Ranking OU’s most-hyped quarterback recruits

Ranking OU’s most-hyped quarterback recruits

Recruiting fervor isn’t just a 21st-century phenomenon, so who is OU’s most-hyped quarterback recruit ever?

Berry Tramel

By Berry Tramel

| Feb 21, 2024, 6:00am CST

Berry Tramel

By Berry Tramel

Feb 21, 2024, 6:00am CST

(This story orginally appeared in Berry Tramel’s newsletter. Subscribe here).

National Signing Day came and went two weeks ago with little fanfare, primarily because the relatively new December signing date for college football has been embraced by the overwhelming majority of high school football players.

But there was a time when the first (or second) Wednesday in February was circled on the calendar and set off a hype machine on every campus.

In this age of social media and multiple recruiting services that appeal to fans’ fervor, it’s hard to believe that in the pre-internet age, recruiting could cause a wildfire. But it did.

And it got me to thinking about the players from bygone eras whose video never was shared by the masses or whose decision never was bantered about on computers. It made me wonder about recruiting hype from generation to generation, and I ended up here: ranking all the OU quarterback recruits for the last 60 years, based on incoming hype.

And no. Recent vintage players didn’t have all the hype. I used my pal Mike Brooks, the pre-eminent Sooner historian, to rank the quarterbacks. Believe it or not, Mike has ranked recruits, based on their projection, going back to 1965.

In other words, this list is not who ended up being the best quarterback, but who was considered the best QB recruit. Mike has a ranking on every Sooner signee for 60 years, and I used his order to generally group them, then used my memory and research to break the ties.

I considered only high school recruits. Transfers, from either four-year schools or junior colleges, were not included.

Here we go, ranking 60 quarterbacks in all. Spoiler alert: There are stars and busts on both ends of the list.

60. Steve Davis, 1971, Sallisaw: OU signed seven quarterbacks in 1971. Davis ranked sixth on Brooks’ list. Then he went 32-1-1 as a three-year starter and quarterbacked two national title teams.

59. Tink Collins, 1988, Ponca City: Played some in 1989, when starting QB Steve Collins was injured. But not much after that.

58. Dave Robertson, 1969, Garden Grove (California): Backed up Jack Mildren in 1970-71, then started on OU’s 11-1 team of 1972.

57. Jeff Mabry, 1971, Enid: Played a little in blowouts in 1973 and 1974.

56. Bobby Warmack, 1965, Ada: Not much fanfare when he arrived, but ended up a three-year starter and one of the heroes of the 1967 Big Eight title team that finished No. 2 in the nation.

55. Kendal Thompson, 2011, Southmoore: Not as highly-recruited as his younger brother, Casey, who ended up signing with Texas. Kendal Thompson threw 13 passes as a 2013 sophomore, then transferred to Utah.

54. Steve Collins, 1988, Ennis (Texas): Not a celebrated recruit, but when Charles Thompson’s career skidded off the rails, Collins became the starter in 1989 and part of 1990.

53. Glenn Gunter, 1971, Galena Park (Texas): I pride myself on knowing OU football history, but I must admit, I don’t remember Glenn Gunter.

52. Sam Bradford, 2006, Putnam City North: Not a big recruit. But what a quarterback, from a Heisman Trophy to the No. 1 overall pick in the NFL Draft.

51. Terence Brown, 1992, Fort Bend Willowridge (Texas): Started the 1994 Copper Bowl against Brigham Young but moved to wide receiver.

50. Paul Thompson, 2002, Leander (Texas): His signing was not celebrated, but Thompson was a long-time backup who then became the 2006 starter in the wake of Rhett Bomar’s dismissal.

49. Noah Allen, 2002, Pearland (Texas): Played a little in 2003, then transferred to Sam Houston State.

48. Drew Allen, 2009, San Antonio Alamo Heights: Played a little in 2010 and 2011, then transferred to Syracuse and quarterbacked the Orange in 2013.

47. Archie Bradley, 2011, Broken Arrow: Went with baseball and has done well — nine major-league seasons, 333 games pitched.

46. Danny Bradley, 1981, Pine Bluff (Arkansas): An incredibly underrated recruit — and underrated quarterback. Bradley was the 1984 Big Eight offensive player of the year.

45. Hunter Wall, 2000, Coppell (Texas): Played sparingly, was arrested on a marijuana charge and transferred to what is now Texas State.

44. Rodney Douglas, 1981, Lawton: Intriguing prospect who suffered a broken leg in the All-State Game at Owen Field and never played.

