Courtesy photo / D.J. Oats
Courtesy photo / D.J. Oats
Like many high school football players, D.J. Oats wanted an opportunity to play in college.
For Oats, however, the search for a college went well beyond football.
On Sunday, Oats gave his verbal commitment to Colorado, not only because he can play football for the Buffaloes, but because of the security he felt from CU’s coaches, especially new head coach Mel Tucker.
“There was lots of love there,” said Oats, a 6-foot, 190-pound cornerback from Arlington, Texas, who plans to sign his letter of intent on Feb. 6. “Coach showed me lots of love. It definitely meant a lot to me. I just felt like it was God’s plan. I felt like that was the place for me. He really wanted me there and I really wanted to be there.”
Feeling loved, appreciated and watched over means a lot to Oats because of the tumultuous path he’s been on over the past few years.
“Having been through what he’s been through, I want him in a situation with somebody who takes care of their players,” said Enloe Clemons, Oats’ uncle and guardian for the past two years. “D.J. is a no-nonsense type of kid. He doesn’t give you any problems. He’s just a great kid and I want to put him in a situation where he can get coached up. I think it’s a good situation.”
Oats is a unique prospect who has been lightly recruited despite his good size and exceptional speed. But, his path has been anything but normal.
Prior to Oats’ freshman year of high school in Illinois, his mother, Kenyetta Phillips, died at the age of 42 after a long battle with cancer.
“Losing my mom, I had sisters and brothers around and they looked at me to be the role model,” Oats said.
Shortly after his mother’s death, Oats moved from a small town in southern Illinois to the Chicago area to live with his father, Daniel Oats Sr. Then, less than 17 months after Oats’ mother passed away, he lost his father, as Daniel suffered a fatal heart attack on Nov. 2, 2016.
“It was definitely hard, every day just waking up knowing you can’t really talk to your parents,” he said. “A lot of decisions, I feel like I never had it where I could talk to mom and dad.”
He did have his aunt and uncle, though. Following his father’s death, Oats moved to Arlington to live with Clemons.
“Emotionally you can’t hardly tell (he lost his parents), because he’s that type of kid,” Clemons said. “He smiles a lot, but it was tough on him. We made sure we gave him a lot of support. We kept him busy with sports and things of that nature to keep the mind off of what was going on.”
Oats enrolled in Grace Preparatory Academy for his final two years of high school. Because of Texas transfer rules, however, he had to play on the JV football team as a junior.
Last summer, Oats was entering his senior year, but wasn’t really on the scouting radar because of his unique path through high school. His talent was evident, however, and Oats had several people helping him get noticed, including Clemons and a recruiter from Elite Talent Football Academy in Georgia.
On June 6, Oats went to the Titletown Showcase camp at Valdosta State University. Several colleges were represented at the camp, including Georgia. Tucker, the Georgia defensive coordinator at the time, was one of the coaches on hand.
During that camp, Oats ran a 40-yard dash in 4.35 seconds, Clemons said. Coaches had him run again, and he posted a 4.32.
Oats still needed to prove himself on a varsity football field, and he did this past fall, rushing for 1,155 yards and 14 touchdowns on 127 carries (9.1 yards per carry) and excelling at cornerback. Still, the scholarship offers weren’t there.
“There were times during the season I was down on myself and like, ‘Man, I’m not getting any offers,'” Oats said.
When Tucker was hired by CU in December, though, he remembered Oats and gave him a scholarship offer earlier this month. Last weekend, Oats visited CU and committed.
Clemons, who was on the visit with Oats said Tucker “was genuine” and the family sees Tucker as being a bit of a father figure to Oats during his time at CU.
“I definitely feel like he can play that role,” Oats said. “He showed me a lot of love and he took me in. I’ll be loyal to him.”
Oats is also loyal to his family and is determined to make them proud.
“It means everything,” he said of playing at CU. “I have people depending on me. I just want to go as hard as I can.”