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OU football: Transfers abound in Tennessee trio, Micah Bowens, Robert Congel, early enrollees arrive — 3 takeaways from Lincoln Riley’s 1st offseason presser

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Sooners celebrate

In wake of National Signing Day, Oklahoma held its first press conference of the offseason. 

Head coach Lincoln Riley touched on the highly-touted transfers from Tennessee, the depth additions in Micah Bowens and Robert Congel and the 10 early enrollees that are on campus for spring football.

Here’s three takeaways from the press conference:

Tennessee transfer trio

The departures of right tackle Adrian Ealy, defensive back Tre Norwood and running back Rhamondre Stevenson to the NFL Draft left Oklahoma looking for replacements this offseason. Fortunately for the Sooners, they didn’t have to look for very long.

In a span of less than two weeks, offensive tackle Wanya Morris, defensive back Keshawn Lawrence and running back Eric Gray all announced they’d be transferring from Tennessee to Oklahoma. Riley said each player’s decision was on their own accord, but he thought the Sooners’ history with Morris and Lawrence played a role in their recruitment.

“I thought we had a pretty decent chance to land those guys,” Riley said. “And I think we were right there pretty close before they ultimately chose to go to Tennessee (out of high school). I think it was pretty natural for them, when they made the decision to leave, that this would be one of the places they consider because we built up some good relationships with (Morris and Lawrence). It’s like they took a year hiatus, but it almost feels like we recruited him.. … I think they just decided they needed a change of scenery and liked what we were doing here, so things came together pretty quickly.”

As for Gray, Riley said his situation was different from Morris and Lawrence. The Sooners didn’t heavily recruit Gray out of high school. In fact, Riley “didn’t know much about” Gray until his recruitment reopened last month. However, that didn’t stop the Memphis, Tennessee native from joining his former Volunteer teammates at Oklahoma, where he’ll accompany Kennedy Brooks, Seth McGowan and Marcus Major in a new-look running back room.

“(Gray) felt like there was an opportunity here,” Riley said. “Once he got in the portal, he reached out and expressed some interest. We evaluated him and thought he could help our football team.”

Transfers Micah Bowens II and Robert Congel

On Jan. 19 Oklahoma landed a commitment from Penn State transfer quarterback Micah Bowens, then welcomed ex-Arizona offensive lineman Robert Congel on Jan. 23.

Bowens, a former three-star prospect out of Las Vegas, Nevada didn’t play a snap for the Nittany Lions in 2020 while redshirting his freshman season. He now becomes a depth addition for a previously depleted OU quarterback room.

Oklahoma lost redshirt sophomore Tanner Mordecai and freshman Chandler Morris to SMU and TCU, respectively, via the NCAA Transfer Portal. Meanwhile, redshirt senior Tanner Schafer told SoonerScoop’s Bob Przybylo he doesn't intend to return to the sidelines in 2021.

“We were a fan of Micah coming out,” Riley said. “Obviously, (we) watched him at (Bishop Gorman High School) and what he’d done there and (we) were very aware of him. Just one of those things that we had a couple of guys leave the room, and we knew going into it we weren’t just going to take a guy to take a guy, but at the same time we thought if a viable option came up with the transfer portal at the quarterback position that we were going to take a good look at it. 

“We knew we had to start to rebuild that room back up a little bit. And so we just said, ‘hey if a guy pops up that piques our interest that we think could come here and be a good player, and obviously contribute and compete and come be what we expect out of that position, then we're going to take a look. And Micah went into the transfer portal and we liked what we saw, and we had some good conversations with him and his family and he was, again, the interest was mutual and (it) moved along pretty quickly.”

Meanwhile, Oklahoma also replenished its offensive line depth after losing Humphrey and Ealy to the draft. Besides adding Morris, the Sooners also snagged Congel, who after walking on at Texas A&M started 13 of 15 games in two seasons following his transfer to the Wildcats. 

Though he primarily played right guard for Arizona, Congel also has previous experience at center, which could prove beneficial as OU looks to discover Humphrey’s heir as snapper.

“He’s another one that had some interest when he got in the transfer portal and we really liked him on tape,” Riley said. “He reminded us of a couple of guys that we’ve had before at this position. ... And so (he’s) a guy that's played center and guard and we're going to work at both, and obviously we'll be looking to replace Creed, which can come from whether it's a current center in our program or it's shifting somebody into center, those are options that’ll be worked through. 

“But getting a guy like Robert gives us experience. It gives us some flexibility. I think he was looking for an opportunity to come to a place like Oklahoma and have a chance to compete for championships, and so we had what he was looking for and he had what we were looking for.”

Early enrollees 

The Sooners welcomed 10 freshmen from the 2021 recruiting class as early enrollees this semester.

Among those 10 players are five-stars in quarterback Caleb Williams, wide receiver Mario Williams and linebacker Clayton Smith. The rest of the early enrollees are defensive backs Latrell McCutchin and Jordan Mukes, defensive linemen Ethan Downs, Isaiah Coe and Nathan Rawlins-Kibonge, preferred walk-on quarterback Ben Harris and wide receiver Cody Jackson.

“They’ve done well,” Riley said about the group. “You know me, I’m not the one to annoy somebody right off the top, but I just think that the group has done a good job of coming in and bringing energy and being eager. They’re a confident group but they also know they’ve got a long way to go and a lot of work to do.”

In a rather strange year of recruiting players while fighting the COVID-19 pandemic, some players met Riley for the first time when moving into Headington Hall for classes, which started on campus last week. 

“It was honestly a strange feeling,” Riley said. “Like, actually seeing somebody in the flesh other than your family member or a player or staff member. Seeing them and talking to them and hugging them, I mean, it honestly felt weird.”

Early enrolling can be important for freshmen to make an early impact, as they get a semester of practice before heading into the fall season.

“It’s a tight group, it’s a talented group,” Riley said. “I think the group’s gonna have a chance to (help) down the line, but I do think the group as a whole is gonna have a chance to have on a nice impact on this team right now.”

Sports editor

Mason Young is The Daily's sports editor and covers OU football. He was previously assistant sports editor and has covered OU women's gym, wrestling and former Sooners in the NFL. Email Mason at masyoung@ou.edu and follow him on Twitter @Mason_Young_0

Chandler Engelbrecht is a journalism senior and The Daily's enterprise editor. Previously, he served as The Daily's assistant sports editor and covered OU football. He graduates in May 2022.

Assistant sports editor

Austin Curtright is a journalism junior and The Daily's assistant sports editor. He covers OU football and has previously covered OU men's basketball, softball and soccer.

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