One of the greatest stories in Sooner history belongs to senior fullback J.D. Runnels. An All-State player out of Carl Albert High School in Midwest City, Runnels was the last player to get a scholarship in his class.
J.D. had committed to Texas A&M, but once Mike Stoops offered him a scholarship, it only Runnels five minutes to call Texas A&M and tell them that he had decided to full-fill his lifelong dream and play for the Oklahoma Sooners. And that was only the beginning of this great story.
Runnels quickly proved to be a great player and earned the starting fullback job his freshman year. He has played as well as any fullback in the country for four straight years and has been a starter for every game that he has put on the Sooner uniform. Not many other players can make that claim.
And before the Sooners' game with Oklahoma State last Saturday, Runnels was honored as the Don Key Award Winner, which is given to a Sooner football player who exhibits the best quality of being a Sooner.
Runnels was also named to the first team All-Big 12 Coaches team at fullback. And the irony to that story is that it was his coach, Bob Stoops, who pushed to get the fullback position onto the post season roster.
To top things off, Runnels has been one of the most special players to cover in my entire career as a reporter. Runnels has never turned down a request for an interview and has always been an athlete that made sure he said hi or greeted me off the field in a friendly and classy manner. He is one athlete that everybody wishes nothing but great success for, and that is certainly the case from this reporter.
Thus, with the Don Key Award and first team All Big-12 under his belt J.D. talked with OUInsider.com this week about his career.
JH: J.D., you are truly one of the very special Sooners ever to wear a Sooner uniform. Cngratulations for the great honors that are coming your way.
JD: "Thank you so much. I can not explain how helpful you guys (media) have been to me. The media may play a small part in our success, but you know James you were actually a small part of my success. You told me back in high school that OU was thinking about offering me. Sure enough, you were right back then and it seems that everything that you are saying now is right. I appreciate all the kind words that you have said and all the kind words that you guys (media) have said and written."
JH: Your coaches and players all say that no matter what you get into following your playing at career at OU, whether that is the NFL or business, that you are going to be a success. Isn't that the ultimate compliment your peers can lay upon you?
JD: "Oh, definitely. That definitely is. I think it is because I surround myself with the right people. My family has been great, the coaching staff and Coach Stoops and everybody have been great to me. I don't think it is just me, it is the people around me. I want to be that good apple and I just want to lead the whole bunch."
JH: What were your thoughts on winning the Don Key Award?
JD: "When I learned it I learned it with the team. It was as big of a surprise to me as it was to them. Ny heart dropped right when they said my name. It is breathtaking to even be compared with him (Don Key), let alone given his award. It really humbled me and let me know that my teammates and coaches all felt pretty much the same way about me. Apparently, I love them just as much as they love me, and that is all I can ask for."
JH: Now that you have had a few days for the honor to sink in, what has it meant to you?
JD: "It means a lot, especially receiving it on the last home game —senior night with the crowd being what it was. With Bedlam being what it was, it was just the best night of my football career hands down. That is saying a lot, especially when you considering in high school we won state every year, and then Big 12 Championships every year since I have been up here besides this year. It is such a huge accomplishment for me. It will be a moment that I will never forget."
JH: How did it feel when you got such a loud ovation when you were announced on senior day?
JD: "I was just humbled. It seemed like it came too fast, but then again I have worked and I have continued to get better at everything that I could. I think the crowd sees eye-to-eye with me. They see a guy who is very much like them. They see the Oklahoma kid, or the Oklahoma metro kid that they can just fall in love with. Adrian (Peterson) and those guys you hear from Palestine, Texas — they are big guys with big names. I think they (fans) see me as the workhorse of the team and maybe the regular average Joe that seems to be at the right place at the right time. I think that gets them going."
JH: If you think about it you are the most selfless person on the team. You block every play and you never carry the ball. The guy you block for gets all the publicity and it takes guys like your coaches, teammates and guys like me to tell people how good you are, because you will never do it will you?
JD: "Definitely. I was talking to a fan today and he said that the more I ran with the ball the more excited that we get. That really filled me up because it just shows that the hard work pays off — that the blue collar work ethic shows up. I just believe that the true colors shows up in times of trouble. Whenever trouble comes I think your true colors will show, and I think mine have shown up the past four years."
