Tramel's ScissorTales: Brent Venables shares an OU football recruiting story about Teddy Lehman

Berry Tramel
Oklahoman
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Wednesday is National Signing Day for college football, and everyone will be all aquiver over who signs and where. 

But the best recruiting stories rarely are on signing day. The best recruiting stories come far from the shiny objects like letters of intent and fax machines. (Do they still use fax machines for signings?) 

Anyway, Tuesday night, OU staged its coaches radio show from Rudy’s BBQ in Norman, and it was a tag-team affair. Interim head coach Bob Stoops and newly hired head coach Brent Venables, and like most football shows from Rudy’s, former Sooner star Teddy Lehman was part of the broadcast. 

These days, Lehman is the analyst for OU’s radio broadcasts and a daily sportstalk host on KREF radio. 

But in summer 1999, Lehman was an unheralded high school player at Fort Gibson who drew an invitation to the OU football camp. That was the first summer Stoops was head coach, and Stoops’ linebacker coach was a 28-year-old Venables. 

National Signing Day tracker:Oklahoma football recruits, announcements, 2022 class ranking

OU's Teddy Lehman, pictured in 2003 in Fort Gibson, won the Butkus Award as the nation’s top linebacker later that year.

And fans who ventured into Rudy’s on Tuesday night were rewarded with a fabulous story about Lehman’s recruitment. 

Lehman went on to become an all-time Sooner, winner of the 2003 Butkus Award as the nation’s top linebacker. He was a two-time consensus all-American. Lehman played five years in the National Football League. 

And it all started in that summer of 1999. Let’s let Stoops, Lehman and Venables pick up the story. 

Stoops: “Teddy’s running 40-yard dashes at camps, and what’s he’s running, like 4.4?” 

Venables: “Sub 4.4.” 

Stoops: “Brent tells two guys that had the clock on him, and he had one, too, ‘you’re wrong, you didn’t hit that right.’ He tells Teddy, ‘go run again.’ He made him run like two or three more times.” 

Venables: “He got faster.” 

Lehman: “I remember when he offered me a scholarship, I was like, ‘OK, can I sign right now? What do I do?’” 

Venables: “We were having lunch at the Switzer Center. We had invited a few guys in-state to come to camp. First thing we did when they got to camp, after we had some lunch, we went over to the indoor facility, got ready there, got on the track. During that lunch conversation, I’m asking a lot of questions, trying to learn who he is.” 

Venables: “Of course, I’d watched a lot of video tape. He’d played a lot of running back. Was solid at linebacker. He’d run everybody down and throw ‘em to the ground. Was really a good running back.” 

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Venables: “I said, ‘What do you think you’re going to run today?’ He paused. I said, ‘if you run 4.6, I might offer you today.’ He said (Venables switches to a husky, macho voice), ‘If I run 4.6, I’m going to quit football.’” 

Venables: “I was serious, and so was he. He honestly did. That second and that third one – we actually made him run three, and we had every full-time staff member, and Schmitty (strength coach Jerry Schmidt) on top of that, with a watch on him — and he ran all sub 4.4.s. So he could fly.” 

Venables: “But the thing that made Teddy great, man, he had such passion to be a great player, the work ethic, he loved the sweat equity, he loved the grind. Incredibly tough. One of the smartest players we had during Coach Stoops’ tenure, just incredible instincts and intelligence. He loved the film room, he was a junkie. And just a great leader. He brought the best out in those guys around him, took great, great pride in his performance and their performance.. He had the unique ability to make everybody around him better.” 

What a great story. And thus comes a residual benefit to the hiring of Venables. A stronger link to the past. 

No knock on Lincoln Riley or anyone else the Sooners might have hired. All kinds of great coaches out there. All kinds of guys could win at OU. 

But Venables has a particularly strong link to the Stoops era: those magical days of 1999-2004, when the Sooners went from mediocre at best to national champions and annual national contenders. 

Being able to tell old stories like the Lehman tale builds the bond with former players and fans and anyone who cares about OU football. 

