After finishing third in last year’s Heisman race, Baker Mayfield has a shot to become the third Oklahoma quarterback to win the coveted award.
But will one embarrassing night in February hurt his chances to unseat returning Heisman winner Lamar Jackson, the gifted Louisville quarterback?
On Feb. 25, Mayfield was arrested in Fayetteville, Ark., for public intoxication, disorderly conduct and fleeing arrest. A video of police officer Scott Brand tackling a sprinting Mayfield into a wall became a YouTube sensation.
Mayfield reached a plea bargain in June and publicly apologized for the incident. As part of his punishment, he was ordered to perform 35 hours of community service.
Imagine the surprise when he showed up at homes in Norman as a volunteer for Meals on Wheels. They probably didn’t expect a Heisman Trophy candidate at their door.
“It was humbling for me but I enjoyed it,” Mayfield said. “Honestly, they didn’t really care. I was doing my job and making a difference, and being part of the community and doing the right thing.”
After the incident, Mayfield is more appreciative than ever of the high profile position he’s in as Oklahoma’s starting quarterback. He understands the responsibility that goes with the position and how he must do the right thing even if it’s in the wee hours of the morning in another state.
“I’m truly blessed to be 22 years old and playing a game I love for fun and enjoying all of it,” Mayfield said. “The best thing to come from that (the arrest) is the community service I’ve been able to do and make an impact in the Norman community and make a difference from the position I’m in. I enjoy being able to give back. I’ve done pretty much everything across the spectrum. I’ve done Meals on Wheels, things with the Norman police and Special Olympics.”
Mayfield said he’s put the incident behind him and is now focused on having a big senior year and leading the Sooners to the national championship.
The Sooners were hit by a bombshell in June when highly successful coach Bob Stoops retired after 18 seasons. He handed the head coaching reins to 33-year-old offensive coordinator Lincoln Riley, a move that kept the coaching staff together and guaranteed the Sooners continuity.
“Obviously, Coach Stoops stepping down was a huge shock,” Mayfield said. “It caught us all off guard. But at the same time none of the other staff is leaving. We’ve been fortunate to be around Coach Riley and the great coach he is. It’s been great to know that we’re in good hands and that all the young guys are still on the same page and none of them are leaving.”
Mayfield has great faith in Riley’s offensive system and believes he can take another huge leap as a senior. As a junior, Mayfield completed a remarkable 70.9 percent of his passes for 3,965 yards and 40 touchdowns with just eight interceptions.
Mayfield put up bigger numbers as the season progressed as the Sooners sailed through the Big 12 with a 9-0 record. But this year he wants to play more consistently from the start and hopes to avenge last year’s 45-24 loss to Ohio State in Norman when the two powers play the rematch Sept. 9 in Columbus.
“Everyone is talking about the game in Columbus,” Mayfield said. “There’s no way around it. It’s the most important game on the schedule right now. I have to carry in the same mindset that I took into every Big 12 game last year and into the Sugar Bowl. Not try to do too much, distributing the ball, and trusting the playmakers we have. Getting the ball in their hands and let them do the rest of the work.”
More pressure will likely be on Mayfield this season since Biletnikoff Award winning receiver Dede Westbrook and running backs Samaje Perine and Joe Mixon are gone.
But Mayfield is confident that some other players will step up, like running backs Abdul Adams and Rodney Anderson and receivers Jeffery Mead and Jeff Badet.
“I wouldn’t agree that more eyes are on me,” Mayfield said. “I just have to do the basics and do my job more now than before. I just have to do the little things right because I have a great offensive line in front of me, the best in the country. We have a strong stable of running backs that I think are the deepest we’ve had in a long time. Overall at receiver I think we have more depth than a long time.”
After watching Mayfield lead the Sooners to 10 straight wins last season, including a 35-19 win over Auburn in the Sugar Bowl, Riley is confident that his quarterback will enjoy a great senior year.
“There's no doubt," Riley said. "I think he's gotten more comfortable as a quarterback within our system, more comfortable with our current players. Obviously having great quarterback play in big time games is always such a huge part of it. So yeah, we're thrilled about his progress. I think he really took some strides this spring.”