Mayfield walks, dances into star role at Oklahoma
Mayfield walks, dances into star role at Oklahoma
Dec. 22, 2015
NORMAN, Okla. (AP) — Oklahoma quarterback Baker Mayfield's exceptional dance moves have drawn hundreds of thousands of views on social media.
His moves on the field are worth a few clicks, too. His ability to extend plays is the main reason he's shaken and shimmied all the way from two-time walk-on to a second-team AP All-American who finished fourth in the Heisman Trophy balloting.
His flair, energy, skill level and honesty have earned the respect and admiration of his teammates.
"You know whether it's good or bad, whatever he's going to say or do, whether you like it or not, it's going to be 100 percent genuine," center Ty Darlington said. "When he gets fired up for other guys scoring touchdowns, when he does his crazy celebrations and dances and all of that stuff, you know that that's coming from who he actually is. It's not a ploy for you guys or people out there watching on TV."
Those close to Mayfield say success hasn't changed him. He remains a perfectionist who views himself as an underdog, and he's still the life of the party.
"He's been the same guy, the same goofy little 12-year-old video-game nerd that he is," Darlington said. "I'm proud of him for that."
Mayfield, a 6-foot-1, 209-pound junior, will take another step on his unique journey when his fourth-ranked Sooners face No. 1 Clemson in a national semifinal on New Year's Eve. He's come a long way, but the perfectionist in him wants more.
"I still have a lot left to go," he said. "There's a lot of stuff I can do better. The only reason I've gotten here is because of the work I've put in and the people who have helped me get here along the way. I can get a lot better, there's no doubt about that."
The thing that most defines him — the chip on his shoulder — remains clearly evident. Mayfield voiced his displeasure with not being invited to New York as a Heisman Trophy finalist. He finished behind Alabama's Derrick Henry, Stanford's Christian McCaffrey and Clemson's Deshaun Watson.
"They deserved it a lot more than I did, but I still think I deserved an invite to go there," Mayfield said. "I knew I wasn't going to win it, there was no question about that. They're very talented players. But I felt it was a slight."
He's used to being overlooked, and he's become skilled in using it as fuel. He felt he deserved more attention from the big boys coming out of high school. He walked on at Texas Tech and started the opener as a true freshman, but then fought through a knee injury and lost the job later in the season.
Despite being named Big 12 Offensive Newcomer of the Year, he didn't yet have a scholarship and had a shaky relationship with Tech coach Kliff Kingsbury, so he left to walk on at Oklahoma. He eventually got a scholarship from the Sooners, but he sat out a year before becoming eligible.
Now, he's a role model for the underdog. He has been awarded the Burlsworth Trophy, annually given to college football's most outstanding player who began his career as a walk-on.
He's done it his way, too, but that's nothing new. He grew up in Austin, Texas, home of Oklahoma's biggest rival, the Texas Longhorns. Yet, he's a lifelong Sooners fan who attended Oklahoma games as a child.
Once Mayfield arrived at Oklahoma, his energy, toughness, charm and talent endeared him to his teammates almost immediately — even on a squad already stocked with leaders. He made his first impression early in 2014 — even though he was about to sit out the season after his transfer. Trevor Knight was the toast of the town after a Sugar Bowl MVP performance against Alabama, but Mayfield stole the show at the spring game, completing all nine of his passes for 125 yards and two TDs.
After that, he earned his keep by running the scout team.
"I don't think I can even put a word or a number to how much it's fueled me," he said of sitting out a year. "I sat out and watched enough football last year to make me as hungry as I want to be for the rest of my life. That's kind of what drives me day in and day out, is what I had to sit out and watch last year."
Good fortune came his way, too. After finishing 8-5 in 2014, Oklahoma brought in offensive coordinator Lincoln Riley, who installed a similar version of the Air Raid system to what Mayfield ran at Texas Tech. Mayfield took advantage of the head start, won the starting job over Knight and led his team to the league title — and hopefully a little more.
In just his third start, he set the school record with 572 total yards in a win over Tulsa. In the game that drew the most attention, a 44-34 win over then-No. 4 Baylor, he threw for 270 yards and three TDs and ran 15 times for 76 yards and another score.
His resilience showed when he fueled a comeback from a 17-point deficit against Tennessee to win in double overtime. It showed when he threw five touchdown passes in the first half against Kansas State the week after the surprising loss to Texas. And again, when he played almost a quarter after a helmet-to-helmet hit against TCU and threw a touchdown pass before leaving the game with a concussion.
"He's not going to let anything get to him," Knight said. "When he has a good play, he's just Baker. When he has a bad play, he's just Baker. Both of those guys feed off each other and it trickles to the rest of the offense and the rest of the team."
Mayfield has done more than put up numbers. His knockdown block on the corner sprung Joe Mixon for a 66-yard touchdown run against Oklahoma State.
"He's a football player," Darlington said. "He's not a quarterback at all. He's a football player, and you can put him at safety, you can put him at linebacker, you can put him at kicker, wherever you want to put him — he's going to find a way to make an impact on the game.
"That play, I think, really personifies that characteristic of his game."
Follow Cliff Brunt @CliffBruntAP.
AP college football website: collegefootball.ap.org