You don’t have to hire within the family. In fact, some schools do it too much. But when you can find the right guy with those kinds of ties, the benefits are abundant. 

Anyone at Rudy’s on Tuesday night could attest. 

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OSU goes heavy on in-state recruiting 

Norman North quarterback John Kolar signed a letter of intent with OSU football in February 2015. He was the Cowboys’ only in-state recruit that year. 

Over the next four years, OSU increased its in-state recruiting – 18 signees, an average of 4.5 per year. 

But Oklahomans have been making a big impact on OSU’s football success, and Mike Gundy has taken notice. 

Seven Oklahomans – plus transfer Israel Antwine from Millwood – signed in 2020. Eight Oklahomans signed in the 2021 class. Eight more signed Wednesday for the 2022 class. 

“Our production per capita in the state of Oklahoma’s been through the roof,” Gundy said Wednesday. 

Check out the Cowboy mainstays on the 2021 squad, which is 11-2, ranked ninth nationally and plays Notre Dame in the Fiesta Bowl: all-American linebacker Malcolm Rodriguez (Wagoner), all-Big 12 defensive end Brock Martin (Oologah), conference defensive freshman of the year Collin Oliver (Edmond Santa Fe), playmaking safety Jason Taylor II (Carl Albert), tailback Dom Richardson (Bishop McGuinness), big-play receiver Brennan Presley (Bixby), receiver Jaden Bray (Norman), defensive lineman Brendon Evers and Antwine. 

Plus injured defensive linemen Trace Ford (Santa Fe) and Collin Clay (Putnam City). And from the 2020 team, receivers Landon Wolf (Tulsa East Central) and Dillon Stoner (Jenks). 

The Cowboys are cashing in on in-state recruits, and eight of their 17 announced signees Wednesday are Oklahomans: 

National Signing Day tracker:Oklahoma State football recruits, announcements, 2022 class ranking

Edmond Santa Fe's Tabry Shettron, an OSU signee, celebrates after scoring a touchdown against Jenks on Oct. 14.

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Beggs tailback C.J. Brown, Choctaw defensive end DeSean Brown, Stillwater linebacker Gabe Brown, Pawhuska receiver Mason Gilkey, Putnam North defensive end Jaleel Johnson, Bixby receiver Braylin Presley and Edmond Santa Fe receivers Tabry Shettron and Talyn Shettron. 

“We self-scout,” Gundy said. “We feel like there’s players here that people overlook. We don’t have real athletic hours (in high schools) like Texas. Our state schools aren’t funded like Texas. The coaches aren’t funded like Texas. So people kind of bypass this area.” 

But Gundy said the talent level is improving. He figures even the Cowboys could miss on a couple of players that remain overlooked. 

“You’re certainly going to get the first option here,” Gundy said. “Things get a little tough, you can go home, talk to mom and dad, compared to wherever. We’ve had a lot of success with ‘em.” 

OSU’s 2011 Big 12 championship team had a heavy Oklahoma influence, too. Quarterback Brandon Weeden (Santa Fe). Receivers Justin Blackmon (Plainview), Tracy Moore (Tulsa Union) and Josh Cooper (Mustang). Offensive tackle Levy Adcock (Claremore). Safety Daytawion Lowe (Carl Albert). Tailback Jeremy Smith (Tulsa Union). Fullback Kye Staley (Guthrie). Linebacker Tyler Johnson (Haskell). Defensive end Cooper Bassett (Tuttle). Defensive tackle Christian Littlehead (Tahlequah Sequoyah).  

Gundy mentioned some of his current recruits – Gabe Brown, the Shettrons, DeSean Brown, plus Oliver from a year ago – and said he’s had an advantage, since he could watch them play with or against his son, Gunnar, who was a star quarterback at Stillwater and now is on the OSU roster. NCAA rules allow college football coaches to suspend the scouting restrictions, if it’s games involving their sons. 

“That is an advantage,” Gundy said. “We get to see ‘em more.” 

