Mayfield wasn’t on the football field though, and on this day, it was his personality that shined through more than his performance. He was standing in the middle of the Lloyd Noble Center, where the Sooners were honored for winning their ninth Big 12 Conference title. That’s as many conference titles as any other four teams combined.
The crowd cheered as Mayfield smiled, the conference trophy in a teammate’s hands behind him. He was boastfully confident with the microphone in his hand as Oklahoma most electric and best offensive player.
Oklahoma then ran the simplest of plays – a hand-off. Mayfield went looking for running back Samaje Perine, who hid behind a teammate or two momentarily before slipping reluctantly through the hole.
The arena never quieted as the second running back to ever rush for more than 3,000 yards in his first two years on campus. That’s about the only thing that Perine hasn’t done quietly in his two years at Oklahoma. He doesn’t like to talk in public – part of the reason Mayfield went looking for him in the spotlight – and likes to talk about himself even less.
Arguably Oklahoma’s two best offensive weapons couldn’t be molded from two more different personalities.
“It’s different,” Oklahoma center Ty Darlington said.
And that’s putting it pretty simply.
The two took very different paths to Norman as well, roads that wouldn’t exactly match their personalities.
Perine was recruited by all the major programs. He had offers from Alabama, Nebraska, TCU and Tennessee and chose Oklahoma. He made an impact immediately, one that might have more reasonably gone along with a high-profile attitude as well. Perine never had that. He never developed it. From the first time he spoke with the media, he was quiet and reserved – smiling and laughing off as many questions as he answered.
Whereas Mayfield was confident and outspoken from the start, willing to say whatever was on his mind. That’s not usually the persona of an undersized quarterback without any major offers out of high school.
Two seemingly opposite players from out of the backyard of Oklahoma’s biggest rival have put the Sooners on the cusp of the national championship.
“Samaje is a work guy. He’s not going to be a big ra-ra, get in everybody’s face type of deal. He puts it on the field. He’s a lead by example guy,” Darlington said. “. . . (Baker’s) personality, he’s out there. He’s all over the place. He does a good job of matching his personality style of the moment. He can be serious or he can be a fool. He can be either one. He does a good job of picking the spots when he has to be both.”
Mayfield and Perine first met in high school on opposite sides of the field, when the two played JV football. The two weren’t friends, but when Mayfield transferred from Texas Tech, he still had a little bit of calming familiarity with who his starting running back would be if he became the Sooners’ starting quarterback.
“It's been pretty neat to watch him grow up and become the man he is today,” Mayfield said. “The way he carries himself, I mean, he's always been a heck of a player. To see how humble he is, that's neat to see.”
Perine was not made available by Oklahoma for this story.
Part of personality is out necessity at times. Mayfield has to be loud – the offensive leader of one of the best programs in the country. He has to command respect with his words as much as he play.
He has to lead.
Right now, all Perine has to do is follow – a role he’s undoubtedly more comfortable playing. But he’s not afraid to speak up, and when he commands the offense to find a way to score, everybody listens. Perine can lead by example because there are other players on the roster who are willing to speak, like Mayfield, Darlington and senior Sterling Shepard. It’s not Perine’s role yet.
He might do more of that next year.
“Either way, he’s going to run the ball for a lot of yards,” Darlington said. “He’s going to play hard and lead by example and make us want to block for him.”