Eric Striker becoming face of OU program

There are contenders, but right now it feels like the 2015 OU team belongs to Eric Striker.

It was the answer Oklahoma fans wanted to hear, but an answer they certainly weren’t guaranteed to hear come out of the mouth of linebacker Eric Striker.

Minutes following OU being humbled 40-6 in the Russell Athletic Bowl against Clemson in Orlando, Fla., the attention shifted toward Striker. Was it possible the junior from Seffner (Fla.) Armwood had just played his final game in a Sooners uniform?

The answer was an emphatic no.

“Things are going to change around here,” Striker said. “No one wants to finish like this – not at all. I’m a team guy, know what I mean? That’s the way Armwood shaped me, and that’s how I’m going to be.

“I’ve got another year to make it better and that’s what I’m going to do – everything I can to make it better. You shouldn’t finish like this. You shouldn’t want to go out like this. I’m a winner, and we should all want to be winners. This is not the way you do it.”

With that resounding statement, Striker let everybody know 8-5 doesn’t work at OU, and he let everybody know that if you’re looking for a leader for 2015, it starts with Striker.

Heading into spring, it became readily apparent Striker was going to be the guy on and off the field for the Sooners. He had taken the responsibility and wasn’t going to be afraid to take the challenge.

A day after the first spring practice, without knowing it, Striker was going to become an even bigger face of the program and a recognizable one across the country.

A racial chant video went viral performed by a fraternity that has now been disbanded by the University of Oklahoma. Emotions were high. The first 48-72 hours were about as tense in Norman as they had been in quite some time.

Not everybody could articulate the message. The players felt comfortable rolling with Striker, and he showed why in an interview with CNN just 24 hours after the event.

“You’ve got to find somebody and pick somebody who can be the voice,” Striker said. “Everybody can agree, OK, this is who’s going to be the voice. Everybody can’t convey the message.

“Everybody can’t… when those lights come on and those cameras come and it’s your face, it’s a whole ‘nother… know what I mean? It’s a whole other piece. Everybody can’t do it. A team of 105 dudes felt like I was the one. I can do that.”

Striker was at the forefront of OU’s silent demonstrations the days after the video. He has been one of OU’s leaders in talking about trying to raise awareness from racism and discrimination across college campuses nationwide.

He even met last week with one of the guys in the video, former OU student Levi Pettit, saying it was emotional but adding he forgave Pettit.

The focus is slowly shifting back toward football. Team leaders like Striker continue to make statements promoting their cause because they don’t want it to be forgotten and nobody sounds more passionately about the issue than Striker.

And with the talk returning to on the field, Striker is a name worth mentioning there, too. He had 68 tackles, 17 for loss, 9.5 sacks and two fumble recoveries. But everyone knows, including his coaches, he can still get better.

“Eric can do a lot of different things,” defensive coordinator Mike Stoops said. “His ability to make plays in space. He’s a guy that can do a lot more things. We’re just trying to make him multi-dimensional.

“Everyone says: Why don’t you just bring him, bring him, bring him? When you have to build your defense around one guy that becomes hard. That’s what we do sometimes because he’s a unique player off the edge.

“He’s not a 6-foot-5, 260-pound defensive end, but we’re playing him as a defensive end. There’s things in trying to find things he does well and putting him in position to do those is really what we’re trying to do. You can’t do it all the time, but you have to continue to try to find ways to free him up.”

Striker laid down the gauntlet for himself after the Clemson game. We’re only in spring, but it feels like he’s having no issues being that guy.

“You let them know, the young guys, that you’ve been there,” Striker said. “As leaders, we need to be right for the young guys to show them the way and communicate as well. When you’re first coming out of high school or where you are coming from, that’s not how we do it. You have to do it this way if you want to play.”

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