NORMAN — After the 34-point loss Dec. 3 in Stillwater, Oklahoma had 13 commitments in its 2012 recruiting class.
There was plenty of time until February, but morale was decidedly low. The Sooners had lost three regular-season in a season in which one defeat would have set off disappointment.
Even with the ensuing tumult of coaching changes, and the boost of the program's third consecutive bowl victory, Oklahoma and its staff sprinted with vigor toward the finish line.
By Wednesday's Signing Day, it had doubled the size of the class after the end of the regular season.
“I thought we really completed the class in a great way,” OU coach Bob Stoops said during a Wednesday afternoon news conference. “I felt, more than anything, that we answered all of our needs.”
Oklahoma had particular voids at the skill positions, tight end and the secondary. To that, it signed three running backs, six wide receivers, three tight ends, two cornerbacks and a linebacker that could soon be moved to safety.
Of those specific 15 additions, nine came from Dec. 7 until Wednesday. St. Petersburg, Fla., cornerback Gary Simon was the first to commit and sign on Signing Day, followed by junior college players Courtney Gardner and Damien Williams.
Both Gardner, a receiver, and Williams, a running back, wowed coaches with their highlight tapes. Gardner is 6 foot 3 and 215 pounds. Williams is 6 foot 1 and 215 pounds. They both purportedly run 4.4-second 40-yard dashes.
The last two players to sign, they're the highlights of the junior college portion of the class. And the JUCO route was crucial to what the Sooners wanted – and needed – to do, because of attrition.
Offensive tackle Will Latu committed this past weekend. Cornerback Kass Everett and tight end Brannon Green did in December. Defensive end Chaz Nelson gave his verbal a couple of weeks before that.
The six junior college players are thought to be the most taken by OU in the modern era, and certainly since Stoops arrived in 1999.
“I felt we had more immediate needs this year than maybe at some other times,” Stoops said.
Cornerbacks Zack Sanchez and Gary Simon were added this week, thanks in part to new-slash-old defensive coordinator Mike Stoops' work to hit the recruiting trail after his Jan. 13 return.
“The transition was easy for me to come in here and sell Oklahoma,” Mike Stoops said. “Those factors helped in being able to keep some of the players we had and get some other ones.”
Willie Martinez's firing and Brent Venables' decision to leave for Clemson were a part of De'Vante Harris and Kevin Peterson's reasons for decommitting, but Mike Stoops feels strongly about the potential of both Sanchez and Simon.
He said most players were receptive to the coaching changes, which also included last week's hiring of linebackers coach Tim Kish.
“Oklahoma is Oklahoma. It's one of the premiere programs in all of football and Bob is one of the premiere coaches in all of football,” Mike Stoops said. “Those two things aren't going to change.”
What seems to be evolving, to some extent, is the Sooners' focus. Ten of the 25 players were from Texas (seven) and Oklahoma (three). But that left a lot of the country. OU went to places such as suburbs of Washington, Chicago and Cleveland, Ohio, to round out the class.
Additionally, it continued recruiting success in California (three) and Florida (four).
“I think it's a credit of being able to go where the best players are and bringing them back home,” said Jay Norvell, OU's receivers coach and co-offensive coordinator.
Norvell racked up some frequent flier miles, hopping coast to coast, to chase players in the class. His haul at receiver had him smiling and smoking a cigar in a picture he posted on Twitter just after noon Wednesday.
Perhaps the highest-impact freshman, St. Louis' Durron Neal, was the first prospect to send in his letter of intent. It came through OU's fax machine at 7:01 a.m.
Heritage Hall's Sterling Shepard, Los Angeles' Derrick Woods and Texas' Daniel Brooks followed. Trey Metoyer, a 2011 commit who was in prep school this past fall, enrolled last week.
Gardner was the last of the receiver signees, going back on a December commitment to Arkansas to join the Sooners.
“We didn't go into it looking for a junior college receiver, but we kind of made the decision to do it,” Norvell said. “When we did, we jumped in at 100 miles an hour. We were able to flip the kid. It was just something we decided to do.”
It was symbolic of the coaches' surging commitment to gaining commitments.
“I think this staff did a hell of a job in this last month,” Norvell said. “We really did a lot of good things in recruiting to finish strong. That was important for us to do that.”
OU'S FURIOUS FINISH
The Sooners had 13 recruits committed the day after its Bedlam loss to Oklahoma State. Here's a look at the verbal commitments it received after Dec. 3, all of whom signed Wednesday.
TE Brannon Green*
WR Derrick Woods
CB Kass Everett*
TE Taylor McNamara
RB David Smith
OT Will Latu*
CB Zack Sanchez
DE Michael Onuoha
WR Courtney Gardner*
CB Gary Simon
RB Damien Williams*
* junior college recruits.