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Cavaliers give Thunder hope for quick rebuild 

The Cleveland Cavaliers are the most surprising team in the NBA. The Cavs, a woebegone franchise anytime LeBron James is not on the roster, are a stunning 17-12, the fourth-best record in the Eastern Conference and the eighth-best record in the league. 

In the 2000s, the Cavs have been contenders in 10 of the 11 years in which LeBron has graced their roster, missing only in his rookie year. In the 11 seasons without LeBron, Cleveland has not surpassed 33 wins in any season. 

But that figures to change in 2021-22, as a variety of young Cavaliers blossom. 

And that’s quite relevant to the Thunder, which is in Year 2 of a big rebuild. If the Cavs can do it, the Thunder can, too, and probably much more quickly. 

Here are the Cavalier mainstays and how they were obtained. 

Guard Darius Garland is the Cavs’ leading scorer, at 18.9 points per game. Garland is shooting 38.6 percent from 3-point range. He was the fifth overall pick in the 2019 NBA Draft. 

Center Jarrett Allen is averaging 17.3 points a game and is a dynamite defender. Allen was the 22nd overall pick, by the Netropolitans, in 2017. Cleveland got Allen in the James Harden-to-Brooklyn deal, a steal for the Cavs that cost them very little and the kind of trade that Sam Presti has made before and can do again, with the payroll flexibility the Thunder possesses. 

Center/power forward Evan Mobley is averaging 13.8 points, 8.3 rebounds and 1.8 blocked shots per game. He’s a prime candidate for rookie of the year. Mobley was a desired target of the Thunder; the lottery put OKC sixth, while Cleveland picked third. 

Guard Collin Sexton, averaging 16.0 points a game, has been a Cavalier cornerstone since he was the eighth overall pick in 2018, but he’s lost for the season, after just 11 games, with a torn meniscus. 

Lauri Markkanen, the seventh pick in the 2017 draft, is averaging 14.1 points a game. He was obtained in a three-team trade in August, after the Bulls seemed unwilling to invest in Markkanen long-term. The trade cost Cleveland veteran Larry Nance Jr. and a second-round draft pick. 

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Thunder general manager Sam Presti speaks during a press conference introducing the team's 2021 draft picks at Paycom Center in Oklahoma City on July 31, 2021.

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Defensive whiz Isaac Okoro is averaging 8.9 points a game and was the fifth overall pick in the 2020 draft, by the Cavs. 

Cedi Osman is a valuable bench wing, averaging 11.1 points and shooting 40.8 percent from 3-point range. The Cavs got Osman on draft night 2015, after Minnesota made him the 31st overall pick. 

The ageless Ricky Rubio is Cleveland’s backup point guard, averaging 28.6 minutes and 6.3 assists per game. The Cavs obtained Rubio in an August trade for Taurean Prince. 

And 33-year-old Kevin Love is coming off the bench, averaging 21.4 points and 12.9 rebounds a game, shooting 40.4 percent from 3-point range. The Cavs have been trying to trade Love for years, but his onerous contract is prohibitive. 

Think about this. The Cavaliers had unbelievable lottery luck after LeBron’s first departure. In successive years, Cleveland had the first and fourth picks (2011), the fourth pick (2012), the first pick (2013) and the first pick (2014). 

And Cleveland reaped Kyrie Irving, Tristan Thompson, Dion Waiters, Anthony Bennett and Love (traded for No. 1 pick Andrew Wiggins). 

Irving and Love (and Thompson) helped LeBron win the 2016 NBA championship. 

Bennett was a bust. Waiters was just so-so before he was traded to the Thunder. Irving eventually was traded to Boston, in part for a pick that became Sexton. 

But the new wave of Cavaliers has had limited lottery luck. Only Mobley, at No. 3, was higher than a five. 

The Thunder is rebuilding around Shai Gilgeous-Alexander, traded for Paul George and a Brink’s truck of draft picks; Luguentz Dort, an undrafted free agent; and Josh Giddey, the No. 6 pick in the 2021 draft. 

