Healthy, refreshed Gabriel knows it's time
It’s now been seven months since quarterback Dillon Gabriel changed his future in one day by decommitting from UCLA to pick Oklahoma.
The clock was ticking, and it was one whirlwind process. But Gabriel is glad to be in Norman, and OU fans have embraced the former Central Florida quarterback as the one to lead the Sooners in 2022.
That feeling is 100 percent reciprocal. Gabriel, obviously, wasn’t in the trenches of the mind-boggling November and December and all the changes, but it’s readily apparent Gabriel gets it.
He understands what the program, what the fans had to weather. Everyone has come out to the other side and is doing just fine.
“I feel refreshed. I think people here have gone through a whirlwind. The school. The fans,” said Gabriel on Tuesday at media day. “I’ve gone through a whirlwind personally. But we kind of have that calm storm. Normality. Everyone is back to normal.
“New coaches. New team like every year. But now it’s just going to grind and now we’re finally here. I’ve envisioned it. I’ve thought about it. For me, it’s alignment with the assignment. Doing my job to the best of my ability. When we score a touchdown is really the only time I really feel the fans just because I’m so locked in. I just know that first touchdown, and many more to come, it’s going to feel really good.”
Gabriel has done everything right in terms of his preparation the last seven months. He became the leader in the locker room. He took charge in the summer to encourage team camaraderie.
Everything has been checked off that you can until Sept. 3. All that’s left is bringing that product onto the field.
No worries about collarbone
It sort of got lost in the shuffle of all the quarterback changes at OU with Caleb Williams (USC) and Spencer Rattler (South Carolina) leaving and Gabriel coming in, but Gabriel was arriving after the first major injury of his career.
Gabriel broke his collarbone last September, trying to make a tackle following an interception. It appeared by spring football that it was a thing of the past, and there was nothing to suggest in his performance there were any lingering issues.
Gabriel went through the timeline of how he was able to recover as quickly as he could and why he’s not worried.
“I think in the end of December,” said Gabriel about feeling good again. “Kind of training in L.A. at my auntie’s house. Just training throughout that time. Felt really good at the end of December. I knew I had to make strides during the season as well to get to that point, which I felt really confident about.
“I knew going into January I wanted to be ready. I wanted to just be able to start off on the right foot but also come in and compete right away. So that was a big emphasis right when I did get cleared to start doing medical things in November. But kind of that November to December side, I had to really make strides and feel really comfortable.”
Gabriel said he didn’t suffer any setbacks. And since he’s been at OU, he hasn’t felt any issues related to the collarbone.
Building a room
There is clearly a lot of confidence in Gabriel and his abilities. He has a lot of production to back that up during his time at UCF.
But you have to prepare for all scenarios, and OU needed to bolster its quarterback room following the spring. The Sooners did that by bringing in Davis Beville (Pittsburgh) and adding junior college quarterback General Booty to go along with freshman Nick Evers and returners Micah Bowens and Ralph Rucker.
“I think it’s important having a good situation in terms of camaraderie, just being good teammates,” Gabriel said. “Most of all, that quarterback spot, it’s not just one guy.
“I’m going out there and obviously playing, but when you come off the field, the people you’re talking to inside the film room, just setting the tone in that the QB room is just being really open and honest and not having a situation where you can’t feel that way.”
Gabriel had no issues adding to the room, and offensive coordinator Jeff Lebby gave some initial impressions after spending the last two months with Booty and Beville.
“What’s still a little concerning as we sit here today is we’ve got one guy that’s thrown a bunch of footballs in live action,” Lebby said. “Davis has got some action which is huge, being able to add that to the room.
“General in the same light has played some college ball at a much smaller level. But those guys know how to work. They know what it means to be a quarterback. They’ve got great presence about them. They’ve done everything the right way. Excited about getting on the grass with them for sure.”
It might take some time, but Evers is still on track as well.
“I’ve said this and will continue to say this – Nick is very, very talented,” Lebby said. “I love where he’s going to end up when it’s all said and done. He understands the reset process as you come into college and having to reset and be in a room full of talented guys. But Nick’s got a big-time future."