Recapping Oklahoma's 2008 class
Bad luck, misfortune kept highly touted Sooners class from realizing potential
NORMAN, Okla. -- Bob Stoops had never signed a recruiting class that looked as good on paper as the Class of 2008.
The class featured the bluest of blue chips, including a running back duo and a receiving trio that were the envy of college football. The Sooners also raided Texas like it was 1956 and inked a record eight recruits from the ESPN 150.
"Kind of a hard-luck, star-crossed group," said Merv Johnson, OU's director of football operations. "You had optimistic hopes for that class, and for whatever reason it didn't pan out."
Of 21 signees, only quarterback Landry Jones, punter Tress Way and defensive linemen Casey Walker and David King started for the Sooners in the AT&T Cotton Bowl last month. Though never fully embraced by the fan base, Jones started four seasons, broke nearly every passing record and won more games than any quarterback in OU history. Way, Walker and King and tight end James Hanna, who graduated last year, had solid careers, too..
But the way the rest of the 2008 class didn't pan out warrants unique distinction in school history.
"I've actually thought about that a lot," said defensive end R.J. Washington, one of the consensus top two prospects to come out of Texas in 2008, along with running back Jermie Calhoun. "As things kept happening, it was like, 'Dang.'
"I can't really explain it."
Much of it is difficult to explain -- especially the first player OU lost from the class. Herman Mitchell was on his way to a high school football scrimmage when he was shot and killed outside his Houston apartment. The highly-touted safety had committed to the Sooners just two months before.
Others from the class didn't make it to two-a-days.
Three others from the class didn't make it to two-a-days, including junior college safety David Sims because of academics. He resurfaced at Iowa State, where he became the Big 12's defensive newcomer of the year in 2009.
Offensive tackle Britt Mitchell, who graduated early to participate in spring drills, quit during summer workouts to join the United States Marine Corps. Mitchell, however, decided the Marines weren't for him and transferred to UTEP, though he never ended up starting.
He initially transferred to Troy, but ended up at Arkansas State after getting in trouble again. As a senior this past season, Jarboe had 50 catches and four touchdowns for the Sun Belt champion Red Wolves.
Jarboe wasn't the only reason the recruiting services considered the Sooners to have the best receiving class in recruiting that year. Jameel Owens and Dejuan Miller were almost as highly touted. Owens, however, transferred to Tulsa after one year, then altogether dropped football. He's now back at OU pursuing a graduate degree.
Miller emerged as a sophomore with a big game against Texas in 2010. But the following week he tore up his knee and was never the same.
"Jameel had a lot of advanced billing, but I don't think he really displayed here or Tulsa the speed and athleticism you have to have to play. He was always more like an ex-tight end trying to be a wide receiver," Johnson said.
"Dejuan, you felt like he was beginning to come on, then he got hurt, and never was able to outstrip the competition from that point on. I always thought he was a guy that was a pretty good player, but he was never able to get his reps."
The Sooners' top-notch running backs didn't last long, either. Justin Johnson transferred to Abilene Christian after just one season. Calhoun bolted the next year.
"I think about [the decision to leave] almost every day," said Calhoun, who will be entering his final season of eligibility at Division II Angelo State in Texas. "I wanted to stick it out, but I had DeMarco Murray in front me for a couple of years, and he dang near was taking all the reps. The coaches I felt like had moved on. I wanted to find coaches that believed in me."
So did Johnson, who completed his eligibility at McMurry (Texas) University and is now playing semi-pro ball in Wichita Falls, Texas. Johnson also said the prospects of backing up Murray for two more years prompted him to leave.
"That class, we knew we had potential," Johnson said. "We just didn't get the opportunities. It's still real hard to talk about."
Five-star offensive lineman Stephen Good became a career backup despite being the strongest player on the team all four years.
ESPN 150 linebacker Daniel Franklin and defensive backs Joseph Ibiloye and Lamar Harris also played sparingly over five seasons in Norman despite showing promise early. Franklin got buried on the depth chart, Ibiloye never found a position and Harris battled nagging injuries throughout his career.
"Injuries kept Lamar from really having a chance to display the speed and athleticism he really had," Merv Johnson said. "Running and jumping, he was on par with anybody that's been here. But he was always in the training room."
Injuries kept others from reaching their full potential. Walker was banged up throughout his tenure, as was King, Merv Johnson said.
"David had a really good career, but he had some problems with shin splints," Johnson said. "More aggravation than injury. But it kept him out of some practices and I don't know that he always totally healthy."
Injuries ended the career of Ben Habern. The All-Big 12 center missed most of the 2011 season with a broken forearm, then had to give up football completely just before last season because of a bad back and neck.
Nobody, however, underscored the hard luck of the class like Mike Balogun. The 25-year-old junior college transfer had won a starting job going into the 2009 season. But two weeks before the opener, the NCAA decertified Balogun's eligibility because he had played in a semi-pro football league while working construction before he had enrolled in junior college. The NCAA denied Balogun's appeal a month later, effectively ending his college career before it had basically begun.
"Kinda crazy and bizarre, everything that happened to our class," Washington said. "A lot of great talent.
"But it never seemed to work out how we figured it would."
MORE COLLEGE FOOTBALL HEADLINES
- Longhorns 'shocked, upset' by resignation
- UW coach: Rules claims are 'untrue attacks'
- Report: BC, Irish discussing Fenway game
- Bama LB Dickson suspended for Sugar Bowl
MOST SENT STORIES ON ESPN.COM
Oklahoma Sooners 2013 Recruiting
- Nike Men's Oklahoma Sooners #10 Crimson Football Legend Performance T-Shirt