Flashback in time just seven months ago, the college football world was set into a frenzy when Lincoln Riley abruptly left OU and took the head coaching job at USC. This proved to be just the first domino to fall in the process, as Riley eventually took multiple OU players with him to chase national championships in Hollywood.
After a long and dragged out process, freshman QB sensation Caleb Williams announced he would be taking his talents to LA as well. This left the OU fanbase in an even bigger state of shock, as the question became, “who will OU’s QB replacement be.”
Fast forward to present day, and the hype around OU football is back and arguably bigger than ever. Although most fans are certain OU made a home-run hire by bringing in Brent Venables as head coach, a lot of the hype within the program stems from the QB they acquired in the transfer portal.
Enter Dillon Gabriel. Reigning from the aloha state, Gabriel quickly gained attention in high school after breaking the all-time Hawaii passing record with 9,438 career yards while at Mililani. The broken records did not come without struggle, however, as Gabriel was launched into action as a Freshman, due to future UCF and Florida State QB McKenzie Milton suffering an injury. Gabriel ended up facing a premature season himself, going down with a shoulder injury.
Although fans were only given a glimpse of Gabriel’s full potential, Mililani head coach Rod York knew what kind of talent he had.
“In ninth grade, I wish he hadn’t gotten hurt. I had full confidence in him. He could throw all the throws. The speed-out and the most difficult, over the middle ‘backers and under the safeties. If you can make those two throws, you can make any throw. You’re one hell of a quarterback.”
High praise for a quarterback who had barely tapped into his full arsenal.
After being named Hawaii Gatorade player of the year, Gabriel started producing national attention. While he only gained three stars from the recruiting media, Gabriel was destined to prove his doubters wrong. Although Georgia and USC made late pushes for DG, he ultimately committed to UCF.
Similar to his high school experience, Gabriel was thrown into the fire at UCF during his freshman season. Winning the starting job after the first game of the season, Gabriel displayed his immense talent for the rest of the year, finishing with 3,398 yards to go along with 27 touchdowns and 7 interceptions.
While the touchdown to interception ratio was good, turnovers did haunt Gabriel at times during the season. In perhaps their biggest game of the year against Cincinnati, Gabriel threw three interceptions, with the most notable one being a 16-yard pick-six courtesy of newly drafted Cornerback Sauce Gardner.
Although UCF’s record took a step back in 2020, finishing 6-4, DG continued to produce impressive games. In a 50-49 loss at the hands of Memphis that season, Gabriel threw for 601 yards and five touchdowns.
Entering his third season at UCF, expectations were high, as many believed Gabriel had the tools to lead the Knights back to a New Year’s six bowl.
Instead, DG was hit with the injury bug yet again, breaking his clavicle on the last drive of the game against Louisville in just the third game of the season.
Overall, Gabriel amassed 8,037 yards, 70 touchdowns and 14 interceptions during his tenure at UCF. While he never lacked success, DG decided it was time to move on from Orlando and take his talents to another program.
Originally committing to UCLA, Gabriel was set to become the Bruins signal caller up until Lincoln Riley and Caleb Williams flipped the college football world upside down.
Once OU brought in Head Coach Brent Venables and Ole Miss Offensive Coordinator Jeff Lebby, mutual interest between the two sparked. After all, Lebby was Gabriel’s offensive coordinator during his time at UCF. This made backing out of his commitment to UCLA far easier, as Gabriel eventually signed with OU January 3rd, ending the Sooners QB search.
When asked about OU’s newest coaches, Gabriel had many positive things to say.
(On Venables) “He speaks with conviction. It’s infectious to not just me, but the whole locker room.”
(On Lebby) “He loves to take shots.” He loves to be super aggressive, play fast, physical and fearless. Those are three components that I feel like I line up with.”
With an early season test against an old foe in the Nebraska cornhuskers, Gabriel will have his work cut out for him.
Next weekend in Arlington Sooner fans will get their initial taste of the talented quarterback. Gabriel will be the first OU QB to represent the school at Big 12 media days since Baker Mayfield in 2017.
OU opens the season on September 3rd against UTEP at Gaylord Memorial Stadium.