The trial balloon that was the first December early signing period has come back down and, for the most part, the experiment proved a success for the Oklahoma Sooners. While OU wasn’t able to lock down 100 percent of its commits like some other programs, the 17 signed players in the 2018 class still represent a top-10 bounty (at this point) for the Lincoln Riley regime, with the expectation of more on the way. Obviously the class is heavy on offensive talent, which is understandable for a program that consistently fields one of the nation’s top attacking units and lags somewhat behind on the other side of the ball. While OU fans had hoped for assistance from players like Bobby Brown and Ayodele Adeoye, they can now turn their attention to the handful of difference-makers who remain available after the first wave of signings. Three players in particular stand out as February’s hard deadline draws nearer. Here’s a look at the guys who could make Oklahoma’s 2018 class something truly special.
Dashaun White - OLB, North Richland Hills (Richland), TX
Oklahoma cleared a major hurdle when White declined to sign with Jimbo Fisher’s Texas A&M Aggies during the December period. White, of course, has been committed to the Aggies since August, but only gave that commitment after a hard charge from the Sooners that has had the A&M staff looking over its shoulder ever since. The Kevin Sumlin firing only strengthened OU’s position, as many believed White’s signature was contingent on Sumlin’s continued presence in College Station. While Fisher did manage to retain and sign several Sumlin holdovers, the coaching change has moved the needle enough that 247’s crystal ball now gives Oklahoma a 94 percent shot at landing this four-star Texan. Which is great, because Oklahoma can’t feel comfortable with its linebacker class as it stands. Brian Asamoah is a good start, but the Sooners need more bodies here and White is an obvious candidate to steady the ship. What would the Sooners be getting in this Texas talent? At around 6-2 and 220 pounds, White is a valuable combination of size and speed who becomes an absolute heat-seeking missile when a ball carrier emerges from the backfield. He’s also spent some time in the defensive backfield, which has given him good coverage skills and the ability to read and react quickly as a play develops. Oklahoma prizes versatility in its linebackers, so White would fit in nicely in Mike Stoops’s scheme. The Sooners have been hot on his trail for months now — it seems like a natural fit, and OU has tremendous need, so I’d be surprised if this one doesn’t get done. It’s unfortunate that White didn’t flip and sign during the early period, but Jimbo will have an uphill battle trying to retain White.
I’m not sure how much longer Tim Kish will be on this staff — this class certainly isn’t making his case — but White has undoubtedly seen more than enough from Norman and the Sooners to make this choice regardless of any minor offseason shakeup. Hell, his signature could even be enough to prevent said potential shakeup.
Nik Bonitto - OLB/DE, Fort Lauderdale (St. Thomas Aquinas), FL
Momentum has swung firmly toward the Sooners in the recruitment of this 6-3, 210 pound OLB/DE hybrid from Florida, where OU has had some notable recent success. Though Bonitto wasn’t ready to sign on the dotted line this month, this four-star recruit made his official visit to Norman on Dec. 15 and, apparently, left feeling like OU might be the new leader for his services. Bonitto is all set to make his announcement at the Under Armour All-America game on Jan. 4, when the Sooners will hopefully be in preparation for the national championship game. His decision may be yet another piece of good news for a surging Sooners squad, as OU would add yet another quality edge rusher to this class. Sooners fans would appreciate the energy and motor Bonitto brings on every play, and he could develop into a terror for opposing quarterbacks down the line. As recently as Dec. 19, our SB Nation buddies at Burnt Orange Nation considered Texas to be the odds-on favorite for Bonitto’s signature. But the tide turned heavily toward the Sooners just before the early period began, and Bonitto’s UA Game announcement next month could be a mere formality.
Brendan Radley-Hiles - CB, IMG Academy (Bradenton, FL)
The race for Brendan “Bookie” Radley-Hiles has been intense ever since the Rivals five-star decommitted from Nebraska on Halloween, shortly after a visit to Norman. As Radley-Hiles is good friends with OU signee and fellow IMG player T.J. Pledger, Oklahoma was naturally part of that discussion. Needless to say, the interest from Norman has been mutual. Inking two IMG talents in one class would be quite the accomplishment for Riley and the Sooners, as this is the first luck they’ve had with the Florida football hotbed.
Radley-Hiles is originally from Southern California, and his willingness to cross the country before college demonstrates his commitment to his craft. Oklahoma’s central locale is obviously no hindrance for Radley-Hiles — he was once committed to Nebraska, after all.
He could, in fact, become this class’ crown jewel. Radley-Hiles will commit at the U.S. Army All-American Bowl on Jan. 6, so OU fans won’t have to wait much longer for his answer. There is plenty of competition for the corner, with Chip Kelly’s UCLA and the defending champion Clemson Tigers still very much in the running. Even Nebraska isn’t out of the picture with a new coaching staff settling in. This will be, I suspect, a tough decision for Bookie — after all, it’s not easy to pass up an opportunity to return home after two years away. Oklahoma, however, may lead the pack as of right now. The Sooners are simply outperforming the rest of the competition on the field (with the exception of Clemson, but we’ll see), and success on New Year’s Day would certainly reinforce that message. Plus, Oklahoma is the best program for Radley-Hiles to potentially see quick playing time. OU definitely has some nice, young cornerbacks for the future, but Radley-Hiles is the kind of guy who can lock down one side of the field.
If the Oklahoma defense can approach its offensive consistency, the Sooners can dominate the Big 12 for years to come. There’s no doubt that this staff is driving home that message, and they appear to be in good position to land more elite talent for this top-10 class.
Others to keep an eye on: