Editor’s Note: This is Part 5 of a 14-part series on Oklahoma’s early enrollees in the 2023 recruiting class.
Many times, graduating high school early and launching one’s college football career pays off. Many times, it doesn’t.
While early enrollees are navigating new realms of pain and commitment, a lot of their friends are back home — playing basketball, running track or just hanging out and taking full advantage of the affliction known as “senioritis.”
In Oklahoma’s case, 14 newcomers have chosen to make that sudden transition from boys to men. Jerry Schmidt’s winter workouts might seem impossible at first, and then the summer grind is even harder. In between, the coaching staff takes over, and spring football practice puts them ahead of their summer counterparts.
In this series, AllSooners examines each of the 14 newcomers and projects their impact on Brent Venables’ football team in 2023.
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When he was on his official visit to Oklahoma, coaches and players gave cornerback Kendel Dolby a few tips and pointers to keep an eye on.
He had seen Brent Venables’ defenses on TV at Clemson. He had seen the Sooners perform from a distance.
But watching everything unfold up close, live and in person, was different.
“We all know Coach Venables,” Dolby told AllSooners. “When he was back at Clemson, he’s a defensive mastermind. Like, he’s known for that. So they were telling me to look for all the little blitzes and plays that they run, stuff like that.”
That was a cold Saturday November night in Norman, when a lively crowd and a dominant defense propelled the Sooners to a 28-13 win.
The Sooners sacked Spencer Sanders six times and came away with four interceptions. Safeties coach Brandon Hall illustrated what Dolby and the two dozen other recruits could expect to see, and it all came to fruition.
“Basically what he was saying, it’s a rebuild for Coach V,” Dolby said. “So like, he’s trying to get dudes into the system and learn the system, but they were all saying the defense is gonna take off. Like, you’d better trust it. And I was able to see that. I seen a couple of sacks, them big dudes got sacks, I seen some picks, you could tell they were putting a lot of pressure on Oklahoma State, so I was able to see that.”
Background: Dolby was a Division I prospect out high school, but academics forced him to go juco. In two seasons at NEO, he made 68 tackles, six TFLs, two interceptions and eight passes defensed. He played every game as a freshman then played eight games his sophomore season, when he was named Southwester Junior College Football Conference Defensive Player of the Year. Dolby picked OU over offers from Arkansas, Oklahoma State, Washington, Washington State and others.
2023 Projection: As it stands now, OU returns both starting cornerbacks in Woodi Washington and Jaden Davis. Both are experienced players and both had a good 2022, although Davis endured an injury. C.J. Coldon started the final four games for Davis but has since graduated. Kendall Dennis and Joshua Eaton transferred and D.J. Graham moved to receiver. That leaves sophomore Kani Walker, redshirt freshman Jayden Rowe and sophomore Gentry Williams to compete with Dolby. Dolby is athletic and versatile enough that he could step into another DB position, but he seems best suited for corner.
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Dolby was so excited he committed to Venables and the Sooners after the game, in the locker room. He has expressed humility and gratitude ever since.
“Basically,” Dolby said, “it goes back to when I first met Coach Hall.”
Dolby is one of 25 newcomers in the Sooners’ 2023 recruiting class, but he’s the only junior college transfer. An All-America cornerback at Northeastern A&M College, Dolby took the juco route, he said, because he didn’t take academics seriously enough in high school back in Springfield, OH. He said grades were never a problem at NEO after he refocused.
“I was hungry,” he said. “It made me even more hungry. Like, ‘You gotta do this. It took a little extra to figure it out, but I figured it out.”
Now, after two standout seasons in Miami, OK, he’s in Norman — he was the last ’23 recruit to arrive, announcing just last week he had settled in — and he’s getting to experience OU’s infamous offseason regimen.
Dolby looks like strictly a corner, with very good instincts, elite reaction and excellent hands. He’ll see how his skills translate to the Division I level during individual coaching stations, and he’ll hope to latch onto the strength and fitness routines to get himself ready for spring practice.
But when spring practice starts, Dolby said, he will be ready to play just about anywhere.
“They want to move me all around the field, to be honest,” he said. “Like, on my film, I play in the slot, I play at corner, I play at safety. That’s what they love the most about me. Coach Hall was like, ‘You’d better come in and learn the playbook, because you ain’t got no choice. You’re playing, you got no choice but to learn it.’
“He was just saying that me being versatile really helps me as far as if I’m not at corner, I’m in the slot, if I’m not at slot, I can be at safety. They want to move me around everywhere.”
During his visit, Dolby got some face to face interaction with a few of the players he’ll be competing against this spring.
“I got to talk to Woodi Washington a little bit. He was a cool dude,” Dolby said. “Cool dude. Genuine dude. He was just telling me about the program and basically telling me, ‘You gotta trust this is about to take off. I know it ain’t the best year, but you gotta trust.’
“He was telling me it’s a rebuild year, but he was there when Lincoln Riley was there. He told me he loved it, you know how dudes, when a coach leaves, they transfer out — he was telling me ‘I wasn’t leaving and I’m glad I made this decision to stay.’ He was saying it’s about to take off.”
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