'There's nothing like OU': Why Jason Llewellyn stayed committed to Sooners despite coaching change

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NORMAN — Jason Llewellyn didn't hit the panic button.

When the 2022 four-star tight end from Aledo, Texas, committed to Oklahoma on Feb. 19, he did so under the assumption that he'd be playing for Sooners head coach Lincoln Riley.

But Llewellyn got hit with an audible on Nov. 28, when Riley accepted an offer to become the new head coach at USC.

The bombshell shocked the entire OU program, including Llewellyn. But the Aledo High School star hasn't budged in his commitment to being a Sooner, and he hopes other recruits will follow suit.

"Nobody expected the changes that were going to happen," Llewellyn said. "No players, coaches, recruits, anybody. It was very sudden. I just took a step back and said, 'Let's chill out and see what happens. There's no reason to panic.'"

Some OU commits did hit the panic button, though.

With the NCAA's early signing period starting Wednesday, OU commits began to change their minds. Ten prospects in the 2022-23 classes decommitted in the eight days following Riley's departure, including five five-star prospects.

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Left to right: Joe Jon Finley, Jason Llewellyn, Cale Gundy and Brent Venables pose for a photo on Dec. 8, 2021.

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Recruits were just as blind as fans when it came to who would be named the next OU head coach, but Bob Stoops helped settle the stir.

After being named as the interim head coach on the same day of Riley's departure, the former Sooner shot caller immediately hit the recruiting trail to put recruits' minds at ease.

Stoops visited the Llewellyn family's home on Dec. 3 to deliver a message.

"He just told us Oklahoma football is still Oklahoma football," Llewellyn said. "It hasn't been so successful because of one dude. It's because of the players. That was one thing he hammered home.

"Another thing he said was that Oklahoma was a very attractive job and that they were going to get a good coach. They weren't going to hire a bad coach or someone inexperienced. They were going to hire somebody good."

Stoops wasn't alone in his visit to the Llewellyn household.

The Sooner legend brought the team's tight ends coach, Joe Jon Finley, who already had an established relationship with Llewellyn.

"Coach Finley was a really big reason why I (originally) committed," Llewellyn said. "He knows what he's doing. He's definitely a guy who I wanted to be coached by and mentored by."

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Llewellyn said the visit helped, but he still decided to hold out on reaffirming his commitment to OU.

That changed when some news broke on Dec. 5, though, when news broke that Clemson defensive coordinator Brent Venables would be OU's next head coach.

Before spending 10 seasons with the Tigers, Venables worked under Stoops at OU from 1999-2011.

Venables arrived in Norman via a private jet late at night on Dec. 5, and Llewellyn said he was the coach's first phone call the following morning.

Venables told Llewellyn of his plan to hire Ole Miss' Jeff Lebby as the offensive coordinator and keep Finley on the staff.

"With all the unknown that was happening in those past couple of weeks, hearing that all those pieces were going to fall back into place was a really good thing," Llewellyn said. "I was like 'OK, I don't have any questions or doubts anymore. I'm back to 100 percent.'"

A handful of other OU commits are also back to 100 percent.

From 2022 offensive tackle Jacob Sexton to 2023 running back Deandre Moore, eight players in the 2022-23 classes have reaffirmed their commitment to OU via Twitter since Riley's departure.

Still, not everyone is fully sold.

Llewellyn says several OU commits in his class are in a group chat together, and some players still have their concerns.

"We're trying to keep it all together," Llewellyn said. "My message to (OU commits) would be like what Coach Stoops and everyone else has said. OU football is still OU football. There's nothing like OU.

"It's such a great family and culture and fan base that I don't know why anybody wouldn't want to be a part of it."

Justin Martinez can be reached at jmartinez@oklahoman.com or @JTheSportsDude on Twitter. Make sure to subscribe to The Oklahoman to stay up to date with all local sports.

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