There are very few positions in football where you can hide on the field. One thing is for sure that cornerback is not one of them.
You need to embrace that one-on-one mentality. You need to want to be on an island all by yourself against a receiver.
And even if you’re under 6-foot tall and barely even 170 pounds, that doesn’t matter. For Oklahoma cornerback Dakota Austin, it’s part of his fuel.
He’s not the tallest, never has been. He’s not the biggest, never will be. But if you think there’s an ounce of quit in Austin, sorry. The competitive quality kept Austin around when he was floundering as a freshman and sophomore.
That competitive quality is part of why he succeeded last year in limited time and why he has cemented himself as a starter heading into his senior season.
“The one thing about Dakota is he’s a scrappy player,” defensive backs coach Kerry Cooks said. “He’s going to fight and he’s always been a great competitor and I think his attitude makes him a little bit of who he is. Not in a negative way, but at that position you’ve got to have a guy that just doesn’t care, that’s able to be out there and walk on that island.”
It's the ‘dawg’ in Austin that won’t go away. It can’t. Not when you’ve been told as many times as he has that shouldn’t be here – that he couldn’t make it.
Austin has seen a lot of cornerbacks come to Norman since arriving in 2013, and he’s seen several of them already vacate the premises.
He wasn’t the heralded corner from his class. If there’s a such thing as an also-ran in recruiting, it was Austin. After turning heads like crazy at OU’s summer camp, there was nary a peep regarding Austin as a senior at Lancaster (Texas) High.
OU invited him back to campus the final weekend before signing day and the offer was finally made. Earned on the field back in June, now official in February.
Austin got it back then and get it now. Doesn’t mean it hasn’t motivated him every step of the way.
“What I think it’s all about is initially you get the attention for the size and speed,” Austin said. “You go to camps and you get the stars and all that. Of course, those guys get the first glance and more chances to get known. You come in here and you get to work.
“You can’t hide once you get between those lines. You either have it or you don’t. Time always tells.”
Time told the story last year when Zack Sanchez injured his ankle. Austin came in and played exceptional in the three games he was asked to do the job, earning two interceptions. Proving a lot of people wrong and showing more than anything, he understood the position.
It wasn’t enough. When Sanchez left for the NFL (picked by the Carolina Panthers in the fifth round), the question became who would be the other starting corner opposite Jordan Thomas.
Austin never went anywhere and showed it repeatedly he wasn’t going to go anywhere.
I’m just not taking anything for granted right now,” Austin said. “I knew, to myself, that I could play. The time just came. Now I’m just taking advantage of it.”
Austin had to earn the trust of the coaches. He knew that, everybody knows that. But Cooks knew immediately this was a different Austin in his backfield in 2016.
“I’m super proud of Dakota,” Cooks said. “He’s been a guy that’s kind of had to wait his turn a little bit. He’s night and day different in how he’s approaching this camp and how he’s practicing, his mentality, his communication, so I think he feels like he’s worked his butt off to get to this position and he’s not going to relinquish it at any cost.”
There are going to be plenty of chances to relinquish that spot. Teams will see Jordan Thomas and what he did last year and compare to Austin. They’re going to fire in his direction.
Austin wouldn’t have it any other way.
“A lot of guys will look at it like, ‘Oh my God.’ I look at it like it’s just more opportunities for me to make plays and more picks for me to catch,” Austin said. “You can look at it as a bad or good thing. The water is half empty or half full. I just look at is as more chances for me to make more plays and get my name out there.”