43. Charles Thompson, 1986, Lawton: In retrospect, it’s hard to imagine that Thompson wasn’t an all-time recruit, someone that fast with wishbone skills. CT as a redshirt freshman won Game of the Century II, but eventually his arrest on federal drug charges ended his OU career in January 1989.

42. Jay Jimerson, 1977, Norman: Summoned by Barry Switzer as a true freshman to help bail out in the 1977 Vanderbilt game, Jimerson soon enough moved to defense and played extensively as a cornerback.

41. Jarrod Reese, 1997, Seminole: Played in two games in 1998 but that was it.

40. Kyle Irvin, 1983, Tulsa Union: Some thought he had a future, but when Switzer needed an emergency starter in 1984, he turned to 17-year-old Troy Aikman, not Irvin, and Irvin eventually chose baseball.

39. Eric Moore, 1994, Dallas Carter: Not a blue-chipper, but a decent prospect who Howard Schnellenberger selected as his starting QB in 1995. But under John Blake, Moore didn’t progress much and even moved to receiver for a while.

38. Jamelle Holieway, 1985, Wilmington Banning (California): It’s hard to remember, but Holieway was not OU’s prized quarterback recruit in 1985. Barry Switzer’s staff was high on Holieway, but otherwise, demand for him was relatively light. Holieway signed in February and on New Year’s Night quarterbacked OU to a national championship victory over Penn State.

37. Nick Evers, 2022, Flower Mound (Texas): Nick Evers a better prospect than Jamelle Holieway. What a country.

36. Chandler Morris, 2020, Highland Park (Texas): A late signee (January 2020), Morris ended up being the third-team QB as a freshman and even scored a trick-play touchdown in the Big 12 Championship Game. Then Morris transferred to Texas Christian and now has transferred to North Texas.

Troy Aikman (18) made his second start as an OU quarterback in the Sooners’ 1985 opener at Minnesota, where he handed off here to Earl Johnson (5), with a block from Anthony Phillips (68). (Doug Hoke/The Oklahoman/Oklahoma Historical Society)

35. Troy Aikman, 1984, Henryetta: A solid prospect, a little higher-rated than Sam Bradford, for example, but was much better than thought. His second year on campus, Aikman was the starting QB despite the Sooners still running a form of the wishbone. A broken ankle vs. Miami changed the course of football history, and Aikman transferred to UCLA.

34. Kelly Phelps, 1978, Putnam City: PC was a quarterback factory back in the day, and Phelps was a solid wishbone prospect. He ended up starting some of 1981 and most of 1982.

33. Keith Nichol, 2007, Lowell (Michigan): A good-enough prospect that some thought he could win the job as a true freshman, but Bradford quickly emerged as the best option, and Nichol transferred to Michigan State in May 2008; he ended up a wide receiver.

32. Trevor Knight, 2012, San Antonio Reagan: A solid prospect who as a redshirt freshman initially beat out Blake Bell for the job. Knight ended up losing the job to Baker Mayfield in 2015 and transferring to Texas A&M, but Knight had some memorable games, including a rousing Sugar Bowl victory over Alabama.

31. Landry Jones, 2008, Artesia (New Mexico): Didn’t excite a ton of people, but he became a four-year starter, produced in a variety of big games and set records that likely will stand until there are no eligibility limits.

30. Justin Fuente, 1995, Tulsa Union: A quality prospect who spent two years rotating with Eric Moore in the chaotic John Blake years, before transferring to Murray State of the Ohio Valley Conference.

29. Austin Kendall, 2016, Waxhaw Cuthbertson (North Carolina): A decent prospect who constantly was billed as a quality quarterback — remember Lincoln Riley saying the Kendall/Kyler Murray derby went to the wire? — never found playing time at OU and transferred to West Virginia.

28. Gary Vorphal, 1971, Duncan: The prize among the seven quarterback signees of ‘71, Vorphal never panned out as Davis ascended to royalty.

27. Chris Robison, 2017, Mesquite Horn (Texas): Remember him? A solid prospect who was dismissed from the team before his freshman year and landed at Florida Atlantic, where he started two seasons.

26. Mike Jones, 1968, Crooked Oak: A good quarterback who wasn’t cut for the option offenses of the veer (much less the wishbone), Jones transferred to Central State (now Central Oklahoma) and became an all-American QB for the Bronchos. Jones returned to Norman and was a 16-year assistant coach, 1978-95.

25. Justice Hansen, 2014, Edmond Santa Fe: Never played for OU as the Baker Mayfield supernova exploded. Hansen transferred to Arkansas State and was a three-year starter.

