When he entered his name into the NCAA’s transfer portal this winter, former Virginia offensive lineman R.J. Proctor promised himself he would not make the same mistake he did in high school.
He wasn’t going to commit early. He was going to do his homework.
“With every school that was recruiting me, I had to do a background check,” Proctor said. “I had to look at the coaches and the depth, and ultimately with my goal being to reach the NFL, I had to look at who was going to give me the best chance of doing that.”
A few days after Virginia’s win in the Belk Bowl in late December, Proctor announced that, once he completed his undergraduate degree in May, he would transfer and spend a graduate year elsewhere. More than 26 programs reached out to him, and he whittled the list down to Oklahoma, Texas, Ohio State, Florida State and Houston.
After a visit over the weekend to Norman, Oklahoma, it was clear that the Sooners checked all the boxes. Proctor made it official Sunday evening on Twitter.
“I was very impressed with how they treated me and with the different things I saw from the program and their culture,” Proctor said. “I just felt like I was much more mature with this whole process, and I really did my research on the school.”
When Proctor committed to Virginia the summer before his senior year at Liberty (Bealeton) High School—which is about an hour north of Charlottesville—his coaches warned that his recruitment was just heating up. He said he felt pressure to verbally commit early, especially after a coach from UVa told him during a phone conversation that the school was hosting a big camp a few days later, and they may not have a spot for him after it was over.
“As a young guy and as a recruit, you’re thinking ‘Oh my God. I like Virginia because I live here, so I don’t want to miss out on the opportunity,’” Proctor said. “I knew this time, as a grad transfer, I wasn’t going to rush into it, and I told all the coaches that from the beginning.”
Proctor said he was impressed with how genuine Oklahoma was throughout the process. The staff was honest about its intentions to sign a graduate transfer as early as possible, but if none panned out in its timeline, the coaches would be calling.
After the next time Proctor’s phone rang with a coach from Norman on the other end, it rarely stopped ringing.
“I like that they kept it real with me,” said Proctor, who also visited Texas before making his decision. “Ever since then, they’ve been high on me, calling me every day.”
Proctor holds no ill will toward Virginia. He’ll graduate in May with a major in sociology and a minor in health and well being. His Masters degree at Oklahoma will take on more of a coaching focus in the higher education program.
“I still love Virginia, and I still think I made the right decision to come here,” Proctor said.
In February, Virginia head coach Bronco Mendenhall said he felt like Proctor needed a change of scenery.
“My simple belief was that his growth and his development and him taking another jump was going to best be facilitated through some of the hard things of going to another place and then being a new guy, reestablishing yourself, and that urgency and that hunger to then take your game to a different level,” Mendenhall said. “I really didn’t think we were going to be able to help him, nor within that relationship, have him take this next jump. So, that’s what we advised him to do.”
Virginia’s staff had such an impact on Proctor that he used it as a measuring stick for every program he considered. The close-knit nature of Oklahoma’s staff reminded him of UVa, and he was impressed with the Sooners’ 35-year-old head coach Lincoln Riley.
“There aren’t many like Coach Riley. He’s such a nice guy, he’s a young guy, he has his head on straight and he prides himself in winning,” Proctor said. “You don’t see a lot of coaching staffs that are that close, especially at such a high level like Oklahoma. That’s really big because I’m coming from a program where it’s family based.”
“It’s like I’m transitioning into UVa again,” he continued, “just on a bigger stage.”
After the coaching staff, the next box needed to be checked off of Proctor’s list was the Sooners’ depth at guard. After finishing last season 12-2 (8-1 in the Big 12) and falling to Alabama in the College Football Playoff semifinals, Oklahoma lost starters Ben Powers and Dru Samia to graduation. Both were All-Americans. Powers was a consensus pick, and Samia made the second-team.
Across the board, the Sooners’ remaining interior linemen are pretty young.
“You can tell they have some dogs out there. They’re just young,” Proctor said. “I was watching position meetings and watched a practice, and there were some things I caught onto automatically, but they didn’t see it because they haven’t run through it in an actual game where you can’t think about it, you just have to react.”
Oklahoma is known for producing run-blocking offensive linemen and NFL running backs, such as Adrian Peterson, Demarco Murray, Joe Mixon and Samaje Perine. Proctor feels like what the Sooners want to do on offense fits right into his wheelhouse, and he’s elated to pick the brain of offensive line coach Bill Bedenbaugh.
“If anyone knows RJ, ya’ll know that RJ likes to run block,” said Proctor, speaking in the third person. “I like to misplace people. I like to push people off the line of scrimmage, and hopefully I can take my pass protection to a whole other level as well.”
Proctor said a program’s facilities weren’t that high on his list, but it just so happens that Oklahoma’s are out of this world. The Sooners are one of five college football programs in the country that are sponsored by Michael Jordan’s brand and wear the Jumpman logo on their uniforms. The other four are North Carolina, Michigan, Florida and Houston.
“The facilities are crazy. I’ve never seen anything like it, honestly,” Proctor said. “There aren’t many schools that have what they have.”
Since announcing his intent to transfer in December, Proctor hasn’t worked out with the Virginia football team, but he has been working with former UVa middle linebacker Dominic Sheppard and a personal trainer. Sheppard, who announced in January that we would transfer, is heading to University of Texas-San Antonio.
“We’ve been hitting it hard, working out four times a week, working out on our own and doing everything to make sure our bodies are right by the time we land on campus,” Proctor said. “I don’t have much time.”
Spring practice is already underway at Oklahoma, and the Sooners’ spring game is schedule for April 13. Proctor hopes to land in Norman in late May.
“As soon as I walk, I want to be one a plane down there,” he said. “I want to hit the ground running.”