(Editor’s Note: Sellout Crowd’s coverage of the Oklahoma-Texas game in Dallas is Sponsored by Modelo – The Official Beer of Fans with the Fighting Spirit (https://www.modelousa.com)
NORMAN — Danny Stutsman has been well-known almost since the moment the OU linebacker stepped onto campus.
His notoriety, though, wasn’t always because of his play.
Lots of attention has come his way because of his lively and entertaining personality. Check out any of his social media accounts, and you’ll soon find something that will make you smile. There are funny videos, including homemade ninja flicks with fellow linebacker Jaren Kanak, and funny photos. The one of Stutsman standing in the parking spot where his towed car used to be after the Sooners’ opener this season is particularly good.
Stutsman has also taken to changing up his hair almost every week. He’s colored it, bleached it, even braided it.
No doubt he’s a character.
But he wants to be known as way more than that.
“I don’t want the social-media side or anything like that to be taken the wrong way,” he told Sellout Crowd. “At the end of the day, you’re having fun with it, but I came here to play football. I didn’t come here to make jokes on Instagram or Twitter or anything like that.”
Here’s something that’s no joke: Stutsman’s play this season.
He leads the Sooners in tackles with 49, and he almost has more solo tackles (21) than any other defender has total tackles (Kanak, 22). Thing is, Stutsman isn’t just making a lot of tackles — he led the Big 12 in that category a year ago — but this season, he’s making more impactful plays.
A year ago, he had 10.5 tackles for loss, three sacks and two interceptions in 13 games.
This year through five games, he has 9.0 tackles for loss, two sacks and one interception. Keep up this pace, and he’ll more than double his totals from last season in each of those categories.
What Stutsman is doing is vital in Brent Venables’ defense, which is designed to feed plays to the linebackers. Stutsman, then, will be crucial on Saturday if OU hopes to slow down a talented and potent Texas offense.
“Historically with Brent, he’s always had that playmaker linebacker in his system that he asks a lot of,” Longhorn coach Steve Sarkisian said. “(Stutsman’s) a really good blitzer. He can really pressure the quarterback. He’s really good in coverage and zone coverage of keeping his eyes on the quarterback to create turnovers. And he’s a good tackler.
“For all that, it takes football IQ, and you can definitely tell he’s got a high football IQ over there with what they do.”
Stutsman is turning heads nationally. He was named to the watch lists for Butkus Award and the Bronko Nagurski Award before the season, but with performances that have earned him conference and national player of the week honors, he is shooting up the ranks.
His teammates have even started lobbying for him to win the Butkus, which is given to college football’s best linebacker.
Stutsman appreciates such things.
“I want to be respected,” he said. “I really love the guys. I want to try for them every single day to be the same person and try to lead them.”
Frankly, Stutsman’s leadership was one of the early signals to his coaches that he had turned a corner. Venables remembers realizing this past summer that a switch had flipped for Stutsman when he heard about the way Stutsman was interacting with his teammates.
“Just demanding a lot from his teammates,” Venables said. “Told the coaches to stand aside.”
Venables acknowledged that Stutsman’s teammates had to accept his leading, but the Sooner head coach believes they did so because of what they saw in Stutsman heading into the second year with the new defense. A better understanding of the system. A higher recognition of assignments and schemes and alignments.
Stutsman being able to coach teammates on the defense was a game changer.
“He had a lot of confidence coming into this season,” Venable said.
The combination of confidence and understanding has pushed Stutsman to a new level.
“He’s acting like a pro,” second-year linebacker Kobie McKinzie said. “He really is, Monday through Sunday literally, and he’s playing really well.”
Sooner defensive coordinator Ted Roof said, “He’s probably grown as much as any player between first year and second year that I’ve ever coached as far as how he’s developed off the field. It’s because he puts so much into it. He puts so much time and effort into it.
“We need him to continue to do that and continue to get better as we move forward.”
Even though Stutsman is making serious strides on the field, he isn’t about to go all serious in every part of his life. He’s still going to celebrate big plays with Kanak by bowing to each other like ninjas. He’s still going to refuse to take himself too seriously; a recent photo of him striking a thoughtful pose while shirtless in garish crimson-and-cream checkered overalls is proof of that. He’s still going to joke around with Kanak and former Sooners Brayden Willis and Jeremiah Hall on their podcast, The Podcast on the Prairie.
Stutsman is still going to be himself.
But he isn’t only about the fun and games.
“I kind of go with the flow at times, but obviously, there’s a need to get serious,” he said. “The second year in those meeting rooms or anything related to football, it’s not really time to be joking around and messing around.
“I didn’t want to get the connotation that I’m a lackadaisical person because I’m not. I’m really serious about my craft. When it comes to leadership and football and stuff like that … there’s not really jokes to be said.”
No one’s laughing nowadays when they see Stutsman on the other side of the line of scrimmage.
He’s not perfect, of course. He hasn’t made every play that’s come his way. He’s not yet reached the level of some of the Sooner linebackers who’ve become disruptive forces in Venables’ defense. Rocky Calmus. Teddy Lehman. Curtis Lofton.
But Stutsman is much closer to joining that elite bunch now than he was a year ago.
He’s serious about reaching that level.
“We can have fun after the game,” he said. “It’s all about football.”