year, but he started the spring game while senior Frank Shannon, who’s avialibility continues to be a legal question mark, was held out.
If Shannon’s injunction against a university suspension is struck down, Evans will be the clear starter. Even if Shannon is available, the Norman North product still figures to play a lot.
“It’s a great opportunity,” Evans said. “But I’m really just trying to get on the field any way I can to help my team, whether it’s linebacker, certain packages or on special teams.”
Ward was part of the same freshmen class as Evans, however, he didn’t have the same impact. After suffering an injury and having his spleen removed, he redshirted his freshman season.
With two years of no football behind him, the 6-foot-2, 256-pound Ward heads into this season looking to stay healthy and contribute.
“DJ has shown improvement too,” OU defensive coordinator Mike Stoops said. “He’s another guy that’s on the fringe trying to crack into that two-deep. He’s probably the fifth guy in line to see playing time. He’s probably 255-260 (pounds), so he needs to keep developing his size and strength.”
Hardaway, Snowden, Uhles, Walker, Basquine, Parker and Nolan are all walk-ons. They have the toughest path to the field. They could have chosen to attend or remain at smaller schools, yet instead took on the bigger challenge of becoming a Sooner without any guarantee of a scholarship or playing time.
But as Wilson has shown, you can start slowly and still finish in front of the pack.
“I am just building on getting better as a overall player,” Wilson said. “This year I’m the old head of the secondary. So really I am being looked upon more as a leader.
“I’m the only senior in the group. Just really turning my game up to another level. (Set) higher expectations for myself, step out on the field on Saturdays as a better overall player than I was in 2013.”