NORMAN — Oklahoma didn’t get everyone they wanted on National Signing Day.
No one ever does, really.
Lincoln Riley and the Sooners were left at the alter by one coveted recruit (four-star running back Jase McClellan signed Wednesday with Alabama after a 2 ½-year verbal commitment to OU), made to wait on another (four-star defensive end Reggie Grimes reaffirmed his pledge to OU on social media but chose to postpone his actual signing until February), and did not add a quarterback — not yet, at least (four-star QB Chandler Morris remains on the wish list but Riley, given his current situation between 2019 Spencer Rattler and 2021 Brock Vandagriff, isn’t stressing over that one).
But the Sooners did add 20 newcomers in the ’20 class, and in that group got exactly what they needed for another championship run next season: immediate help on the defensive interior.
Perrion Winfrey and Josh Ellison, the No. 1 and No. 2 junior college defensive tackles in the country, according to rankings compiled by 247 Sports, will team up and take their talents to Norman next season.
Juco transfers can frequently come up short of expectations, and in that vein, Riley hopes Winfrey and Ellison are plug-and-play. Eligibility will expire for Neville Gallimore, Marquise Overton and Dillon Faamatau, and with this year’s season-ending injury to senior Kenneth Mann, that left the Sooners with a pressing need.
“The graduation is going to hit us hard there,” Riley said. “Losing Neville, Kenny Mann, Q, Dillon, all those guys, it’s going to be a big part of this class. We felt like we needed some immediate help there, some guys who had some experience.”
“Certainly, a position of need,” said defensive coordinator Alex Grinch. “Just, as you go through our depth chart through the 2019 transition into 2020, that’s the spot where you kind of have the most planned attrition in terms of the senior class as they move on past us. And so there was a major need obviously in that spot.”
Winfrey, from Maywood, Illinois, via Iowa Western Community College, is 6-foot-4, 306 pounds and is a four-star prospect, per 247 Sports and Rivals, both of which rank him as the nation’s best juco d-tackle. He chose OU over Alabama, LSU, Texas, Baylor and others, and seems equipped to be an immediate contributor.
Ellison, from College Station, Texas, via Blinn College, is 6-3, 295 and is also a four-star prospect according to 247 Sports and ESPN, both of which rank him as the second-best juco d-tackle in the country. He chose OU over Texas A&M and actually signed with the Aggies last year before rerouting to Blinn, so maybe he can step in right away.
Both will enroll early and participate in practice next spring.
Ellison has three years of eligibility, while Winfrey has two. The Sooners also landed incoming freshman Noah Arinze, a 6-5, 240-pound defensive end from Webster Grove High School in Kirkwood, Missouri. Arinze is a consensus three-star prospect who chose OU over Texas, Wisconsin, Nebraska and others.
“I’m glad we were able to add guys at different points in their careers, different times in their eligibility and being able to space them out,” Riley said.
That’s good, but not as good as adding guys who can play at a high level.
The only experienced defensive linemen returning next year are on the outside: rising junior Ronnie Perkins (team-high six quarterback sacks but reportedly suspended for next week’s College Football Playoff game against LSU because of a failed drug test), rising senior LaRon Stokes (himself a juco transfer and this year’s Big 12 defensive newcomer of the year), rising sophomore Marcus Stripling (six tackles in 13 games this season) and rising junior Isaiah Thomas (nine tackles in 19 games).
The only other defensive tackles on the OU roster who have played are rising junior Troy James (special teams and short-yardage fullback), rising sophomore Jordan Kelley (two games last year before an injury) and rising sophomore Kori Roberson (four games this season).
“How do you fill that gap?” Grinch asked.
“With Perrion in particular, he was one of the first guys to jump on board (and) really fills that need,” Grinch said. “But it’s not, ‘Let’s get a big body and plug him in there.’ You’re talking about two guys that we think possess those attributes that we’re looking for in a defensive lineman. Not just the size element of those things, but a quick first step, the ability to rush passers, all that was good.”
Said Riley, “We really felt like we got quality guys. There’s going and signing a junior college player because you think you have to. Then there’s finding the right guy or guys that you feel like can come in and make a difference. We felt like we found that. We targeted those guys.”
Formerly co-host of “Further Review” and “The Franchise Drive,” columnist John E. Hoover is a college football insider on The Franchise in Oklahoma City and Tulsa. Listen at fm107.7 in OKC, fm107.9/am1270 in Tulsa, on The Franchise app, or click the “Listen” tab on The Franchise home page. Hoover co-hosts The Franchise “Inside OU” Podcast with Brady Trantham and Rufus Alexander, and the Locked oN Sooners podcast on the Locked oN Podcast Network. He also covers the Big 12 for Sporting News and Lindy’s magazine and is a feature writer for Sooner Spectator magazine. Visit his YouTube channel at YouTube.com/c/JohnHoover, and his personal page at johnehoover.com.