DALLAS – Born out of necessity and hard-forged under one of the most pressurize situations a team can face, Oklahoma ultimately has something that it lacked last season.
It has proven, vocal leadership.
The crop of juniors was pushed into a role last year that it might not have been ready for after the class ahead of them had dwindled to almost nothing because of graduation, early departure, transfers or team violations.
They had to be the leaders, but they might not have been ready just yet. It took a loss in the Russell Athletic Bowl to Clemson for the Sooners to finally say, “Never again.” Immediately after the bowl game, a set of leaders – none of which were seniors at the time – got together to forge what center Ty Darlington called the “leadership council.”
“We sort of formed our own leadership group,” he said. “These are the guys that are the returning starters. These are the seniors. These are the guys. These six or seven guys, these are our leaders.”
Darlington, Zack Sanchez, Charles Tapper, Trevor Knight, Sterling Shepard, Eric Striker and Nila Kasitati began meeting on a weekly basis. The great idea in theory would soon be tested in public, when the scandalous video of the Sigma Alpha Eplison chapter at Oklahoma was released.
The group was ready. They had already been picked, and the 105 members of the Oklahoma football team followed the small group in unison. All decisions were put to a six-man vote. Kasitati wasn’t on campus for the incident.
The team followed suit.
“You need your leaders to speak,” said Striker, who took on the biggest leadership role in the wake of the SAE video. “You need your leaders to step up and speak up when things are going wrong.”
Oklahoma now as proven leaders. Leaders who are willing to speak out and even keep the underclassmen in line if need be.
“Sometimes you have to get on a young buck. That’s just the way it is,” Striker said. “There were times when my momma had to spank me. She didn’t yell at me all the time, but sometimes, she had to spank me to keep me in check. That’s just how you have to do it.”
The Sooners should be better for it on the field. Darlington said the team has gotten to know each other on a level they might not have if not for the controversy. It’s brought them closer off the field, even though it wasn’t designed to be that way.
They weren’t talking about defensive coverages or blitz pick ups. The conversations weren’t about winning games or heading to the NFL. The Sooners were forced to address some of the most pressing issues of real life.
“That incident broke down barriers with our team and allowed people to stand up in a room together and talk about real-world issues,” Darlington said. “. . . You’re talking about a lasting legacy. Just talking on the subject brings a team closer in a different way.”
There’s no need for Oklahoma’s top players to show that they can be leaders. They already have. Soon, captains will be put to a vote by the team. There are seven obvious ones.
“We’ve definitely proven ourselves,” Striker said. “The guys look at us like there’s not a better class to lead us than those guys.”