Wide receiver Dede Westbrook remembers it well. Not a part of Oklahoma just yet, Westbrook remembers every second of last year’s 40-6 loss to Clemson in the Russell Athletic Bowl.
Westbrook, among the top junior college prospects in the nation last year, had already signed with OU and was going to enroll the following month.
He was fired up for the game and was back home in Cameron, Texas. He watched it all before heading to his old high school to watch a volleyball game. It wasn’t the best moment of all time, but he wasn’t about to abandon the Sooners.
“My high school had a volleyball game and I went to it afterwards and I had an OU hoodie and they were like ‘you need to take that hoodie off,’” Westbrook said. “And I said ‘No, this is my school.’”
OU just completed an 8-5 season and by the time he arrived at OU, the coach who recruited him so hard (Jay Norvell) was out of a job.
It was too late to turn back now. But Westbrook was confident it was all going to work out in the end and that he had made the right choice.
“I never once because Coach Stoops is Coach Stoops and he’s one of the best coaches in the country and you know he’s going to have a great staff around him regardless of who he hires and who he brings in,” Westbrook said. “I was just into turning things around. I knew that he was going to bring some guys in and put us on the right track.”
That guy was Lincoln Riley for the offense and that guy was Dennis Simmons for wide receivers. Coincidentally, it was Simmons who was recruiting Westbrook back when Simmons was coaching at Washington State so it didn’t take long for the two to get on the same page.
Westbrook remembers the feeling after the bowl game. People blowing up his Twitter page, telling him he had made the wrong choice – that was a moron for picking the Sooners. OU believed in him, and he was going to believe in OU.
And when Westbrook told OU about Jarvis Baxter, the Sooners believed in him again. Baxter’s situation was very different compared to Westbrook. Where Westbrook the ballyhooed recruit, Baxter’s academic situation had people wondering if he was going to make it.
He signed with South Florida but needed a lot of academic work in the summer to qualify. Since USF doesn’t accept more than nine hours of academic credit toward being eligible, he was out with the Bulls and searching for a home.
OU gave him one, but it wasn’t going to be easy. No scholarship. He was going to be a walk-on and have to earn his scholarship.
“Some weren’t excited about the walk-on part, but it’s not about what they think,” Baxter said. “It’s about what I think. I knew if I came in and put in the work, I’d be successful, and that’s exactly what happened.”
Two junior college receivers who had their choice of where they wanted to go. They took a chance with the Sooners. This season could have been a trainwreck. There really was no way to know.
Safe to say it’s worked out for all involved. Westbrook earned Offensive Newcomer of the Year in the Big 12 with 42 catches for 674 yards and four touchdowns. Baxter, who did earn the scholarship midway through the season, has 17 receptions for 182 yards and a score.
Westbrook and Baxter elected to not talk back when others questioned their decision. Playing in the college football playoff is all the talking they need to do.