NORMAN — The last time Oklahoma football entered a season with so few experienced pass catchers, freshmen named Curtis Fagan, Damian Mackey, Antwone Savage, Trent Smith and Andre Woolfolk were called upon.
If the Sooners' 2012 newcomers at wide receiver and tight end are anything like those guys, Oklahoma might be OK after all.
The year was 1999, and Bob Stoops was preparing for his first season as the Sooners' coach. The only receiver back with any experience to speak of was senior Jarrail Jackson.
“For us, we were all just so damn happy to be in the mix so early,” Smith said. “The thought that we were freshmen never crossed our mind or entered our thinking about how successful we could be.”
If the indefinite suspensions of Trey Franks, Kameel Jackson and Jaz Reynolds last through the season opener — Sept. 1 at UTEP — Kenny Stills will be the only active receiver or tight end on the roster with a career NCAA Division I reception.
“I'm very excited that I get a chance to come in and contribute early,” said incoming freshman wideout Durron Neal. “I don't believe in pressure. When your number is called, that's when it's time for you to step up.”
True freshman Trey Metoyer showed his potential in April's spring game, when he grabbed six catches for 72 yards. In addition to Metoyer and Neal, OU signed freshmen Sterling Shepard and Derrick Woods, and junior college transfers Courtney Gardner and LaColtan Bester.
Gardner is still working to complete academic requirements and be cleared at OU, and Bester was signed just last weekend.
The Sooners also added three tight ends, and two of them — junior college transfer Brannon Green and freshman Taylor McNamara — enrolled early to participate in spring football.
There are, of course, key differences between 1999 and 2012.
“The talent level at OU is so much higher than it was when I played,” Smith said. “Just on paper, they are 10-times the team we ever were.”
Unlike this season, the Sooners had a new quarterback in 1999 — a junior-college transfer named Josh Heupel — offensive coordinator Mike Leach was installing a new offense and the Sooners were working to end a streak of five straight non-winning seasons.