OU football: Recruiting 'number one' priority for Venables as early signing day nears

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Dec. 10—There's a long road ahead for Brent Venables when it comes to recruiting.

Since Lincoln Riley departed the Sooners nearly two weeks ago, the program has lost nine recruits between the 2022 and 2023 classes. And with early signing day on Dec. 15 rapidly approaching, Venables doesn't have a lot of time to waste.

It was no surprise that he listed recruiting as a top priority during his introductory press conference as the Sooners' new coach on Monday.

"My number one goal is to get on the road recruiting," Venables said. "[I need to] make sure that this [2022] class that is due to enroll here in the next few weeks is where it needs to be..."

Within hours of the press conference, he and assistant coach Cale Gundy had a home visit with 2022 four-star offensive tackle Jacob Sexton, who has affirmed his commitment to the Sooners since that meeting.

This week, Venables and other assistant coaches have met and sealed commitments with several recruits, including 4-star offensive tackle Jake Taylor and 4-star linebacker Kip Lewis. 2023 3-star center Joshua Bates announced on Twitter Wednesday that he remains committed to the Sooners.

Venables has also been active with potential recruits. Since Monday, he's offered scholarships to seven players, which includes 2023 4-star quarterback Nick Evers. Evans decommitted from Florida earlier this week.

During his press conference, Venables emphasized that he'll be more focused on finding players who fit with the programs' values than judging them solely based on talent.

"I think it's important that we're patient, we find the fit in regards to the recruiting process," Venables said. "Be aggressive when you need to. You know it when you see it, you know it when you don't.

"...We're going to value our offer. It's important to me, first of all, that we understand what those values are... and what the fit is."

Venables has proven his ability to recruit players before taking his first head coaching job with the Sooners. As defensive coordinator at Clemson, the Tigers secured a Top-10 class in each of the past four seasons, per 247Sports' Composite Rankings.

For Venables, his pitch to recruits is his track record of loyalty while emphasizing OU's prestige.

"I have a career, almost 30 years, of being loyal," Venables said. "Just look at my career. If I've been something, I've been loyal. I haven't been a coach that's just jumped all over. ... I think that speaks for itself. It's not an easy thing to sell. But I do think they chose Oklahoma for a reason.

"We always challenge recruits to take their recruiting coach out of it. What a wonderful place [Oklahoma] is to chase your dreams and get a great quality education, to develop holistically. and so it's much more than just one person. ... For me, for example, if they're looking for a program with stability, a program of success... [OU] has displayed that on its own."

But it's not enough to just focus on recruiting. Several current players entered the transfer portal after Riley bolted for USC, including quarterback Spencer Rattler, receivers Theo Wease and Jadon Haselwood and tight end Austin Stogner.

Venables acknowledged the transfer portal as prevalent in college football, but the hope is he can convince remaining players to stick around. That includes quarterback Caleb Williams, and Venables spoke with Williams and his father shortly after he was hired.

"The portal is a very real thing with all of your players, but I've always believed in continuing to nurture your relationships," Venables said. "Don't get so caught up in the recruiting that you lose sight of what's most important: what's in your locker room. That's the lifeblood of your program."

Above all, the focus for Venables going forward is to remain focused on the players in the program and not become too caught up with future recruiting classes.

"You spend a year recruiting some of these guys and then all of a sudden you get them and then you're on to the next and then you lose your way with the players that are in your locker room," Venables said. "And I think managing that is very important. I think it's important, and it's my responsibility, that I continually remind our staff when we get everybody in place that there's nothing that's more important than those guys in that locker room, period.

"And that other stuff can wait. And that has its urgency as well, but I think when you get that locker room right, everything else will work out accordingly."

Jesse Crittenden is the sports editor of The Transcript and covers OU athletics. Reach him at jesse@normantranscript.com or at 405-366-3580

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