NORMAN — History and tradition made Oklahoma an attractive option for junior college tight end prospect Isaac Ijalana.
“I wanted to be part of it,” Ijalana said in a telephone interview with The Oklahoman.
The 6-foot-5, 235-pounder also saw an opportunity to revive the tight end position at Oklahoma, where it has all but disappeared the last two seasons.
Ijalana was one of two prospects — along with linebacker Devante Bond — to sign with the Sooners on Wednesday, the first day of the winter junior-college signing period.
But for Ijalana to reach this point, he had to endure a strange, confusing month during which he committed, decommitted and then recommitted to OU.
The three-star prospect is originally from New Jersey and played his first season at Lackawanna College in Pennsylvania. He transferred to Pierce Community College in Los Angeles for the 2013 season, and before long began picking up NCAA Division I scholarship offers.
He visited Norman on Nov. 15, and called tight ends coach Jay Boulware right after returning to Los Angeles and committed to Oklahoma.
But a couple weeks later, Ijalana was told one of his science classes wouldn't transfer to OU, causing him to decommit.
“Coach (Bob) Stoops reached out to me the day after I decommitted,” Ijalana said. “He said he'd do whatever he could to help. … We stayed on good terms.”
Even though he found out a few days after decommitting that the science class would actually transfer to OU, Ijalana wanted to diligently consider his options.
“I knew where I wanted to go at the end of the day, but I just wanted to visit some other schools and see what they had to offer,” Ijalana said.
He visited Purdue before calling Boulware on Dec. 15 to again give his commitment.
Ijalana said he'll enroll at OU for the spring semester and participate in spring practices.
He's one of two tight end commitments in the Sooners' 2014 signing class — Tulsa Union's Carson Meier is also committed — but Ijalana's experience could give him a very realistic shot at immediate playing time.
Oklahoma boasts a rich tradition at the tight end position, but over the past two seasons, OU tight ends have rarely contributed to the offense.
Fullbacks Trey Millard and Aaron Ripkowski played the position much of this year, and over the past two seasons, senior Brannon Green has caught the only four passes for any of Oklahoma's true tight ends on the roster.
Boulware said last month that recruiting tight ends would be easier if the Sooners had a player like former All-American Jermaine Gresham about to leave, but that his job is to show recruits that OU has a great tradition at the position, even if it's been lacking in recent years.
“Those five-star tight ends see a guy that they can try to imitate, and so that's what they look for,” Boulware said. “What we're trying to do is convince them that, ‘Hey, look, you know, here's a guy who was here in the past, in the same style of offense and they were very productive.'
“When you get kids who are really smart, they see that. They see the productivity that tight ends have had in this offense.”
That sales pitch has obviously worked on Ijalana, who said Wednesday that he's studied film of Gresham — now with the Cincinnati Bengals — and believes he can be that type of player in Norman.
“I feel like I can bring that position back to life,” Ijalana said. “The reason why the tight end position hasn't made as big a mark down there recently is because they haven't had a decent athlete to play that position, so it's a great opportunity.”