NORMAN — Skip Johnson had a lot on his mind last week.
Wednesday, he was at his mother’s funeral. Processing that event was difficult enough. Peggy Johnson had been one of his rocks in life.
Simultaneously, the Oklahoma baseball coach had players on Major League Baseball draft boards. He thought of his guys who would be selected. He also thought about the ones who might not.
Shortstop/pitcher Cade Horton and outfielder Jace Bohrofen were among the OU signees not taken in the shortened draft. Had it gone all 40 rounds, things might have been different.
“I was sitting there thinking about, ‘What am I gonna tell these guys tonight if they don’t get drafted?’” Johnson said. “But I think it’s better. They have (more) time for life lessons.”
That’s how Horton has viewed it all along. And now, those who followed him in high school get to see an interesting story develop.
The two-sport athlete out of Norman High has signed with the Sooners for baseball and as a preferred walk-on for the football team. He threw for 3,084 yards, rushed for 1,149 and totaled 41 touchdowns as a senior. He’ll get to sit in a quarterback room with OU’s Lincoln Riley, Spencer Rattler and Tanner Mordecai.
Horton might even get a shot at the College World Series.
“It’s definitely a good feeling knowing I don’t have a bad option,” Horton said before the draft. “It’s knowing whatever’s going to happen with all of it, (school) will be a good option for me.”
That’s how Westmoore's Bohrofen saw it too.
“Didn’t plan on skipping a step. #Boomer!” he tweeted Friday afternoon.
Because MLB’s five-round draft was sure to create jammed-up rosters, the NCAA gave relief by lifting the 35-man roster limit, upping the scholarship count from 27 to 32 and temporarily lifting the 25% scholarship minimum.
Even though OU lost its entire weekend pitching rotation — Cade Cavalli, Levi Prater and Dane Acker — in the draft, there are still more players coming back than expected. The NCAA has granted players whose season was interrupted this spring another year of eligibility.
Johnson can fit guys like Horton and Bohrofen into the picture with less complication thanks to the NCAA’s latest move.
“I think it’s really good for our sport to give us some relief off the 25% deal,” Johnson said. “I think it’s only going to help each and every day. You’re going to be able to retain some guys that normally you might not retain. That’s the biggest issue more so than anything. You’re the only counter sport (in NCAA) there is. You have 11.7 (scholarships) divided between 27 players. It gets tough, especially when some guys have an extra year.”
Johnson’s had his fair share of moments wondering what might have happened with the Sooners this season, had it not been canceled due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Four of his players were selected in the draft’s first four rounds, setting a school record. It was the most optimal roster he’s had in three seasons as head coach.
But he said moving forward is important too. He hopes Horton and Bohrofen are thinking that way.
“‘What do we have to move forward?’ That’s what I kept telling myself when I asked what I was going to tell these guys,” Johnson said. “Are you going to feel sorry for yourself that you didn’t get drafted, you didn’t get the money? Or are you going to get better from it?
“They’re not telling you you can’t play professional baseball. Sometimes they’re telling you, maybe you’re not ready to play professional baseball … We’re thankful they chose the University of Oklahoma, they’re two very good players. Horton is a two-way guy, plus he’s a quarterback and a baseball player. It’s going to be interesting to see how his development is over the next three years. I know Jace is going to develop and continue to get better, and that’s a great thing for our program.”