JH: You still didn't get a carry this year, but you were used in the passing game and you had some fantastic runs after catch this year. Where did you get those moves? And doesn't that have to help you as you get ready to go to combines and go into the NFL draft?
JD: "I would like to think so. I think I have put out all the big hits and blocks that I could and I just really wanted to show that I have some ball skills — that I could do some things with a ball in my hands. I don't know if the coaches didn't feel I could carry the ball or not, because for some reason we didn't run the ball at fullback. However, that is fine with me. I have always been a guy who, as long as I am out on the field, I have been able to show I could shine especially when I think back to high school when Coach Rose put me at free safety. Whenever I am out on the field I feel I am at home, no matter where I am playing. I have always felt special out on the field."
JH: You have been a tremendous blocker and your abilities to get angles on defenders as well as just steamroll them is what has made you so good as a blocker isn't it?
JD: "I really think it is just God-given ability to block. I really don't know what it is, but maybe it is my defensive mentality that I carried over onto offense. It must be the coaching or something, but whatever it is I am definitely blessed with that ability. I think that is an essential part of football, especially when you need to get that run game going. And being a fullback, you have a chance to be such a sparkplug because you are so isolated. That is why they call the play an isolation play, because you are on an island basically in between the trenches. I think sometimes people get to see it, but I think many other times they don't. As long as I think I am doing my job, I think the offense is doing pretty well."
JH: Don't you have to be fearless, because sometimes you are blocking a 300-pound nose guard?
JD: "Right. You never know at fullback. Yyou have to be tough as nails, which I try to be. You just have to be who you are. And like I said, when I am out on the field I am at home. Fullback has just been a new home to me."
JH: We ask AD all the time what was his favorite run, so how about J.D. Runnels' favorite block?
JD: "My favorite block was at home against Bowling Green when I took that kids helmet off last year. That was probably my favorite one."
JH: According to AD, you and Bubba (Moses) made the key blocks on both of touchdown runs against OSU. Did you?
JD: "Here is the problem with AD, and I am going to say this because he is actually in my living room right now. The problem is that he is too fast and I don't get to see the run. On the second run, I can describe it to you a little more in depth. We ran the sweep left and I bulldozed the guy and knocked him off, but by the time I get up and turn around and look at him he is already at the 20-yard line. So I get up and run down the field trying to celebrate with him, but at the same time I have to turn around and look at the Jumbotron to try to see just how he got that far ahead of everybody and that wide open. AD is just a great player. He is so fun to watch and be a part of him."
JH: Your thoughts on the final game against OSU?
JD: "I thought we played really well. The thing that I liked about the game is that we finished really well. Oklahoma State is a very prideful program, and in the Bedlam game you can expect them to play their best. For three quarters they did that. It was pretty much a close game. We couldn't even take a breath it seemed without them coming within two touchdowns.
"I just think it was the right way for our seniors to go out, and it was in a respectful manner in that OSU did not play bad. They showed their true colors. I think we just pounded them down and in the fourth quarter we were able to hit those two runs and run away with the win."
JH: Did this football team improve form the first game to the last?
JD: "I really think we did. There were some spots that needed to be filled and I think they were. We had people that needed to step up, and they eventually did. We just had some kinks earlier that we had to iron out to find our true identity. Once we got going it was kind of like an avalanche, and now we are going into full speed into this bowl game."
JH: What do you see for the future of this program after you leave?
JD: "I tell everybody the same. I think they are going to be as good as gold. I see nothing but greatness for them. I think next year is going to be a great chance for these guys. I think with Rhett coming back, having Adrian back, an offensive line with a year under their belt with the key guys, while also growing as a group — then the defense looks so promising. I can't say enough about the defense and how it is going to look. I think everybody is going to be fine. I see some 10-win seasons coming and hopefully a National Championship or two."
JH: Do you even care where you are going or who you play in the bowl game?
JD: "No, because both bowls we are looking at are very respectable and we have not been to either bowl before. I think it will be kind of cool to be the first team to go there, and I think it will be a big ordeal for us. It will be a big game and it will be really exciting wherever we go."
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