David Stone leads Oklahoma’s foundational, SEC-caliber 2024 defensive line class

David Stone leads Oklahoma’s foundational, SEC-caliber 2024 defensive line class

OU signed its strongest defensive line class in half a decade. On the verge of the SEC, there’s good reason for Brent Venables to build up front.

Eli Lederman

By Eli Lederman

| Dec 20, 2023, 5:41pm CST

Eli Lederman

By Eli Lederman

Dec 20, 2023, 5:41pm CST

Make no mistake about it — this was an SEC kind of signing day on Oklahoma’s defensive line. 

Who cares that the Sooners don’t join their new conference home for another 194 days?

OU’s 2024 class closed Wednesday with as many top 40 defensive line prospects as Georgia, more than each of Alabama, Ole Miss and Texas A&M and a higher count than LSU, Arkansas and Tennessee combined. Among future SEC foes, only Tennessee, Florida, and Missouri can say they’ve inked a higher-rated defensive line talent in the 2024 cycle than five-star David Stone, the nation’s No. 19 overall prospect who formally signed on Day 1 of the early signing period.

Clear through the collection of five defensive linemen Brent Venables added in his latest class was a desire to bolster the frontline of the Sooners defense, both for now and later. 

There’s a good reason why. 

“You want to be strong and physical (in the SEC),” Brent Venables said last week. “That’s the name of the game … There’s great skill; great depth. The lines of scrimmage are a real thing.”

That’s the sort of line play OU can expect to compete with for at least eight Saturdays a year beginning next fall. On the verge of the program’s dive into the SEC, the Sooners will step into 2024 with their strongest defensive line prospect haul since at least 2018.

Of the 27 players in OU’s incoming class, five of the top 14 ranked players will play on the defensive line. That group — made up of Stone, Nigel Smith II, Jayden Jackson, Danny Okoye and Wyatt Gilmore — is a key part in why the Sooners class ranked ninth nationally and fifth among its soon-to-be SEC counterparts in 247Sports’ team rankings as of Wednesday afternoon. 

The conversation up front begins with Stone, the nation’s fifth-ranked defensive tackle out of Del City and the centerpiece of the Sooners’ 2024 class who spent the last two seasons at Florida IMG Academy.

Stone projects as a disruptive force on the interior of the defensive line and a potential Day 1 NFL Draft prospect down the line. In the near term, he stands among the Sooners’ most promising prospects and a key legitimizer as the lone five-star in Venables’ third signing class.

“For David, it’s probably one of the longest relationships that we’ve had,” Venables said Wednesday morning.  He is a great leader. Guys will follow him. He’s got tremendous respect, both in high school football and in the recruiting circles. You’ve going to have some influence there along the way.”

Alongside Stone is Smith II, a versatile four-star defensive lineman who overwhelmed high school opposing blockers in Melissa, Texas, and chose OU over Penn State and Texas A&M. Jayden Jackson, an IMG teammate of Stone’s, adds size up the middle at 6-foot-2, 300 pounds. 

On the edge, Okoye brings what Venables called “freakish” talent with him from Tulsa. In Gilmore, the second-ranked prospect in the state of Minnesota, Venables believes the Sooners have a pass rusher who possesses “all the stuff that the great ones have”.

“I really love the defensive line, ” Venables said. 

“I’m really excited about that group of guys up front combined with the guys that we’re going to have coming back, transitioning and going into the SEC,” he continued. “We’ve got length, size and power. It’s still a develop game. But these are guys that have a tremendous foundation already.”

With each of the incoming defensive linemen ranked in the top 40 at their respective positions,  OU has its highest-rated defensive line class since the Sooners signed a group led by Jalen Redmond, Ronnie Perkins and Michael Thompson in 2018. That class included six players ranked inside the top 40 at their positions, including four inside the respective top 10s.

Venables’ third recruiting class marked the right time for OU to begin building a foundation of defensive lineman as the Sooners prepare to enter a conference filled — and often defined — by some of the best in the country. 

The Sooners’ new conference home is known for its line play and has existed historically as a factory of NFL defensive line talent. As of the opening weekend of the 2022 NFL season, 60 of the 369 former SEC players on NFL rosters — 16.2% — were defensive lineman.

And the SEC is a place where elite defensive lineman tend to go winning and raising trophies. Of the league’s last five national champions, three had at least two NFL Draft picks on its defensive line. 

Venables himself would know the importance of defensive line power in the SEC. His Clemson defenses that went toe-to-toe with the SEC’s finest coincided with perhaps the strongest run of defensive line talent in the program’s history. 

From 2015-20, Venables was the Tigers’ defensive coordinator while Clemson tore off four College Football Playoff appearances and two national titles. Those defenses featured eight eventual NFL Draft picks on the defensive line including Dexter Lawrence and Christian Wilkins. Over that span, Clemson held a record of 11-3 in games against SEC opponents.

Venables spoke Wednesday morning of the competition in the SEC. The coaches are smart. The resources are plenty. The competition will be fierce, all-encompassing and year-round. 

Soon enough, if not already, the Sooners will be fully engaged in that SEC fight. If the 2024 signing class is an indication, Venables is approaching heightened competition in his new conference the same way he’s always intended to build his defense: by starting up front.

Oklahoma signing class of 2024

(Name, position, hometown, high school)

-Josh Aisosa, OL, Edmond, Santa Fe*

-Daniel Akinkunmi, OL, East London, U.K., NFL Academy*

-Isaiah Autry, OL, Fulton, Mississippi, Itawamba Agricultural*

-Michael Boganowski, DB, Junction City, Kansas, Junction City*

-Eli Bowen, DB, Denton, Texas, Guyer*

-Eugene Brooks, OL, Las Vegas, Sierra Canyon (California)*

-Ivan Carreon, WR, Odessa, Texas, Odessa*

-KJ Daniels, WR, Franklinton, Louisiana, Bowling Green School

-Wyatt Gilmore, DE, Rogers, Minnesota, Rogers*

-Jaydan Hardy, DB, Lewisville, Texas, Lewisville*

-Michael Hawkins Jr., QB, Dallas, Emerson*

-Jayden Jackson, DL, Indianapolis, IMG Academy*

-Devon Jordan, DB, Tulsa, Union

-Zion Kearney, WR, Fresno, Texas, Hightower*

-Davon Mitchell, TE, York, Alabama, Los Alamitos (California)*

-James Nesta, LB, Huntersville, North Carolina, William Amos Hough*

-Jeremiah Newcombe, DB, Gilbert, Arizona, Casteel

-Danny Okoye, DE, Tulsa, NOAH Homeschool*

-Mykel Patterson-McDonald, DB, Moore, Westmoore

-Eddy Pierre-Louis, OL, Tampa, Florida, Tampa Catholic

-Reggie Powers III, DB, Centerville, Ohio, Centerville*

-Zion Ragins, WR, Macon, Georgia, Jones County

-Xavier Robinson, RB, Yukon, Carl Albert*

-Nigel Smith II, DL, Melissa, Texas, Melissa*

-David Stone, DL, Del City, IMG Academy*

-Taylor Tatum, RB, Longview, Texas, Longview

-Brendan Zurbrugg, QB, Alliance, Ohio, Alliance*

*Expected to enroll mid-year

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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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