NORMAN, Okla. – Freshman defensive end D.J. Ward, one of the top prospects in Oklahoma's recruiting class and ranked the top in-state player by recruiting services, practiced with the Sooners for the first time Tuesday after being declared eligible by the NCAA.
Coach Bob Stoops said NCAA rules require Ward to go through his first two practices in a helmet only, without shoulder pads, limiting what he was able to do.
"He couldn't do much but he did fundamental work and learning the defense. Hopefully we can get him schooled up enough to get him a few snaps on Saturday" in the spring game, Stoops said after practice.
The 6-foot-2, 245-pound Ward didn't play his senior year of high school after transferring from Lawton High School to Oklahoma City's Douglass High School and then to Southmoore prior to the season.
He was ruled ineligible by the state high schools association after the transfers, then graduated early so he could enroll at Oklahoma.
He is one of four newcomers who were already taking classes — along with punter Jed Barnett, receiver Dannon Cavil and safety Ahmad Thomas — so they could go through spring practice. However, Ward didn't receive clearance right away and missed the first 11 practices of the spring.
"I'm not pointing fingers that it should have happened sooner. Anymore with eligibility and with classes being taken sometimes in different ways, they have to make sure it's correct," Stoops said. "It is now, so we'll move forward."
With Ward's multiple transfers plus an early graduation, Stoops said he understood that the NCAA needed more time to verify Ward's academic standing.
"I think all of that contributes to it. It makes it harder to get all of the information and to make sure it's accurate information," he said. "I'm sure it was one of the more different cases they've had."
Despite being unable to work out with the team and sitting out all of last season, Stoops said Ward stayed in great physical shape. There could still be an adjustment period for Ward, who was selected to play in the U.S. Army All-American game.
"I imagine there will be some. Although it comes to him pretty natural. But yeah, that's fair to say there will be some," Stoops said. "It will take him a little while to get back into that kind of shape and get a feel for it."