Sooners ready to put last season behind them

The latest news and notes from Tuesday's media luncheon with OU Defensive Coordinator Mike Stoops

Nearly eight months have passed since Oklahoma won the school's seventh national championship after knocking off Florida State in the Orange Bowl on Jan. 2.

And while thoughts of Rocky Calmus' interception return against Texas, Torrance Marshall's interception return against Texas A&M and Quentin Griffin's game-clenching touchdown run up the middle against Florida State in the Orange Bowl are still dancing in the heads of Sooner fans, the Oklahoma football team is ready to move on.

The third-ranked Sooners are set to begin their title defense this Saturday against North Carolina, and Oklahoma Defensive Coordinator Mike Stoops said it's officially time to forget about last season and focus on the task at hand.

"I think it's time to put what happened behind us. I think our players have. I think it's time for the fans to put last year behind us and move on," said Mike Stoops during the first press luncheon of the season on Tuesday.

"We're excited to start new memories. We're excited to watch new players play, and I think that's the exciting part about starting the season. Seeing all the new faces out there. Seeing all of our new players go out there and react and have an opportunity to compete for another championship. That's exciting for all of us. We're excited. It's going to be a great night."

The task at hand for the Sooners' 2001 season opener is North Carolina. The Tar Heels will roll into Norman with a new Head Coach and looking to put their name on the map with a win over the defending national champions.

Stoops said he doesn't believe in the theory of Oklahoma being the "hunted" this year as opposed to being the "hunter" last season and sneaking up on people.

"We don't prepare any differently being the defending national champs. We're in the hunt like everybody else and that's how Bob (Stoops) has approached this team," said Mike Stoops.

"Once the ball is kicked off, or once the season is kicked off we're going after the national championship like everybody else. I think Bob has done a great job of getting that philosophy to our players. We dislike a lot of teams as much as they dislike us. Just because we beat them last year doesn't mean we're going to not play harder this year."

One thing that concerns Stoops is the emotional factor that will come into play Saturday night and the opening night nervousness the team will have to overcome playing in the first game of the season in front of 75,000 fans and a national television audience.

"I think you obviously are for the first game," said Stoops on being nervous. "There are so many unknowns. The young payers become the biggest thing you worry about the most in how they are going to react in this type of environment and situation?"

"I think the best thing about us is that we're a very confident football team right now. Coming off the national championship game, I think it really gave our team a lot of confidence. We had our players go back and watch last years opening game. I think it was great to have our players go back and watch us play the opening game last year and see some of the mistakes that we made. There was a lot of young mistakes that we made throughout the game and we tried to show our players that these are the types of things that you can't let happen."

"We just hope we're sound in what we do. We have a very confident team. We learned a lot throughout last year. So far, our team has shown us that they have learned from that and we'll be well-prepared to play all of our games. They think we've got a chance to win them all and we feel good about our chances."

Stoops set to return by Thursday
One of first comments made to the media by Mike Stoops was that Head Coach Bob Stoops would be returning to practice no later than Thursday after leaving the state with his wife to attend a medical procedure for his daughter.

"Everything went according to the plan with the procedure yesterday afternoon," said Mike Stoops. "Everything looks good for a full and healthy recovery."

Mike Stoops said it was business as usual while big brother was gone, but that the coaches and players will be glad to have him back.

"We went about our business as usual. I think the uncomfortable thing about it is not having him there," said Stoops.

"The kids know that there has to be a serious reason that he's not here. And I think those are the reasons that the kids will all be happy to see him, because they know things are alright with him, and they know that he wouldn't be here if things weren't alright. I think that will truly ease their minds and make them feel more comfortable. We have a system in how we run things and having him there to orchestrate those things is important to the players and to our system."

Injury report
Oklahoma defensive back Brandon Everage returned to the practice field in full pads on Monday and Stoops expects the junior from Granger, Texas to give it a go on Saturday. Defensive tackle Juan Prishker has returned to practice as well, but is still questionable for the Sooners' season opener. Overall, Stoops is pleased with the injury situation heading into this weekend.

"I think the most important thing is that we're healthy, for the most part. We have a chance to be as close to 100 percent as we have been all camp heading into Saturday night. There are a few questions marks, but hopefully those will work there way out come Saturday evening."

Woolfolk to start both ways
Mike Stoops said that junior Andre Woolfolk could start both ways on Saturday, and will split his time on defense at the cornerback spot with redshirt freshman Antonio Perkins.

"If the offense takes the field first he will start at wide receiver. If we take the field first on defense he would start at corner," said Stoops.

"Antonio Perkins will play a great deal in the game. The only thing Antonio lacks is playing experience and getting out there and playing. And that's why we want to start Woolfolk."

"Woolfolk's been in a lot of big games. It's nothing that Antonio has done. We have a lot of confidence in Antonio and that's why we want to get him in early and show him that we do have confidence in him and that we are going to let him play."

Hybl looking more confident
Bob Stoops made the announcement on Monday that junior Nate Hybl was given the nod over sophomore Jason White as the starting quarterback. Mike Stoops said today after watching Hybl from a defensive standpoint he can already see a difference in the QB's demeanor since the announcement.

"I've noticed the biggest difference in Nate (Hybl) since they made that decision. I think it was an extremely tense situation for those quarterbacks competing not knowing their fate throughout two-a-days. Just going against him, it seems like he's gotten more confident since he was named the starter," said Mike Stoops on Hybl.

"Both players have played extremely well. It's hard to tell them apart. For Nate, hopefully the experience of getting to play some last year will help him. Saturday night will be a big night for Nate. Nate did a great job of preparing all summer. Both of them are extremely hard workers and I would assume that Nate is prepared as he can be for Saturday night. I think Nate is going to go out and play great."

Freshman sensation
Stoops made it official at Tuesday's press conference that true freshman Tommie Harris will start on the defensive line against UNC in the season opener.

Stoops even went as far as to say that Harris is the best freshman defensive lineman he's ever seen at his age.

"What's going to be interesting to see is how Tommie reacts Saturday night," said Stoops.

"He wouldn't be in this situation if we didn't think he was the best we had at that position. So, I look for Tommie to go out and have a great game."

Stoops said the other freshman in addition to Harris that are expected to see playing time on Saturday include offensive lineman Vince Carter, wide receiver Brandon Jones, defensive end Jonathan Jackson and linebacker Russell Dennison.

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