NORMAN — Jerry Rice was already football's all-time greatest receiver in 2002, when he was an Oakland Raider nearing the end of a legendary career.
Several times before practices, though, he'd still approach assistant coach Jay Norvell seeking additional guidance.
“He'd come up before practice and say, ‘Coach, how's my stance? Am I coming off clean?'” Norvell said.
“I'd just scratch my head; ‘this guy's unbelievable.'”
Norvell, now Oklahoma's co-offensive coordinator and receivers coach, relayed that story to his unit Tuesday to stress the importance of details.
“The thing that made Jerry Rice so great was that he tried to do the little things better than anybody else,” Norvell said.
Norvell has recruited lots of impressive receivers to Oklahoma; they say his genuine personality was important when they made their college choices.
“He does a great job of meeting your family and making them feel comfortable with who he is,” said junior Kenny Stills. “He's not afraid to show his personality. You can tell it's not fake.
“I think that's what gets people to want to come to OU.”
But he's also able to sell the six seasons he coached in the NFL; the first four in Indianapolis, Norvell coached Marvin Harrison and Reggie Wayne, the Colts' enormously successful receiving duo during the Peyton Manning era.
Then in Oakland, he coached the likes of Rice and Tim Brown.
“Kids are always wanting to get to that next level,” Norvell said. “(NFL receivers) work their tail off, and they don't realize it. They think it's easy. To be able to share those kinds of stories I think is helpful for these guys.”
Senior quarterback Landry Jones called his current group of receivers the deepest he's had over his four seasons as a starter. That's high praise, especially considering the NCAA's all-time receptions leader, Ryan Broyles, is gone.
“Ryan was a great player and he did a lot of great things here, but I don't know if we've had the depth that we have now at wide receiver,” Jones said.
Along with Stills, Penn State transfer Justin Brown and true freshman Sterling Shepard have stepped in and made immediate impacts.
Other true freshmen — Trey Metoyer and Durron Neal — are also talented and have high ceilings, and junior-college transfer Lacoltan Bester adds to the depth.
And Oklahoma got another big boost when transfer Jalen Saunders was cleared for immediate eligibility before last weekend's 63-21 rout of Texas.
With Fresno State last year, Saunders hauled in 1,065 receiving yards and 12 touchdowns. He said that, after he'd already decided to transfer, Norvell's NFL experience made Oklahoma more attractive to him.
“I was excited because I'm a big Reggie Wayne and Marvin Harrison fan,” Saunders said. “I grew up watching them. It was a great opportunity to learn and pick up my game and learn from him.”
And now, Norvell has added another potential recruiting tool to his resume — a book on wide receivers and the skills needed to have success at the position. “Complete Wide Receiver,” will be available in bookstores in late October or early November.
“I would think it would be (helpful in recruiting),” Norvell said of his book. “I've tried to use every experience that I've had to help this program.”
But ultimately, one of Norvell's biggest recruiting assets is his experience at the level those prospects dream of reaching.
“He's been to the league,” Shepard said. “For him to coach the guys that he's coached, I think that attracts a lot of people's eyes.
“He knows what he's talking about.”