24. Rick Worley, 1968, Putnam City: Maybe the first of the great PC quarterbacks, Worley never played for the Sooners.

23. Tanner Mordecai, 2018, Waco Midway (Texas): Good prospect who gave Spencer Rattler a battle royale for the starting job in 2020, then transferred to Southern Methodist and was a two-year starter, before transferring to Wisconsin.

22. Jason White, 1999, Tuttle: Good prospect who was Bob Stoops’ first big recruiting success. White went on to overcome two massive knee injuries, win a Heisman Trophy and become an all-time Sooner hero.

21. Joe McReynolds, 1973, Purcell: McReynolds was in constant trouble as a Sooner, played sparingly, transferred to Hawaii and died in New Mexico at age 26.

20. Dean Blevins, 1975, Norman: A big-time prospect in both football and basketball, Blevins gave up hoops and was OU’s season-opening starter in 1976. But when he was sidelined by an illness, Thomas Lott took over the starting job and never gave it back. Blevins became an iconic Oklahoma sportscaster.

19. Michael Hawkins, 2024, Frisco Emerson (Texas): An incoming freshman whose ranking surprised me. But I don’t argue with Mr. Brooks.

18. Rod Pegues, 1977, Gainesville: A big-time option quarterback prospect who was caught behind the long reigns of Thomas Lott and J.C. Watts, who combined to start five consecutive seasons (1976-80). By then, Pegues was playing halfback.

17. Kerry Jackson, 1972, Galveston Ball (Texas): It’s hard to rate Jackson, who was a tremendous player but whose academic standing was in question. Then-Texas coach Darrell Royal reportedly said he was surprised OU even signed Jackson. But the Sooners did sign Jackson, who was a freshman sensation, but OU soon went on NCAA probation, for having knowledge of Jackson’s transcript being altered to guarantee his eligibility.

16. J.C. Watts, 1976, Eufaula: In the mid-1970s, any player from Eufaula was a sensation, courtesy of the Selmon brothers. Turns out, Watts was worth the hype, as a two-year starting quarterback and a big-time winner.

Dec 6, 2014; Norman, OK, USA; Oklahoma Sooners running back Samaje Perine (32) celebrates with Oklahoma Sooners quarterback Cody Thomas (14) and Oklahoma Sooners tight end Blake Bell (10) after a touchdown against the Oklahoma State Cowboys during the second quarter at Gaylord Family - Oklahoma Memorial Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Mark D. Smith-USA TODAY Sports

OU quarterback Cody Thomas celebrates a Bedlam touchdown with Samaje Perine and Blake Bell in 2014. (Mark D. Smith/USA Today Sports)

15. Cody Thomas, 2013, Colleyville Heritage (Texas): Surprised Thomas was this high? I was. But he was a major QB recruit. Thomas started three games as a redshirt freshman — one vs. Patrick Mahomes, a 42-30 win over Texas Tech 42-30; another the other the game vs. Kansas when Samaje Perine rushed for an NCAA-record 427 yards; and finally the Tyreek Hill Bedlam loss — but Mayfield’s ascension ended Thomas’ QB hopes, and soon he turned to baseball, where he’s had 72 major-league at-bats.

14. Chad Davis, 1992, San Diego Mira Mesa: Arrived as the five-star heir apparent to Cale Gundy but never played for the Sooners. Davis transferred after a redshirt season, then was a two-year starter at Washington State.

13. Brent Rawls, 2001, Shreveport Evangel Christian (Louisiana): A ballyhooed recruit who unfortunately was not terribly responsible. He fell out of the back of a pickup and suffered a concussion. He missed some classes. Bob Stoops grew so frustrated, he announced a quarterback depth chart, with Rawls famously fourth-team in the summer of 2003. Soon enough, Rawls transferred to Louisiana Tech.

12. Chris Redman, 1995, Louisville Male (Kentucky): One of OU’s strangest recruiting stories. Redman signed with Illinois, got out of that letter of intent and announced he would join Howard Schnellenberger’s first OU team. Redman even was in the 1995 Sooner media guide. But he never showed up, instead landing at his hometown Louisville, where he was a four-year starter.

11. Tommy Grady, 2003, Huntington Beach Edison (California): Another strange story. Grady was a five-star QB who was Jason White’s backup in 2004. But a necessary intercession class in August 2005 forced Grady to miss practice, allowing Rhett Bomar and Paul Thompson to move to the top of the quarterback derby, and Grady announced a transfer to Utah.

