NORMAN – From across the practice field, Oklahoma Sooners safety Ahmad Thomas caught the attention of teammate Steven Parker. Thomas flashed a goofy smile, and in return – even if he didn’t really know why – Parker flashed a similar smile back.
The two grew up in very different places but have found a link over the last three years.
Thomas was raised in Miami: Playing for a school with a football program with loads of expectations but having little success because of inter-team squabbling. Parker grew up in the comparably small city of Tulsa, riding a football factory machine to consistent statewide success.
Working together over the last three years, including the first season they started together amid doubts of their ability, has brought them closer together. They spend every day together, not just on the field but as incredibly close friends, who finish each other sentences and have their fair share of inside jokes – like that big goofy smile.
“We’ve just got a connection,” Thomas said. “We’re like the same person. That’s just how we are.”
Parker has no problem “third-wheeling” it with Thomas and his girlfriend, and Thomas is at Parker’s house just about every day. But what makes the friendship special is how they gave grown together on the field.
Even before Parker got to Oklahoma, the coaching staff told him about Thomas. When Parker was a junior at Jenks, he got his first impression of Thomas from the coaches. He got to Oklahoma, and Thomas, who was playing strong safety at the time, took Parker under his wing – teaching him coverages while transitioning to free safety himself.
Together, they’ve grown to become one of the top safety tandems in the Big 12 Conference.
“We take credit for each other’s development,” Parker said. “. . . We hit on each other’s weaknesses, and we help each other overcome those weaknesses together.”
When Parker and Thomas first came together as a tandem, there were a handful of weaknesses in the secondary. The group had one of the worst pass defenses in the nation. Two years later and things have changed. That’s mostly because of the growth of Thomas and Parker.
“I felt like it did bring us closer,” Parker said of his freshman season alongside Thomas. “We leaned on each other.”
Over the last two years, Parker and Thomas have both seen a statistical jump in every major category – and the two started every game together last season. They combined for 135 tackles, 5.5 tackles for loss, three sacks and three interceptions. It’s a far cry from that first season of struggles.
“We didn’t really pay attention to that,” Thomas said. “We knew we still had time to grow, and we have to reach a certain confidence level. We just worked. We don’t have an offseason. We go and train in Texas together. We do everything together.”
It has worked for the Oklahoma Sooners pass defense and for the friendship between Parker and Thomas.
The two have become interchangeable on the back end at times. Last year, when they got caught on the opposite side of the field, a simple look and they switched positions for a play.
Their birthdays are just one day apart – Thomas on Dec. 14 and Parker on Dec. 15. Thomas said this is the closest that he has ever felt to his teammates after having played on what he called “selfish teams” in the past. It makes success even better, knowing that he’s watching his friend achieve their goals alongside him.
It makes it more fun.
Parker, with his athleticism and versatility, and Thomas, with his ranginess and vision, have given Oklahoma a pair of safeties whose experience and talent is matched by few other programs. It also gives Oklahoma an umbrella in its defense, a safety net of sorts.
For Parker and Thomas, it’s also a unique friendship.
“I don’t even consider him a best friend,” Parker said. “I consider him my blood relative.”