Brent Venables offered few details Thursday on the pair of Sooner standouts who are expected to leave the program.
Brent Venables offered little Thursday to clear up questions surrounding the Alamo Bowl statuses of quarterback Dillon Gabriel and linebacker Danny Stutsman speaking with reporters for the first time since Oklahoma’s Nov. 24 regular-season finale.
Four days after Gabriel entered the transfer portal and less than 24 hours after news emerged of Stutsman’s plans to enter the NFL Draft, Venables was in San Antonio Thursday for Alamo Bowl press duties. Seated next to Arizona coach Jedd Fisch, Venables took questions over 30 minutes from local reporters on-site and others participating via Zoom.
Following the Sooners’ win over TCU on Nov. 24, Venables described Gabriel as a pillar of leadership and a central figure in Sooners’ 2023 turnaround. In San Antonio, he spoke about the experienced quarterback who will play his sixth season in college football somewhere other than Norman next fall.
“We wouldn’t have put ourselves in this position and had the kind of success we did — certainly with the turnaround that we did from Year 1 to Year 2 — without Dillon and all of his hard work, his leadership, his commitment,” Venables said. “He made everybody around him better. So really, really thankful and proud of Dillon. Whatever is next for him, I promise you he’s going to have his hands all over it. It’s going to be a successful transition for him.”
Gabriel’s move to the portal confirmed that the veteran passer will not be with the Sooners in 2024. However, based on his own words this week and Venables’ message Thursday, Gabriel’s status for the bowl game is still to be determined.
Speaking on The Franchise Tuesday afternoon, Gabriel said it was “too early to say” whether he would be with the Sooners at the Alamodome on Dec. 28, a sentiment Venables backed up Thursday.
“That hasn’t been finalized yet,” he said. “I’ll comment on that when it’s the appropriate time.”
Gabriel’s portal departure clears the way for freshman quarterback Jackson Arnold to take over starting duties as soon as the bowl matchup with Arizona later this month. How Gabriel might stay involved with OU while taking visits to prospective schools and finding a new landing spot for 2024 is unclear.
While staying quiet on Gabriel’s immediate future, Venables did confirm that the Sooners had expected their quarterback of two seasons to turn pro after the 2023 campaign, as Gabriel himself explained to a crowd at a charity luncheon earlier this week.
“Dillon had every intention to go to the NFL,” Venables said. “In his mind, this was going to be his last season. He’s going to have a great year, put himself in position to go chase his dreams in the NFL. He’s the best person to testify in regards to how he came to the decision to play another year collegiately. But, quite frankly, we did plan to go into the ‘24 season without Dillon Gabriel.”
“Dillon knows he was certainly more than welcome to stay and continue to compete and be the quarterback at the University of Oklahoma,” Venables continued. “But that’s just the decision he came to.”
Gabriel represents a key player set to leave the Sooners offense. On defense, Venables may have another hole set to open with Stutsman expected to depart for the NFL in 2024.
SoonerScoop.com reported Wednesday night that Stutsman had informed Venables of his intention to forgo his senior season in Norman and to enter the 2024 NFL Draft.
‘Everything has its time,” Venables said when asked about Stutsman’s plans. “Whenever Danny is prepared to let everybody know what his future is going to look like — out of respect for him — I’ll reserve comment for that moment in time.”
In Stutsman’s exit, OU would lose its leading tackler from each of the last two seasons and an emotional leader whom the Sooners sorely missed in losses to Kansas and Oklahoma State this fall.
“Leadership, I’ve never looked at it as a position. I think it’s about action. And he’s represented everything that you would want from a leader,” Venables said. “He’s made everybody around him better and there’s not a player in our locker room that loves the University of Oklahoma and respects his opportunity and what this has meant for him in his life more than Dany Stutsman.”
Venables and his staff will be active on the high school and transfer portal recruiting trail in the coming weeks. The Sooners are scheduled to report to the Alamo Bowl on Dec. 23.