Kanak years, Kobe McKinsey and Kip Lewis arrived in Norman this spring with much fanfare.
The trio of rookie linebackers arrived in Oklahoma with a diverse skill set, exciting fans for the potential of the unit growing under the head coach Brent Venables and defensive coordinator and linebackers coach Ted Roof.
Kanak, a 6-foot-2, 219-pound product of Hays, KS, reportedly drew attention during spring practice for his sheer speed and athleticism, something that was on full display during OU’s spring game.
The 236-pound McKinzie projects to be a heavy hitter, and Lewis will be called upon to defend sideline to sideline at 198 pounds.
With the likes of DaShaun White, David Ugwoegbu, Danny Stutsman, TD roof and Shane Witter ahead of them, there isn’t much pressure on the freshman trio to make an impact right away. But arriving as early enrollees set Canuck, McKinsey and Lewis on the path to success early in their OU careers.
“They’re way ahead because they got here in January,” Roof said during his media day press conference on Tuesday. “The shock — it’s bigger for some than others — the shock of going from high school football to college football, especially at a place like the University of Oklahoma. There is a jump there. Everything is faster. Of course, there is a high level of accountability in our program. The novelty. Like hey, this is my dorm. I eat here. This is the weight room. I was supposed to be here at six, but that actually means 5:50. All those things that go into his news.
“…They are much better coming in mid-year and being where we are now, as opposed to coming in June. That’s not to say the guys who came in June didn’t have a great summer, because they did. It’s a transition. There’s growth and learning that happens with these transitions.”
Stutsman in particular has been impressed with the growth the freshmen have shown since arriving on campus in January. Only a sophomore himself, Stutsman has taken the freshmen under his wing to help them adjust to life in Oklahoma.
Heading into their first fall camp as OU football players, Stutsman said all three true freshmen have put in a lot of work to thrive during fall camp.
The hype surrounding Canuck was one of the main storylines in the spring, and he’s done nothing but improve over the summer, Stutsman said.
“Every day it’s me and him in that room of destruction, bumping into each other,” he said. “We got better and Sooner Nation already knows. The hype is around him and the hype is real.”
And while McKinsey and Lewis may have taken a back seat for the Canucks this spring, Stutsman said the duo isn’t down and continues to grow over the summer.
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“They’ve made drastic improvements,” Stutsman said. “… They’re eager and they’ve had their ups and downs, but you know, when summer came around and spring ball — they kept making strides. And every day they committed to getting better and better. And looking back at where they were then and where they are now, those are drastic improvements.
“All the defenders, we pushed them and we’re proud of them. We give them that credit and everything when they deserve it and stick with them because we know how great they can be, man. These two kids are talented, man. The way Kip can move and the way Kobe can hit, man, it’s great. This is the future.”
The pressure was always going to be on the Canucks, McKinsey and Lewis just because of who their head coach was.
Venables has played and coached the position and never misses a chance to emphasize the importance of the position to his defense.
“They’re the quarterback of the defense, that unit is,” Venables said of the linebacker position Tuesday. “And they have to be the heart and soul of your team if we’re going to be worth it.
“… They’ve always been a link for me, as a defensive coordinator, to do whatever you want to do. Both at the front end and at the back end. They’re the ones we’re really going to count on.”
Stutsman said the entire linebacker group understands how important they are to the defense and have embraced the challenge of meeting Venables’ standards.
“It was a blessing. (Venables and Roof) know so much about the game of football and about defenses in general,” Stutsman said. “I mean, every time they talk in these meetings, you try to write everything as fast as you can, bring everything in because they have so much knowledge of the game.
“And I think in the quarterback room, we all know the opportunity we have and how grateful we are that they’re there and we take advantage of it every day. We’re always in Coach Roof’s office trying to request extra film. See what extra we can do for him and we’re just grateful.”
That understanding and urgency has filtered down to the three freshmen, who are ready to try and compete for snaps as they head into their first campaign with the Sooners.
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