Kanak years, Kobe McKinzie and kip lewis arrived in Norman this spring with great fanfare.
The trio of rookie linebackers arrived in Oklahoma with a diverse skill set thrilling fans about the unit’s growing potential under the head coach Brent Venables and defensive coordinator and linebackers coach Ted roof.
Kanak, a 6-foot-2, 219-pound product from Hays, KS, would have turned heads in spring training for his speed and athleticism, which was on full display in OU’s spring game.
The 236-pound McKinzie plans to be a big hitter, and Lewis will be called upon to defend side-to-side at 198 pounds.
With people like DaShaun White, David Ugwoegbu, Danny Stutsman, TD roof and Shane Whitter ahead of them, there’s not a ton of pressure on the freshman trio to make an immediate impact. But arriving as early registrants set Kanak, McKinzie and Lewis on the path to success early in their OU careers.
“They’re ahead because they got here in January,” Roof said during his press conference at media day on Tuesday. “The shock — it’s bigger for some than for others — the shock of going from high school football to college football, especially in a place like the University of Oklahoma. There’s a leap there. Everything is faster. Certainly in our program there is a high level of accountability. The novelty. Like hey, this is my dorm. This is where I eat. This is the weight room. I’m supposed to being there at 6 p.m., but that means 5:50 p.m.. All those things that go into its novelty.
“…They are so much better coming in the middle of the year and being where we are now rather than June. That’s not to say the guys who came in June didn’t have a great summer, because they did. It’s a transition. There is growth and learning that occurs with these transitions.
Stutsman in particular has been impressed with the growth the freshman linebackers have shown since arriving on campus in January. Just a sophomore himself, Stutsman took freshmen under his wing to help them acclimate to life in Oklahoma.
Heading into their first fall camp as football players at OU, Stutsman said the three true freshmen worked to thrive during fall camp.
The buzz around Kanak was a main storyline throughout the spring, and it only got better over the summer, Stutsman said.
“Every day it’s me and him in this room of wight and we pushed each other,” he said. “We have improved and Sooner Nation already knows it. The hype is around him and the hype is real.
And while McKinzie and Lewis may have overtaken Kanak this spring, Stutsman said the duo kept their heads down and continued to grow over the summer as well.
Scroll to continue
“They’ve made drastic improvements,” Stutsman said. “…They’re impatient and they’ve had their ups and downs, but you know, when summer came and the spring ball came, they just kept moving forward. And every day they are committed to becoming better and better. And looking at where they were then and where they are now, those are drastic improvements.
“All the linebackers, we pushed them and we’re proud of them. We give them that accolade and stuff when they deserve it and stick with them because we know how great they can be, man. Both of these kids are talented, man. The way Kip can move and the way Kobe can punch, man, it’s awesome. It’s the future.
The pressure was always going to be on Kanak, McKinzie and Lewis solely because of who their head coach was.
Venables has played and coached position, and never misses an opportunity to emphasize the importance of position to his defense.
“They’re the quarterback for the defense, this unit is,” Venables said of the linebacker job Tuesday. “And they have to be the heart and soul of your team if we’re going to be worth it.
“…They have always been a liaison for me, as a defensive coordinator, to do whatever you want to do. Both front and rear. They’re the ones we’re really going to rely on. »
Stutsman said the entire linebacking group understood how important they were to the defense and rose to the challenge of meeting Venables’ standards.
“It has been a blessing. (Venables and Roof) know so much about football and defenses in general,” Stutsman said. “I mean, every time they talk in these meetings, you try to jot everything down as quickly as you can, bring everything in because they have so much knowledge for the game.
“And I think the linebacker room, we all know the opportunity we have and how grateful we are that they’re there and that we’re enjoying it every day. We’re still in the Coach Roof office trying to request an extra movie. See what more we can do for him and we are just grateful.
That understanding and urgency has filtered down to the three freshmen, who are ready to try and fight for shots as they head into their first campaign with the Sooners.
Do you want to join the discussion? Click here to become a member of the AllSooners forum community today!
Sign up for your AllSooners.com premium membership today and get access to the entire Fan Nation premium network!
Follow AllSooners on Twitter to stay up to date on all the latest OU news.