On the edge of his next football chapter, Burlsworth Trophy finalist Drake Stoops still savors one last chance to suit up as a Sooner.
BENTONVILLE, Ark. — Drake Stoops, inching closer to the next stage of his football life, was still a Sooner Monday night. He was in Bentonville, Ark., as one of three finalists for the Burlsworth Trophy awarded FBS’ best player who began his career as a walk-on.
Stoops’ quarterback and friend, Dillon Gabriel, moved on as of Monday morning.
“That’s my guy. That’s my dog,” Stoops said of Gabriel before Missouri running back Cody Schrader won the Burlsworth. “I’m going to support him whatever he does. I’m very happy and proud to have played with him these past two years. He definitely, even this year, changed the whole trajectory of my career. We wouldn’t have been able to do it without each other.”
Stoops’ offensive coordinator, Jeff Lebby, moved on as of last week. He’ll have Seth Littrell calling his plays for just one game, the Dec. 28 Alamo Bowl against Arizona.
“It’s good that he’s at his alma mater,” Stoops said of Littrell, “and he’s got a lot of coaching experience from a lot of good places, and he’s always been a great offensive mind. I think he’ll be great for the program.”
Crazy, isn’t it? Stoops being down to one last game?
After all those years of waking before dawn to tag along with his dad to OU’s first preseason practice or roughhousing around the OU practice field with his twin brother, Isaac, and then growing up to catch his first OU pass in the 2018 season opener against Florida Atlantic…
“When I was at Clemson, I’d watch and he’d motion over there and, ‘Alright it’s gonna be a pass.’ Hope. He’s going in there to crack somebody with a motion,” OU coach Brent Venables said after OU’s regular-season finale against TCU. “He would do the dirty work. I remember watching him and just kind of snickering.”
Stoops still does the dirty work, even as an All-Big 12 receiver with a league-leading 78 catches. Makes you wonder how much fun he’d get cracking back against SEC safeties and linebackers.
Asked about a Saturday night donnybrook at LSU next fall, Stoops said: “I’m sure it would be absolutely insane. I’m sure it will be really cool. As a football fan and a competitor, I wouldn’t say I wouldn’t look forward to that.
“But the next step in my life is to try to go to the NFL.”
He’ll give it a shot after one final OU game.
“Some teams don’t even make a bowl game. I’m happy we’ll have a chance to showcase our talents against a good team,” Stoops said of the Alamo. “We have a very formidable opponent. I’m excited as always to play one last game in the crimson and cream.”
Stoops had one of his last big nights representing the Sooners on Monday.
He mingled with fellow finalists Schrader and James Madison nose guard James Carpenter. He talked comfortably with media he knew and others he didn’t. He posed for pictures with Burlsworth Trophy dignitaries.
He hung out with his parents and twin brother.
“Drake, I never doubted he’d have the career that he did, truth be told,” Bob Stoops said. “Thank God for the coaching that brought it to fruition. Coach (Emmett) Jones, Coach Lebby, Coach Venables continued to realize what his ability was. And Dillon kept finding him.
“It all worked out great.”
“So proud of him,” Carol Stoops said. “I saw what I would call the ‘behind the scenes.’ Those early years. Drake is a strong-willed kid but he also has doubts like everyone, right? But he always knew if he worked hard, it would eventually turn out the way it did. And it did.
“It’s joy beyond. It’s been so much fun to watch. We saw it from the beginning.”
Monday night signaled this chapter was ending. A pretty sweet way to go out.
“Yeah, it’s a tremendous honor,” Stoops said of the Burlsworth ceremony. “Recognizes a lot of hard work and perseverance over the years, and finally getting to a point you’ve worked your whole career for, and not a walk-on anymore.
“A real contributor. A real key piece of your team.”