Wednesday the sun had barely peeked over the horizon when National Letters of Intent started rolling into the Oklahoma football offices.
Via cell phone.
The 17 prospects from the 2018 class who signed with OU on opening day of the inaugural 72-hour early signing period sent photos of their letters, a new custom the past two seasons, Sooner coach Lincoln Riley said.
There was a time, which wasn’t even that long ago, OU recruiting coordinator Cale Gundy noted, that coaches hung out at fax machines waiting for the letters on signing day.
When St. Louis four-star defensive end Ronnie Perkins signed, his high school coach tried to fax the school a letter. Sooner coaches were unsure where a fax machine was inside the football office.
Gundy is OU’s longest-tenured assistant coach.
“Recruiting has changed so much,” he said.
It definitely has.
OU secured a signee crop ranked No. 8 by ESPN and No. 8 by Rivals, which marked the program’s first back-to-back top-10 classes since 2005 and 2006, according to Rivals’ rankings.
The program celebrated that class online in an innovative way, announcing signees as they became official in slick fashion, with videos for each player, incorporating former stars like Adrian Peterson and Kenny Stills.
The various videos’ central theme showed Peterson, Stills, as well as current players and coaches thumbing through playing cards featuring OU players and signees, until they reached the featured prospect.
A glossy web page was designed with images of signees, so that when a cursor moved over a player’s high school photo, it revealed them in a Sooner uniform and provided a link to their bio.
OU has beefed up its recruiting staff in recent years, including an integral addition in executive recruiting director Annie Hanson this season.
Riley went out of his way to name staffers Hanson, Drew Hill, Eric Striker, Zach Hefley, Courtney Harris and Caroline McMurray during a signing day press conference. The group keeps OU’s communication methods and promotional techniques fresh.
Hanson and Hill, who is director of player personnel, produced the signee videos with input from creative director Cole Smith and edits from Hefley.
Many of those same minds also dreamed up the miniature cardboard cereal boxes modeled after the famous Wheaties brand, which were splattered with prospects’ likeness and delivered to players’ signing ceremonies.
“That’s very unique. More schools should do stuff like that,” said Midwest City defensive end Jalen Redmond after signing with OU. “It’s incredible. It shows the love they have and how they’ll take care of you at OU.
“[The videos] were crazy. I was looking at my timeline trying to see if any other schools could top it, I still couldn’t find one that did it better than that.”
OU views itself as a leader on that front.
“We’re not gonna be the one following the trends of recruiting or our program in general,” Riley said. “We want to be the one setting the trends. I think we’re doing that right now with our recruiting department.”
It was fitting that Riley wrapped up his first signing period as head coach with a such a new approach, since the new early signing window, which runs through Dec. 22, was just passed last spring. All of this feels pretty new for schools involved.
And all things considered, it was a very good day for OU. Only three of its 20 verbal commitments did not sign, and Riley indicated there were no surprises on that front.
“There wasn’t one guy that we expected to sign that didn’t sign,” Riley said.
Six of the new signees have in-state ties: Ron Tatum (6-5, 269, DE/Oklahoma City), Jordan Kelley (6-4, 290, DT/Tulsa), Patrick Fields (5-11, 185, DB/Tulsa), Brey Walker (6-6, 320, OL/Moore), Tramonda Moore (6-6, 330, OL/Independence, Kan.) and Redmond (6-3, 235, DE/Midwest City).
On defense, Redmond (defensive end) and Fields (safety) will have opportunities to earn playing time right away. OU graduates starting defensive ends Ogbonnia Okoronkwo and D.J. Ward, as well as safeties Steven Parker and Will Johnson.
Most of the class was accounted for by 8:30 a.m., Riley said. There was little drama after a furious last few weeks of work, during which OU lost a recruiting week during the Big 12 championship.
“Great first signing day,” Riley said. “In a way, I’m a little bit relieved to get it past us here. It’s been fun, though. … I’m really proud of our staff and the way we handled the entire time.”
2018 prospects who signed with OU early Wednesday
• Ronnie Perkins* (6-4, 260 DE/St. Louis, Mo.)
• Brian Asamoah (6-1, 215, LB/Columbus, Ohio)
• Delarrin Turner-Yell* (5-10, 160, DB/Hempstead, Texas)
• Darrell Simpson (6-7, 310, OL/Justin, Texas)
• Jalen Redmond* (6-3, 235, DE/Midwest City)
• Jaquayln Crawford* (5-10, 163, ATH/Rockdale, Texas)
• Jaylon Robinson (5-10, 165, WR/Fort Worth, Texas)
• Kundarrius Taylor (6-2, 189, WR/Memphis, Tenn.)
• Tramonda Moore* (6-6, 330, OL/Independence, Kan.)
• Ron Tatum (6-5, 269, DE/Oklahoma City)
• Tanner Mordecai (6-2, 197, QB/Waco, Texas)
• Starrland Baldwin* (5-11, 170, DB/Cypress, Texas)
• Miguel Edwards* (6-0, 165, DB/Deerfield Beach, Fla.)
• Jordan Kelley (6-4, 290, DT/Tulsa)
• T.J. Pledger* (5-9, 175, RB/Bradenton, Fla.)
• Patrick Fields* (5-11, 185, DB/Tulsa)
• Brey Walker (6-6, 320, OL/Moore)
*Plans to enroll for the spring semester
OU 2018 verbal commitments who have not signed
• Jordon Austin (6-1, 185, DB/Lancaster, Texas)
• Treveon Johnson (6-2, 180, WR/Brenham, Texas)
• Tavion Thomas (6-2, 227, RB/Dayton, Ohio)