It gets said a lot in recruiting that the quarterback commitment needs to be the face of the class, or at least one of the primary leaders.
It gets said a bunch because it’s true. There are examples galore, but in order for Oklahoma to have somehow maintained its stellar 2023 class, ranked No. 7 overall, it needed quarterback Jackson Arnold.
When OU went from 3-0 to 3-3 during the 2022 season, head coach Brent Venables and offensive coordinator Jeff Lebby needed Arnold. It was obvious the Sooners weren’t going to be what they had been in the previous two decades. It was going to take some time for Venables to get things aligned.
When that record shifted from 5-3 to 5-5 and then 6-6, they looked to Arnold again to keep everything afloat. And Arnold came through every single time.
A mid-year enrollee for OU, Arnold ends his recruitment as a five-star prospect ranked No. 23 overall. Arnold is one of three five-star signees, joining defensive end P.J. Adebawore (No. 21) and safety Peyton Bowen (No. 12).
“What I love about Jackson Arnold, and he’s one of the first young men that I visited with in my office a year ago last January, me and his family had an amazing conversation with him,” said Venables last month. “He was incredibly anxious. He knew what he wanted. The best of the best — they know what they want and when they see it, they take it.
“If that’s the A gap, if that’s the run-through, if that’s the anticipation to guys ‘I’m going to throw him open,’ they take it. They take their shot and that’s what he did. Not only that, he knew exactly what he was signing up for. Again, from the beginning to the end, zero maintenance. He’s been recruiting in a great way for us for the last several months and never, again, never wavered or questions what his opportunities were here or the direction the program is going so love the leadership, amazing family.”
Arnold was already a quarterback name to watch when he committed to Venables and Lebby last January, but tip of the hat to Lebby who was recruiting Arnold back when Lebby was calling the offensive shots at Ole Miss.
Arnold simply took his game to another level in the last 12 months. From a camp setting like winning the Elite 11 to the on-field dominance, he showed what he’s all about and went from a solid four-star prospect to an unquestioned five-star guy.
He went 28-3 as a starter for Denton Guyer, putting up gaudy numbers to close out his career. He completed 231 of 336 passes for 3,476 yards with 33 touchdowns and just three interceptions. He also rushed for 921 yards and 24 more scores.
“I think the very first thing was how effortless he can spin the football,” said Lebby last month. “Comes off his hand incredibly smooth. His athletic ability, it really got showcased for him in the playoffs this year, but he can do so much. That’s the biggest thing. We’re going to put him in positions of success, but I don’t think there’s anything he can’t be really good at. He’s got this incredible skill set.”
The accolades didn’t stop for Arnold, being named the Gatorade National Player of the Year earlier this month.
Arnold almost became a ranking dilemma because evaluators thought they knew who he was as a player, but his toughness was displayed repeatedly this season.
He’s much closer to a dual-threat quarterback than what he was first given credit for, and a lot of that just speaks to that mentality that Lebby can’t wait to coach.
“It jumps off the tape,” Lebby said. “We always talk about being able to see a guy’s competitive spirit on tape. To me, you don’t have to get around Jackson to know he loves football. You can put on 10 plays and know real quickly this guy is ultra-competitive and loves ball. That’s what you want. It jumps off the tape. His toughness, his passion, his energy, his leadership.”
With OU’s uneven season, a lot of people looked to see if Arnold would flinch. The popular rumor was Notre Dame, but there was zero validity to any of it.
He always was the face, the foundation of the class. Now it’s time for Arnold’s next step.
“Without a doubt, he’s been so strong, so good, so loyal. Been about his business,” Lebby said. “At some point, he’s going to be the face of Oklahoma, which is exciting.”