Waxhaw (N.C.) Cuthbertson football coach David Johnson remembers it well. Upon hearing the news Christmas Eve that former five-star quarterback Kyler Murray was going to transfer to Oklahoma, Johnson had to check in with his prized pupil, four-star quarterback Austin Kendall.
Kendall, who had been committed to OU since April, was set to enroll in Norman in just a few weeks. The worry was whether or not Murray’s arrival would change things up.
It wasn’t a long conversation, about 30 seconds in length. But what little was said let Johnson know he didn’t have to entertain calls from any other schools.
“He told me, Coach, Oklahoma is where I want to go to school,” Johnson said. “I told him if you like it, I love it. That was that. Just 30 seconds.”
When Kendall committed to OU 11 months ago, he seemed destined for a redshirt season. All three quarterbacks on campus when he pledged were expected to be back for 2016.
Obviously that all changed in a hurry. Trevor Knight transferred to Texas A&M in December. Cody Thomas announced in January he would leave the football team to pursue baseball in the spring. No splitting time, devoting himself to the diamond instead of the gridiron.
And though Murray is in the fold, he’s not eligible until the 2017 season. So Kendall, a four-star prospect who was in high school three months ago, is now projected to be OU’s backup quarterback to Heisman candidate Baker Mayfield in the fall.
“It’s funny because when he decided on OU, a redshirt season was actually something he was looking forward to having,” Johnson said. “It would be a year to learn the system and totally understand the playbook
“But once everything happened, I saw his whole mindset change. He’s going to go out there to compete. I’ve had a couple of conversations with Austin since he has been out there, he’s loving it. He’s doing well and believes he has an advantage because he played in an offense like that in high school.”
Kendall always intended to be a mid-year enrollee even before all the quarterback moves happened with the Sooners. It just so happens the spring will be an even bigger time for Kendall in terms of learning the system.
He’s going to get equal reps with Mayfield, said Bob Stoops last week. The goal is to always have two huddles running at the same time.
Kendall is going to get his shot at running the offense and starting to build the rapport with his receivers and get comfortable with the speed of the game and things of that nature.
But there’s another part to enrolling early that has nothing to do with Xs and Os, and that’s the part offensive coordinator Lincoln Riley might be even more excited about.
“Oh, it’s huge. It’s huge,” Riley said. “The reps that he’s gonna get—even before Cody made his decision, and obviously now, that’s just increased the amount of reps that he’s gonna get, the opportunity that he’s gonna get.
“He gets a chance to just settle into college life a little bit earlier, which is key. That’s not something people think about a lot on the outside, but that’s just as important. So he’s obviously gonna factor into what we’re doing sooner rather than later.”
Stoops is high on Kendall, but he knows he can’t get too excited. Not just yet. Not until Kendall proves himself on the field. He believes Kendall fits in with the offense as well as can be expected at this point.
But there are signs about just how truly pumped Stoops is about Kendall, especially when it comes to Cody Thomas.
The way the release was worded in January was Thomas would play baseball and consider a return to football. That left things sort of ambiguous in terms of his future. Stoops helped clear that up last week.
“I don't know,” said Stoops about Thomas returning. “I guess there's always a chance. That isn't something that's being discussed but you never know where things are at with him at that time. I would say this, we'd always welcome him back just because we love the guy. He's been a great player for us, a great team guy and a talented guy. But that isn't something that we're planning on.”
Stoops has mentioned Mayfield being a mentor to Kendall, a role Mayfield has embraced on and off the field. Working through routes, watching film, things of that nature.
There’s a reason OU is so comfortable with the thought of a true freshman being the backup quarterback for the upcoming season. It’s not a shock to Johnson.
“Austin is a rise to the occasion type of kid,” Johnson said. “When the moment is big, he elevates his game even more. His composure and maturity is something I’ve talked about a number of times and his football IQ is well beyond his years.
“His work ethic, his drive, his will to excel – he’s going to rise to the occasion. In a competitive environment, he might be the most competitive kid I’ve ever coached.”