Sooners close strong on signing day

November and December weren't the best of times for Oklahoma football fans. After a solid start to the 2011 season, the Sooners struggled on and off the field down the stretch.

And on the recruiting trail. Slowly but surely, some of the top targets that OU was gunning for were no longer considering the Sooners. The No. 1-ranked prospect in the nation and Florida State signee Mario Edwards (Denton, Texas/Ryan) even went as far to say there was a negative vibe on campus during his official visit to OU in December.

Those days are in the rear view mirror though, as the Oklahoma coaching staff finished with a flurry on national signing day, receiving seven commits since Sunday and ending up with a class of 26 signed recruits from 11 different states.

The Sooners made the biggest impact this week in two different areas, junior college products and at defensive back.

OU had no junior college recruits the last two seasons, but the Sooners were not afraid to look the juco route this year. The Sooners signed three in December in cornerback Kass Everett (Philadelphia/Pierce College), defensive end Chaz Nelson (Columbus, Ohio/Garden City CC) and tight end Brannon "Moose" Green (Altamont, Kan./Fort Scott CC).

And OU added three more this week, starting Sunday with the addition of offensive tackle Will Latu (St. Petersburg, Fla./College of the Canyons). Latu, 6-foot-5 and 315 pounds, helped soften the blow since OU wound up being on the outside looking in with offensive tackle Zach Banner (Lakewood, Wash./Lakes).

But the additions of running back Damien Williams (San Diego/Arizona Western College) and wide receiver Courtney Gardner (Reno, Nev./Sierra College) is the story of OU's signing day.

Williams and Gardner are going to make an immediate impact when they step on campus. How confident is OU about Gardner? Kenny Stills tweeted Wednesday that Gardner is the best wide receiver in the 2012 class.

Gardner committed to Arkansas in December, but OU wide receivers coach Jay Norvell made a big impression on the recruit in the last month. So much so that planned visits to Florida and Florida State were canceled in January.

Gardner made his official visit to OU last weekend, and things went so well that it was reported Arkansas had practically accepted that Gardner was heading to Norman, Okla.

Williams fills a need that didn't really exist at midseason, until injuries and transfers changed the landscape of running back dramatically. He rushed for more than 1,900 yards in 2011, and his coach Tom Minnick said he would have rushed for a lot more but he was taken out in blowout wins.

Minnick praised Williams for his all-around ability, saying he is also a top-notch receiver out of the backfield. Williams visited OU two weeks ago and went to Texas Tech last weekend after originally having committed to Arizona State.

OU also had to shore up its secondary after a pair of de-commitments in January. The Sooners did that Monday with the addition of Zack Sanchez (Keller, Texas/Central). A three-star recruit, Sanchez switched OU from Baylor.

Sanchez has been an OU fan for a long time, and once Mike Stoops returned to OU as the defensive backs coach, he quickly rose up the Sooners' board.

The good news got better with three-star athlete Gary Simon (St. Petersburg, Fla./Gibbs) signing with OU on Wednesday. He picked OU over Iowa State and Arkansas.

Simon might be the most underrated three-star prospect in the class. The Tampa/St. Petersburg area produced a lot of talent in 2012. And in talking to people who cover the area, most believe the top two defensive players were Simon and Eric Striker (Seffner, Fla./Armwood). Both are going to be Sooners.

OU definitely missed out on some prospects Wednesday but none of it came as a shock. Wide receiver Nelson Agholor (Tampa, Fla./Berkeley Prep) chose USC, while No. 1-ranked receiver Dorial Green-Beckham (Springfield, Mo./Hillcrest) became a hometown hero by picking Missouri. Cornerback Colin Blake (San Antonio/Brandeis) picked Florida State over OU and TCU.

The Sooners also won head-to-head battles in getting tight end Sam Grant (Lakewood, Ohio/St. Edward) and defensive end Michael Onuoha (Edmond, Okla./Santa Fe).

Both are three-star prospects, and Grant chose OU over Michigan on Monday, while Onuoha surprised some by taking the Sooners instead of Missouri on Tuesday night.

Bob Przybylo covers football and basketball recruiting for SoonerNation. He can be reached at bprzybyloespn@gmail.com.

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