As the anticipation builds for the Oklahoma Sooners home opener against Arkansas State, our attention turns to the players who are ready to make a difference this season. In this edition of “Players to Watch”, we delve into five names who are poised to make an impact this season — starting this Saturday.
Rondell Bothroyd - Frontline Force
Bothroyd enters the spotlight with a mission — to redefine the dynamics of Oklahoma’s defensive front and win the conference championship. Making waves with a transfer from Wake Forest, Bothroyd’s five-season journey paved the way for his arrival in crimson and cream. His breakout performance in 2021 saw him rack up 16.5 tackles for loss, seven sacks, and an impressive 63 tackles. And the momentum continued into 2022, with 30 tackles, eight tackles for loss and six sacks. For comparison, Oklahoma’s entire defensive line was credited with just 13 total sacks last season. Taking center stage as a starter this Saturday, Bothroyd could be the anchor for a revamped Oklahoma defensive line that sports the additions of Trace Ford, Da’Jon Terry and promising true-freshman PJ Adebawore. His knack for disrupting plays and forcing opponents off balance positions him as a linchpin of Oklahoma’s defensive success.
Jaquaize Pettaway - Speed and Promise on Display
Amidst the anticipation of several names that are poised to emerge at the receiver position this fall, true-freshman wide receiver Jaquaize Pettaway has been the one making the biggest waves in camp, capturing attention with his exceptional speed and undeniable potential. Hailing from a top-5 recruiting class, Pettaway personifies the future of Oklahoma football.
With Marvin Mims’ departure, Pettaway steps into a pivotal role. New receivers coach Emmett Jones is tasked with filling a void left by a deep-threat receiver, so Pettaway may have arrived at the perfect time for the Sooners. Jeff Lebby’s system prioritizes speed, which Pettaway brings in abundance. Add that he’ll be viewed as a third option in many situations, and that will create advantageous coverage scenarios.
Peyton Bowen - Rising Defensive Star
Among the true-freshmen vying for the spotlight, safety Peyton Bowen stands tall. Arriving as an early enrollee, Bowen wasted no time showcasing his talent during spring and summer. A glimpse of his potential came during Oklahoma’s Spring Game, intercepting a deep throw from Dillion Gabriel to the speedy Andrel Anthony.
Bowen’s rise seems inevitable. As a potential ballhawk in the secondary, his presence adds a new dimension to the Sooners’ defense. While he may not immediately supplant veterans Billy Bowman, Key Lawrence and Reggie Pearson, his involvement this Saturday marks the beginning of what could be a very special player for Oklahoma for the next couple years.
Dillon Gabriel - Mr. Consistent?
While attention veers toward fresh faces, returning quarterback Dillion Gabriel is a linchpin of Oklahoma’s offensive strategy. With impressive 2022 numbers on paper — 3,168 passing yards, 25 TDs and just six interceptions—Gabriel’s impact is undeniable. A concussion against TCU sidelined him for parts of two games, but his contributions remained solid.
The challenge for Gabriel lies in consistency. Moments of brilliance often intermingle with untimely errors. Working on situational football, he acknowledged the need for steadfast decision-making. The departure of primary targets Marvin Mims and Brayden Willis necessitates a recalibration, but Oklahoma has surrounded him with potential. As the season unfolds, Gabriel’s role in shaping the Sooners’ passing attack will be front and center.
Savion Byrd - Forging a Formidable Front
The game is won and lost in the trenches, right? Savion Byrd embodies the physicality that has defined Oklahoma’s offensive line during Bill Bedenbaugh’s tenure. As a presumptive starter, Byrd’s emergence signals a shift back toward the aggressive play style that characterized the Sooners’ best offensive line groups. In a unit steadily evolving, Byrd’s presence adds a missing element — nasty determination.
Byrd’s potential flashed in the bowl game against Florida State, providing a glimpse of his enforcer-style play. Leading a line that boasts promising names like Walter Rouse, Tyler Guyton, Andrew Raym, and McKade Mettauer, Byrd’s impact is crucial in binding their efforts into a cohesive force. As Oklahoma seeks to continue to elevate their offensive line game, Byrd’s physical prowess may well be the catalyst they’ve been seeking.