'Cali Trio' opens up new pipeline

NORMAN, Okla. – Moments after the nation's No. 3 running back, Keith Ford, verbally committed to Oklahoma in March, Kenny Stills got on Twitter.

"Another commit for the trio," Stills tweeted.

Boisterous and bold, the "Cali Trio" has become an Oklahoma cornerstone. As playmakers on the field, and as ace recruiters off it.

"When you sign them, you always expect them to have great careers," Bob Stoops said. "Fortunately, these guys have all done really well."

Stills leads the offense in receiving. Tony Jefferson leads the defense in tackling. And Brennan Clay, finally healthy, has sparked the ground game with the two best performances of his career in consecutive wins.

"It's been fun to see them mature over these three years," Stoops said. "They're all wonderful young people, great teammates. They do a great job recruiting, they're very personable.

"They've all had excellent careers, and have contributed greatly."

Contrary to popular belief, the three San Diegoans didn't have a pact to come to Norman together. Each blue-chipper had his own reason. Stills wanted to learn from Ryan Broyles. Jefferson wanted a stable coaching staff. Clay, the first to commit, just wanted something different.

But all three were friends as prep stars in the same community. And as Stills put it, "Brennan and Tony coming here just helped make the decision easier."

OU had a pipeline to California during the Barry Switzer era. From 1979-88, the Sooners brought in 18 Californians, including wishbone whiz Jamelle Holieway. But after Switzer's resignation, the pipeline gradually dried up until the trio opened it back up for business. The Sooners have signed three more Californians since, with another commitment on the way in Fresno safety Hatari Byrd. In every case, the trio had a huge hand in convincing those kids to give OU a look.

"Those guys have had a tremendous influence on recruiting because they love to socialize, they love to recruit," receivers coach Jay Norvell said. "You get 'em all together and get 'em with a bunch of kids, they have a pretty good time."

All told, the trio has helped land the Sooners close to 20 players, depending on who you ask. Among those include leading rusher Damien Williams and Fresno State transfer Jalen Saunders, who had 15 catches in the loss to Notre Dame.

"I'd probably say we've recruited 17-18 guys, and only three or four of them didn't commit," said Stills, who has more than 38,000 followers on Twitter, which he uses to recruit. "We're a friendly group of guys and we're going to tell you the truth. We're not going to B.S. you and tell you what's not going on and what isn't. I feel like (recruits) trust us and that's why they want to be part of our family."

But as much as the trio has contributed in recruiting, they've been even more valuable on the field. Both with their production and with their attitude.

"They bring a lot of confidence and swag," defensive end R.J. Washington said. "High-energy, high-motor, trash-talking ... you need guys like that."

Clay, who's dealt with nagging injuries his first two seasons, has finally shown what he's capable of when 100 percent. Starting in place of an injured Williams, Clay rushed for 157 yards and a touchdown two weeks ago in the win over Iowa State. He added rushing and receiving touchdowns last weekend against Baylor.

"Tony and Kenny have been balling out," Clay said. "It feels good being able to get the ball and make plays out there now, too."

Meanwhile, Stills is already the fourth-leading receiving in OU history with 2,317 receiving yards. He leads the Sooners this season with 54 catches and six touchdowns.

"Kenny -- if they let coaches have tattoos and mohawks -- would make a great coach someday," Norvell said. "He's a smart guy, he understands the game and he can talk the game. He's also been our No. 1 recruiter since he's been here."

A three-year starter like Stills, Jefferson is having the best season by an OU safety since fellow California native Roy Williams won the Thorpe Award in 2001. Jefferson already has 79 tackles -- 25 more than any other player on the roster.

"When we all came here, this was our goal," Jefferson said. "Now all three of us are making plays, contributing effectively.

"We're assets to this team, and you can't ask for much more than that."