Predicted severe weather in the Oklahoma City/Norman area this weekend kept a handful of recruits from attending the Sooner spring game on Saturday. It didn't stop Lawton (OK) defensive end DJ Ward, however, and Oklahoma's top prospect decided to give his verbal pledge to his home state's flagship football program.
As prospects like star Crete (IL) Monee wide receiver Laquon Treadwell, Chandler (AZ) Hamilton cornerback Cole Luke, and a handful of Texas recruits expected to make the trip canceled, it looked like what had been shaping up as one of most impressive spring game attendance lists for the Sooners in years could become a massive disappointment.
By necessity a national presence in recruiting, the Sooners have nonetheless had some difficulties in recent years keeping top talent in the state. While Oklahoma landed top 2012 prospect Sterling Shepard (Oklahoma City Heritage Hall), No. 2 prospect Barry Sanders Jr. bolted for Stanford, 2011 top Oklahoma prospect Josh Turner spurned the Sooners in favor of hated rival Texas, while 2010's No. 1, defensive tackle Calvin Barnett (Tulsa Booker T. Washington) and No. 3 prospect Demarco Cobbs (Tulsa Central) both left the state, with Barnett signing with Arkansas and Cobbs with Texas.
The commitment of Ward provides -- from the perspective of Oklahoma fans -- a much-needed reversal of that narrative and some momentum that head coach Bob Stoops is surely hoping can continue with prospects like Tulsa (OK) East Central cornerback Stanvon Taylor, a top defensive back target at a position of serious need in 2013.
Back to Ward, though. If fellow 2013 defensive end commit Matt Dimon (Katy, TX) flew under the radar prior to his Sooner pledge, the trajectory of Ward's recruitment offers a marked contrast. The Rivals four-star prospect is a national top 100 player (No. 99) and one of the top weakside defensive ends in the country by that service (No. 3).
At 6'2, 240 pounds, it's no wonder that Ward is a projected power end at the next level but, like Dimon, he's likely to end up that position because of where his body will take him as he matures, rather than a lack of quickness to rush the quarterback.
In fact, Ward is an excellent pass rusher in high school who doesn't necessarily have an advanced understanding of how to use his hands or the type of pass rushing moves he will need at the college level when offensive lineman are able to get their hands on him. He does show a nice understanding of how to use subtle shoulder fakes and hesitations inside or outside to get his opponents off balance. As a result, he should still be effective rushing the quarterback in college, even without that elite first step off the edge.
Against the run, his presence often forces teams to run away from him, allowing him to show off his persistent motor by chasing down plays from the backside. Even when teams try to option him off, he can use his body control and reactive quickness to track down smaller running backs.
Oklahoma still has major pressing needs in the 2013 class, but landing Ward serves notice to those trying to recruit the Sooner State that Bob Stoops and company aren't going to let top talent escape from under their collective noses.
D.J. Ward (junior highlights) (via 247SportsStudio)
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