The only player to start all 26 games under Brent Venables is back in the fold, and Oklahoma will have a veteran defense to lean on in the SEC.
NORMAN — There’s the measure of the player that Woodi Washington is and then there’s the measure of the veteran cornerback’s presence across five seasons at Oklahoma.
This is how Brent Venables summed up the Sooners’ 36-game starter in September:
“In every circle, he’s popular in the locker room. Not because he’s cool with everybody. But because of who he is as a person, as a leader, as a human being, as a competitor, as a teammate. Jealousy is not part of the character of Woodi Washington. He is the model of consistency.”
That’s who the Sooners will have back in their secondary in 2024.
Washington announced his intention to utilize his year of Covid-eligibility to return to OU for a sixth season next fall on Tuesday night, joining the series of veterans on the Sooners’ defense set to stick around for Venables’ third season.
When OU dives into the SEC, it will do so with its leading defensive snap-getter in 2023 (851), the only player to start all 26 games of the Venables era.
“Woodi’s been fantastic,” Venables said of Washington in November.. “Man, he’s been great in every way you would want an older guy to be.”
At least publicly, Washington’s plans for 2024 were not certain until his announcement Tuesday night. He left the door open on his future entering bowl season, then led the Sooners with seven tackles in their Dec. 28 Alamo Bowl defeat to Arizona.
“(I’m) taking in the process,” Washington said following OU’s regular-season finale against TCU on Nov. 24. “Really not sure what I’m going to do yet. But we’ll see what the future holds.”
Washington’s return carries weight for the Sooners’ 2024 defense on multiple levels. For one, there’s the simple fact that there’s not a more talented or experienced cornerback on the roster than the defender who logged 48 tackles and seven pass breakups in 2023.
Washington began the season as the only OU cornerback with a Division I start under his belt and went on to start all 13 games as a constant in the Sooners’ defense for a second consecutive year. Among cornerbacks from the 16 schools that will compete in the SEC in 2024, only South Carolina’s Marcellas Dial totaled more snaps (853) than Washington this past fall. Washington’s 202 career tackles ranked 30th nationally among active cornerbacks at the close of the 2024 season.
Retaining Washington keeps the Sooners’ top cornerback in Norman for another year. It also pads OU’s depth at the position. Venables and Co. would have been hard-pressed to find a replacement of Washington’s caliber after the close of the portal entry window Tuesday.
Sophomore cornerback Gentry Williams impressed when healthy this fall with 30 total tackles in 10 starts. He’ll face competition next fall from San Diego State transfer Dezjhon Malone, a 25-game starter over the last two seasons. Behind them, there’s the talented crop of freshman Jasiah Wagoner, Makari Vickers and Jacobe Johnson along with a trio of 2024 signees at the position.
Without Washington, OU would have opened 2024 well-stocked but with questions at both starting cornerback spots. With him, the position group figures to be among the Sooners’ most competitive next fall.
Outside of the secondary, a 2024 defense that looked potentially vulnerable this time last month only got older and more experienced with Washington’s announcement.
The veteran push on Venables’ side of the ball began last month when linebacker Danny Stutsman and safety Billy Bowman stiff-armed the NFL for another year. It continued when defensive tackles Jacob Lacey and Da’Jon Terry chose to return with them. Washington is now the latest addition to the increasingly mature defense OU will take into the SEC that carries 202 career starts among its 11 most experienced players.
Finally, there’s the quiet yet ever-present leader Washington has become across five seasons and 2,587 career snaps with the Sooners. Next fall, he’ll be the rudder to an intriguing and growing cornerback group and one of the unquestioned veterans in charge of a defense taking its first steps in the SEC; one of Venables’ most proven, on-field lieutenants.
“I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention the leadership that Woodi has poured into these guys,” Venables said in August. “He’s as good of a leader as we have on the team.”
That’s what the Sooners are getting with Washington back in 2024.