The Thunder has a much better track record of drafting and trading than does Cleveland. The Cavaliers had some headwind with that lottery luck of 2011-14, but Cleveland hasn’t had much lately. 

The Cavs blossomed seemingly overnight. The Thunder could, too. 

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Mailbag: Lincoln Riley’s future 

Riley’s departure from OU to Southern Cal continue to gnaw at Sooner fans. Including some with a quite diabolical imagination. 

Leo: “Food for thought. If Mike McCarthy and them Dallas Cowboys make a hasty exit from the NFC playoffs, all bets are off. Jerry (Jones) doesn’t like to be disappointed, especially with visions of the Super Bowl dancing in his head. McCarthy will be gone. Who will be No. 1 on Jerry’s very short list as a replacement? Lincoln Riley, that’s who. Riley says, ‘Geez, Jerry, they pay me $11 million a year.’ Jerry replies, ‘a mere drop in my Texas-sized bucket.’ And Riley is off to Dallas to fulfill the lifelong dream of every Texan, being head coach of them Cowboys. USC is left high and dry without Riley ever coaching a single game. Is this poetic justice or just more of a world gone mad?” 

Tramel: You’re a very bad man, Leo. A very bad man. 

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Take a Ride on the Reading: The Complete Armchair Book of Baseball 

Several years ago, Sports Illustrated ran a list of the best 100 sports books ever written. I’d read 20something of them. But as I scoured the list, a book jumped out at me. 

The Complete Armchair Book of Baseball, edited by John Thorn. 

I’d read Thorn’s The Armchair Book of Baseball, which was published in 1985 and which he updated in 1997 with the “complete” designation. I’d never considered an anthology as a must-read book, but it makes perfect sense. 

“Baseball is the writer’s game,” Thorn wrote in the forward of his book. “From the Elysian Fields of Hoboken to the green fields of the mind, the grand old game and the printed word were made for each other. The game’s primal team, the 1842 Knickerbockers, were named in tribute to Washington Irving, who as Diedrich Knickerbocker borrowed a folk tale from Europe and molded it into “Rip Van Winkle” -- much as America took the English game of rounders and made it over as baseball.” 

Well, it gets even better. Baseball indeed is the writer’s game, and Thorn’s collection is a nod to all the various kinds of writing baseball has birthed. 

Excerpts from classics like Lee Allen’s The Hot Stove League, Jim Bouton’s Ball Four, Robert W. Creamer’s Babe, Roger Kahn’s The Boys of Summer, W.P. Kinsella’s Shoeless Joe Jackson Comes to Iowa, Ring Lardner’s You Know Me Al and Lawrence S. Ritter’s The Glory of Their Times

Newspapers columns from pressbox legends Jimmy Cannon, Joe Durso, Peter Gammons, Jerome Holtzman, Jim Murray, Shirley Povich, Red Smith and my boyhood hero, Blackie Sherrod. 

Essays from Roger Angell on the college showdown between Frank Viola and Ron Darling, watching the memorable game with 1912 baseball hero Joe Wood, 70 years later; Thomas Boswell on Reggie Jackson; Gay Talese on Joe DiMaggio; Bartlett Giamatti’s epic thesis on how baseball breaks your heart.  

Just thumbing through Thorn’s collection again made me melancholy for the game I once loved. 

“No other sport plays upon the heart and mind so subtly,” Thorn wrote, “with so delightful a blend of the simple and complex – like a magician’s stunt or a phrase well-turned ... thinking about baseball provides a pleasure quite different from that had by watching it.” 

Like the great Giamatti wrote. Baseball breaks your heart. It is designed to break your heart. 

Berry Tramel: Berry can be reached at 405-760-8080 or at btramel@oklahoman.com. He can be heard Monday through Friday from 4:40-5:20 p.m. on The Sports Animal radio network, including FM-98.1. Support his work and that of other Oklahoman journalists by purchasing a digital subscription today. 

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