10. Blake Bell, 2010, Wichita Bishop Carroll (Kansas): Bell gained fame as the short-yardage quarterback — the Belldozer, anyone? — and was thought to be Landry Jones’ successor. But Trevor Knight beat out Bell to start the 2013 season. Bell filled in for the injured Knight and had some memorable victories, like Notre Dame and Bedlam, but soon enough was a 2014 tight end. Turned out well. Bell just won another Super Bowl ring as a Kansas City Chiefs tight end.

9. Scott Hill, 1972, Hurst L.D. Bell (Texas): Remembered as Barry Switzer’s prime recruiter during the glory days of the 1980s and a headhunting safety whose hit on Tony Dorsett remains the seminal defensive play in OU history. But before all that, Hill was a Dallas Times Herald blue-chip quarterback. Many figured he would take over as QB in 1973, but Steve Davis won the job, and Hill soon moved to defense.

8. Thomas Lott, 1975, San Antonio Jay: 1975 was one of the best classes in OU history, led by Billy Sims and Reggie Kinlaw and Kenny King and Greg Roberts and the Tabor twins, and Lott was a big part of that group. He became a three-year starter and was a classic optioneer.

7. Cale Gundy, 1990, Midwest City: OU was moving away from the wishbone in Gary Gibbs’ second season as the OU coach, and Gundy was considered an indispensable recruit to jettison the transition. Gundy became the starter halfway through his freshman year, then set records the next three seasons as the Sooners entered the modern era with a passing game.

6. Spencer Rattler, 2019, Phoenix Pinnacle: Considered a can’t-miss prospect, Rattler indeed won the job as a redshirt freshman in 2020 and made all-Big 12. But the next season, he lost the job in the Texas game to true freshman Caleb Williams, and soon enough Rattler was off to South Carolina.

5. Jackson Arnold, 2023, Denton Guyer (Texas): Another can’t-miss prospect, Arnold takes over the quarterback job in 2024, coming off an uneven performance in the Alamo Bowl.

4. Eric Mitchel, 1985, Pine Bluff (Arkansas): A Parade all-American, Mitchel was billed as the far superior prospect to Jamelle Holieway, but when Troy Aikman suffered that broken ankle vs. Miami, Holieway became the starter, and Mitchel’s quarterback dreams never materialized. He spent his final years at OU as a backup halfback.

3. Caleb Williams, 2021, Washington (D.C.) Gonzaga Prep: The OU student body realized Williams’ potential, chanting for him to be inserted early in the 2021 season. When Williams got his chance after Rattler was ineffective vs. Texas, a star was born, though Williams soon enough followed Riley to Southern Cal.

2. Rhett Bomar, 2004, Grand Prairie (Texas): Mike Gundy called Bomar the best high school quarterback prospect he had ever seen, and Bomar seemed a future OU star. He redshirted in 2004 behind Jason White, then won the 2005 starting job on Week 2. Bomar played solid, not spectacular, in ‘05, then was the Holiday Bowl most valuable player. But Bomar ran afoul of Bob Stoops over NCAA rule violations, and Stoops dismissed Bomar from the team. He landed at Sam Houston State.

1. Jack Mildren, 1968, Abilene Cooper (Texas): Just so you know that hype and hyperbole wasn’t invented in the 21st century, Mildren was a massive recruit. Sports Illustrated dispatched the great Dan Jenkins to write about Mildren. The result was a landmark story, maybe 18 pages long: Pursuit of a Big Blue Chipper: The American drama of football recruiting, as observed in the case of Abilene’s No. 14, is a phenomenon both somewhat ridiculous and somewhat sublime. Mildren eventually lived up to the billing, quarterbacking OU during the transition to the wishbone and ushering in the longest era of Sooner greatness.

Bob Liggett, 258-pound Nebraska tackle, puts the pressure on Sooner passer Jack Mildren during the 1969 OU-Nebraska game. (Ron Hill/The Oklahoman/Oklahoma Historical Society)

Bob Liggett, 258-pound Nebraska tackle, puts the pressure on Sooner passer Jack Mildren during the 1969 OU-Nebraska game. (Ron Hill/The Oklahoman/Oklahoma Historical Society)

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Berry Tramel is a 45-year veteran of Oklahoma journalism, having spent 13 years at the Norman Transcript and 32 years at The Oklahoman. He has been named Oklahoma Sportswriter of the Year by the National Sports Media Association. Born and raised in Norman, Tramel grew up reading four newspapers a day and began his career at age 17. His first assignment was the Lexington-Elmore City high school football game, and he’s enjoyed the journey ever since, having covered NBA Finals and Rose Bowls and everything in between. Tramel and his wife, Tricia, were married in 1980 and live in Norman near their daughter, son-in-law and three granddaughters. Tramel can be reached at 405-760-8080 or at [email protected].

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