Brendan Radley-Hiles ready to fill place of friend Tre Norwood
by Joe Mussatto
NORMAN — Tre Norwood’s season-ending injury affected Brendan Radley-Hiles in two ways. First came the shock of seeing Norwood, his freshman-year roommate, go down in the first week of fall camp. Then came the realization that the starting nickelback job is likely his.
“He just told me I have to stay up,” Radley-Hiles said. “He told me that specifically. His presence is still there, and his leadership factor is still there. We just have to step up and play for him.”
Norwood is someone Radley-Hiles leaned on during his turbulent freshman season. They lived together along with fellow defensive back Robert Barnes.
Radley-Hiles is no longer roommates with Norwood and Barnes, but the three still eat breakfast together every morning. Radley-Hiles described the trio as being “joined at the hip.”
“Those two really showed me the ropes of college football,” he said, “and just college in general.”
Radley-Hiles needed that support. Perhaps no Sooner defensive player was more criticized last season. The Inglewood, California, native arrived in Norman as the ballyhooed five-star savior. He was named Big 12 Preseason Newcomer of the Year.
By the end of the year he was stuck on the sideline.
His final start came at West Virginia on Nov. 23. Oklahoma allowed a season-high 56 points in the game, and Radley-Hiles was beaten three times for touchdowns. David Sills blew by him for a 41-yard score on West Virginia’s opening drive. Gary Jennings cruised for touchdown catches of 57 and 75 yards when Radley-Hiles was in direct coverage.
He was benched a week later, ahead of the Big 12 Championship game against Texas.
“People forgot to mention he was a freshman last year,” junior cornerback Tre Brown said. “He was thrown in the fire really fast. Just for him to handle that shows his maturity level. Now he’s older and wiser. Things are going to be different.”
It’s partially up to new defensive coordinator Alex Grinch to unlock the potential that surely exists in Radley-Hiles — the same potential that earned him scholarship offers from Alabama, Clemson, Ohio State and Notre Dame.
“I commend Bookie up to this point,” Grinch said. “I think there’s several guys that have kind of taken leaps from their performance in spring, and he’d probably be No. 1 on that list.”
Radley-Hiles is the most likely candidate to replace Norwood, who started all 14 games last season. Junior Chanse Sylvie and freshman Jeremiah Criddell are also working out at nickelback.
Radley-Hiles said his relationship with Norwood has grown since the injury.
“He’s always gonna be my big brother,” Radley-Hiles said.