Dillon Gabriel: Draft feedback informed the decision to enter transfer portal

Dillon Gabriel: Draft feedback informed the decision to enter transfer portal

On Tuesday, Gabriel reflected on his time at OU, the draft feedback that pushed him to stay in college and his decision to enter the transfer portal during an event in Oklahoma City Tuesday afternoon.

Eli Lederman

By Eli Lederman

| Dec 5, 2023, 5:46pm CST

Eli Lederman

By Eli Lederman

Dec 5, 2023, 5:46pm CST

OKLAHOMA CITY — Little more than 24 hours after entering the NCAA transfer portal, Oklahoma quarterback Dillon Gabriel delivered the clearest explanation yet on his decision to play football elsewhere in 2024 from the grand ballroom inside the Skirvin Hotel Tuesday afternoon.

“It being a new era in the SEC, knowing that it’s a tricky and a unique situation that I’m in, I just think it was the right time for me to go and try it somewhere else,” Gabriel said within a three-minute explanation. “Not necessarily because it was bad or anything. It was the right thing to do. It’s hard. Sometimes the right decision isn’t always easy, as I’ve learned.”

Gabriel’s response came at the end of a 20-minute “fireside chat” with former Sooner Josh Norman as part of an event hosted by the Fields & Futures Booster Club Tuesday in downtown Oklahoma City. The fifth-year quarterback was on hand as a special guest of the organization, which serves students across the Oklahoma City Public Schools system by “growing sports participation at the middle school and high school levels.” 

Characteristically charismatic a day after landing in the portal, Gabriel opened the Q&A session with jokes about Tom Brady and former Sooner and UCF coach Josh Heupel. He went on to tell stories of his upbringing in Hawaii, the passion he developed for sports in the public school system and his deep relationship with OU wide receiver Drake Stoops. 

In the closing moments, Norman — now the director of OU’s SOUL Mission — asked Gabriel if he wanted to address “the elephant in the room,” prompting the Sooners’ quarterback of two seasons to outline a decision Gabriel said began with a shift in his NFL Draft prospects.

“Throughout the whole season I think I had it very clear in my mind that I wanted to go to the draft,” Gabriel said. “Ride off into the sunset. Be an OU graduate. Hopefully get drafted earlier than I ever thought I would.

“Statistically, I thought I had a pretty good (year) or one of my best years, so I was hopeful,” Gabriel continued. “But as I got my homework back, the draft grade wasn’t what I thought it would be. Even not getting invited to the Senior Bowl was something that … just as I kind of got that information — I was a little bummed out.” 

Indeed, Gabriel capped his run at OU with the most productive season of his college career, logging career-highs in completion percentage (69.3%), passing yards (3,660) and total touchdowns (42). 

He marked a signature moment by leading the Sooners’ to a comeback win over Texas on Oct. 7. On the power of his fifth year in college football, Gabriel closed the regular season in the top 10 of several all-time NCAA passing categories.

And yet, Gabriel fell short of the draft projections he’d hoped for at the end of the 2023 season. Instead, he’ll take visits in the coming weeks before settling on a new program as one of the top transfer quarterbacks ahead of his sixth season in college football. 

ESPN’s Pete Thamel reported Tuesday that Gabriel will visit Oregon this weekend and that the Ducks stand as front-runners for his signature. 

“I think at this point in my life I just want to maximize playing the sport I love,” Gabriel said.

“I’ve always heard a bunch of people that have played the sport and left early. It was unfortunate — they only had two years in the NFL and it was done. They always wish that they had played that extra year; taken advantage of their full opportunity in college. It was a great time in their life. I just kind of sat there and I decided that’s going to be best for me.”

Gabriel’s next destination is not yet clear. Neither, apparently, is his status for the Sooners’ Dec. 28 trip to the Alamo Bowl. Speaking on The Franchise earlier Tuesday, Gabriel explained that he is still discussing plans with OU coach Brent Venables, stating that it’s “a little early to say” whether he’ll be a part of the Sooners’ bowl season plans.

In a room of admiring onlookers Tuesday, Gabriel stayed away from projecting his future, preferring instead to reflect on his past and two years at OU that Gabriel says shaped him.

“I know the experiences throughout my lifetime have built me up to this moment,” Gabriel said. “It’s been tough to say the least. Leaving faces that you love so dearly and were so enjoyable to work with, but it’s a part of it. I’m grateful for everything. I’m blessed to say that I’m grateful.”

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Eli Lederman reports on the University of Oklahoma for Sellout Crowd. He began his professional career covering the University of Missouri with the Columbia Missourian and later worked at the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette before two years writing on the Sooners and Cowboys at the Tulsa World. Born and raised in Mamaroneck, New York, Lederman grew up a rabid consumer of the New York sports pages and an avid fan of the New York Mets. He entered sportswriting at 14 years old and later graduated from the University of Missouri. Away from the keyboard, he can usually be found exploring the Oklahoma City food scene or watching/playing fútbol (read: soccer). He can be reached at [email protected].

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