Greatness Defined: RB Embarks Upon NCAA Mark

NORMAN, Okla. — From the day slot receiver Ryan Broyles arrived at campus just a mile away from where he played high school ball, something about him has been different.

Yes, there have been many great Sooner receivers over time and many in recent years--Mark Clayton and Mark Bradley come to mind--but something about this guy has just been different.

And Saturday, when Broyles will likely become the all-time NCAA career receptions leader as he's just three shy of Taylor Stubblefield's mark of 316 set between 2001-04, is a microcosm of all those things wrapped into one that separate him from previous Sooner great receivers.

His competitiveness.

His work ethic. Athleticism. Durability.

His ability to get open.

All those things are what stands him out from the others.

"The guy's been unbelievable, just his knack for [the ball], his hands and competitiveness, ability to find space, get behind people, he's really special," said head coach Bob Stoops.

"Extremely talented, extremely competitive, diligent in his work every single day, his preparation, you know, just extremely competitive out on the field every Saturday and durable and accountable," said co-offensive coordinator Josh Heupel.

Four straight years of those traits have allowed him to be in the position he is right now, to have his name on top of that list.

"Wow, that's a great deal, you know," Broyles said. "Hard work pays off. That's the thing I've been saying for the last week now. I've been fortunate to play with great quarterbacks, great offenses, you know, coordinators. So, it's definitely a team effort."

That's something else that separates him: his humility.

Broyles has always had a great deal of humbleness.

"I never started out my career saying I'm going to be the leader in receptions, yards or anything like that," Broyles said. "I'm just going to just go out there and do what I can to win games, make big plays and it's happened to end this way."

And as if he couldn't be humbled any more, he spoke of an email he got yesterday.

The current career-leader himself reached out to Broyles and sent him a few words.

Those words weren't just all reflective of football, either.

"He was like, ‘Yeah, it's a great accomplishment. You know, you're on the verge of doing that,'" Broyles said. "But the biggest accomplishment of his life is saying you're a better man than a football player.

Broyles, too, has reflected that outlook on life for awhile now.

He's been a player of faith.

He's modeled himself the right ways ever since a little slip up his first year.

"So, I think that's my aspect on it all, I feel like football has allowed me to grow more as a man," Broyles said. "And you know, the statistics, all the stats, that's all cool, but at the end of the day, that's not really what's important."

What is important is for others to realize the work he's put in to maximizing his potential.

Broyles shows up before games hours early to run through the Sooners' tennis ball drill.

He stays after practice late and catches tennis balls.

Broyles studies his film thoroughly.

He knows the playbook like the back of his hand.

"You break an NCAA record, it's a pretty special thing," Heupel said. "And there's more hours and preparation and work that goes into that than anybody outside of the game can imagine. So, it's a real testament to him as a person and a player."

Then, it just gets back to his competitive nature.

He attributes that back to his high school days under coach Butch Peters and not just on the field, but in the weight room.

Peters was what Broyles called an "old school coach" who emphasized basic fundamental movements like bench press and squats.

Broyles, who said bench press was always a strength, never wanted to finish second in any of those, let alone out there between the chalk.

"So, I sit there and work out, I just try to give it my all every time I go in there," Broyles said. "Just like I said, I try to get an edge no matter where I can. You know, there's going to be guys that might struggle, might not bring the whole intensity to the weight room or to practice. I'm going to try to be that guy that brings it."

And while his competitive nature, work ethic and will to be the best in everything are essential, perhaps one of the most undervalued parts of this achievement is his durability, his health.

Broyles hasn't always been 100 percent throughout his four years.

He's battled things like bad ankles, a broken scapula, injured shoulders and turf toe throughout his time at OU.

"It's very rare from a receiver [to fight through that]," said OU co-offensive coordinator and receivers coach Jay Norvell. "Most receivers got to be 100 percent right to play at a high level. And Ryan is really shown an ability to play when he's not 100 percent...That's more of a mental thing that anything else, but most receivers, they've just got to be right to really play at a high level."

Just like everything else, too, Broyles links the fact that he's played with injuries back to his competitive nature.

"I don't ever want anybody to outshine me," Broyles said. "I'm one of those guys that's going to compete every time, every chance I get. You know, I put my body on the line for three hours no matter what injury I have as long as I can play. [I] played with the fracture, played with sprains, all types of things, you know.

"And I just fight through it for a couple hours for the team to go out there and give it my best shot. So, I guess that would be one of those underrated things is that I'm just going to put my body on the line and then play through anything."

Something else that can't go unsaid about this award as well are the guys who have been throwing the ball to him.

For one year, Broyles had Heisman Trophy quarterback Sam Bradford slinging passes his way.

The other three, he's been somewhat of a beneficiary of quarterback Landry Jones.

He'll tell you himself.

"For sure, the quarterback has to throw the ball," Broyles said. "I think with me and Landry, you know, the chemistry we have, that definitely helps. You can't just do it on one end. The quarterback, he could be a good player, but if he doesn't have timing with his receivers and vice versa, [it's not possible]."

And that's true of the last tandem that achieved the feat.

Who served up Stubblefield's passes on a platter?

None other than current New Orleans Saints quarterback Drew Brees, the fellow former Purdue Boilermaker.

"You know, it didn't surprise me that Drew Brees had something to do with the record," Norvell said. "Stubblefield, he played with Drew Brees. I mean, he played with a great quarterback who was very accurate and it's as much a record for Landry and Sam Bradford as it is for the receivers that have played with him. And Ryan has been a beneficiary of that.

"But at the same time, Ryan has been there and he's been open and he's worked open and he's made plays. So, I think in that way, you've got to appreciate just the durability of it and the fact that it's a career record, a span over four years and he's really done a fabulous job versus no matter who we played against."

No doubt, this weekend or next, though barring an injury, there's no reason to believe it won't happen at Kansas Saturday, Broyles will officially emerge as one of the greatest college receivers in history.

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