The Oklahoma athletics communication department was ready. In preparing for Meet the Sooners day Saturday morning, they knew what to do.
They had lines for each position and made sure to include an overflow line for quarterbacks, an overflow line for Baker Mayfield.
It’s far cry from where we were at 12 months ago, but it’s not like Mayfield hasn’t earned the accolades and respect and adoration from fans, teammates and coaches.
There has been a lot of talk about OU losing significant leadership from its offense of 2015 with guys like Ty Darlington and Sterling Shepard. But what has been gained is a year under his belt and the necessary gravitas for Mayfield to rise to that challenge.
“How they look at him is probably different,” offensive coordinator Lincoln Riley said. “He's played a year with these guys now. He's established himself as a leader and somebody they're going to look to when leadership is needed. He's been able to fill that. Before, we had other guys filling that role.
“He hadn't played here yet. It's harder to do when you haven't played and made some plays and earned that respect. He definitely carries a bigger voice now and has done a good job of being aggressive.”
Mayfield has always been the guy with the chip on his shoulder. He said at Big 12 media days he’s going to find another one. He’s going to have to go digging.
Nobody is questioning him as the starting quarterback for the Sooners. Nobody is doubting his ability after helping lead OU to another Big 12 conference title and first appearance in the four-team college football playoff. Nobody is calling for him to be benched after finishing fourth in the Heisman voting.
But he’s Mayfield, and he’ll find something.
“That’s how I’ve always been,” Mayfield said. “I’m a self-motivator. I have a lot of people questioning whether or not I can play at the next level, whether my style can succeed. They’re saying I’m too small. That chip doesn’t go away.”
Head coach Bob Stoops has been quick to point out in any media session this summer how enjoyable it has been to not have to discuss the quarterback situation.
People are asking about the kick return game or the offensive line but not one question about how things stand at quarterback.
Mayfield earned that right last year.
“Man, when I think about that Tennessee game, that’s when I know,” said offensive tackle Orlando Brown for when Mayfield earned his trust. “The way he got out of those sacks. He should have been sacked like 12 times. He showed us all something.”
OU trailed at Tennessee 17-0 in the first half before rallying to win 31-24 in double overtime in one of the special moments in the Stoops era, especially on the road at Neyland Stadium.
Mayfield can carry himself a little bit differently this year. He is the unquestioned leader of this team and his health will be paramount for the OU to live up to its preseason No. 3 ranking.
Perception might be Mayfield has changed, but those closest to him say he’s still who he was last year. And that’s a good thing.
“Baker, man, he’s just a special, special talent,” tight end Mark Andrews said. “I have so much respect for him and love getting the chance to play with him for at least another season.”