Template is there for Latu to start

When Will Latu thinks of his football future, he likes to think of Phil Loadholt.

After transferring to Oklahoma from junior college five years ago, Loadholt sat out the spring, but won a starting job by the fall and became a second-round draft pick of the Minnesota Vikings.

"I'm in the same situation Phil was," Latu said in a recent phone conversation. "That is crazy what he accomplished, especially coming from junior college. I'm ready to come in and fulfill the dreams he did."

The similarities between Latu and Loadholt are scary. Both originally committed to SEC schools out of junior college (Loadholt with LSU, Latu with Auburn), but were dropped because of SEC eligibility standards. Both turned to OU, but couldn't take part in spring ball like many other juco player. Loadholt broke his foot and spent his first spring rehabbing. Latu remains in California completing his classwork.

The Sooners are hoping the comparisons don't stop there. Loadholt anchored left tackle for two seasons in Norman, then went on to win a starting job at right tackle with the Vikings.

Latu isn't quite as big as Loadholt, but at 6-foot-5, 320 pounds, he's still a load. And because he only played one year of high school football, Latu has plenty of potential still to be tapped.

"Some people have been playing football their whole life," Latu said. "I've only been playing it three years now. I've been doing most of this off natural ability. I've got a lot room to get better."

Thanks to a scheme hatched by Latu's dad and the St. Petersburg (Fla.) Gibbs High School coach, Latu was talked into going out for football his senior season. Latu became an instant starter on the Gibbs offensive line, but because he was an unknown to college recruiters, he didn't have a single Division I scholarship offer. But Latu still saw football as a way to better his life. And so he went the Division II rout, before later enrolling College of Canyons in Santa Clarita, Calif., where he would develop into one of the top junior college offensive linemen in the country.

Latu first committed to Auburn, but the Tigers rescinded their offer after learning Latu wouldn't qualify in the SEC. Following a brief flirtation with West Virginia, Latu settled on the Sooners.

"All the things I found at Auburn I found at Oklahoma and more," he said. "The offensive linemen constantly get to the NFL. Me and Coach [Bruce] Kittle really had a good time recruiting me. Everything worked out for best, and I'm glad with my decision."

Like fellow junior college transfer Courtney Gardner, Latu is finishing off some requisite classwork he needs to complete before enrolling at OU. He's scheduled to graduate on May 29, and is planning to depart for Norman on June 1, giving him several days to settle in before summer workouts begin.

To stay sharp, Latu has been working out with the Canyons football team this spring, in the weight room and on the field. He's still not sure how the Sooners will use him, whether on the right or left side. Daryl Williams has seemingly locked down a starting job at right tackle, while Lane Johnson and Tyrus Thompson remain in a battle for the starting role at left tackle.

But Latu has the tools to factor into the rotation, as well. And as Loadholt proved, it's not unthinkable for a junior-college tackle to arrive in the summer and make an instant impact in Norman.

"When I first step on campus, I'm not going to be that cocky guy from junior college who thinks he's going to take step in and be the guy right away," Latu said. "I'm going to learn from the other guys, take notes and focus on getting better every day.

"But don't get me wrong -- I want to start. And I'm going to work as hard as I can to win that starting spot. I have all summer and fall camp to prove myself. That's enough time to get the ball rolling, and let the coaches see what potential I got."