NORMAN — Oklahoma quarterback Landry Jones received the piece of paper all college football players dream of last January. It was the one from the NFL draft advisory council that says where a player is projected to be picked.
Beyond the anticipation, there’s little hoopla.
“It was kind of bland. It just has a one or two on it,” Jones said, referring to the round. “I got a first-round evaluation.”
That committee doesn’t draft any player. It just contacts a couple general managers and coaches from around the NFL and gives the player an estimate of where he’ll be taken.
It’s far from a guarantee. A lot can change between January and the April draft. However, most college underclassmen who see “first round” on the that piece of paper start cleaning out their college lockers. Jones didn’t. Less than a week later he announced he was returning to OU for his senior season.
What makes him different?
“The NFL is always going to be there,” he said Monday after the Sooners’ first spring practice. “I just wanted to come back and enjoy my senior year.”
Jones speaks of it in a nonchalant manner. He’s never been the type to publicly express a great deal of emotion. There were reasons to exit Norman after last season that went beyond the grade he received.
Jones threw one touchdown pass in OU’s final four games last season. It was the stretch it played after star receiver Ryan Broyles suffered a season-ending knee injury. Jones was picked off six times. More importantly, the Sooners went 2-2 in those games.
Losing to Baylor for the first time ever dropped them from the national title picture. One of the worst games in Jones’ career came in the 44-10 loss at Oklahoma State to end the regular season. He threw two interceptions and fumbled twice in a game that decided the Big 12 championship.
Also, redshirt freshman quarterback Blake Bell scored 13 touchdowns in the “Belldozer” package, and some fans were ready to see a change.
That was the perspective from outside the program. From the inside, Jones’ decision was greeted with a sigh of relief and the real belief that a national championship could be won in the coming season.
“For you to have a record-setting quarterback and an early-season Heisman Trophy (favorite), how can you be mad that he’s coming back?” OU center Gabe Ikard said. “He’s set all times kinds of records. I can’t understand why anyone would be complaining about it. It’s one of those things where you have the best quarterback in the country on your team.”
Jones is OU’s all-time leader in 13 different passing categories. If he starts every game this coming season, he will finish his career with 50 starts. That’s an unheard of number of games for a quarterback at a BCS conference school. That kind of experience at the quarterback position comes along as often as May snowstorms.
Teammates understand the significance.
“We know we can trust him in any game situation because he’s been there before,” OU receiver Jaz Reynolds said. “There isn’t a situation possible in a game that he hasn’t been through. He knows how to win and he knows how to help you through a loss. He knows how to lead this team. The experience he has helps everybody.”
The season is still six months away, but already the Sooners will enter the 2012 season as the favorite to win another Big 12 championship and — once again — be on the shortlist of national championship contenders. Accomplishing those things is never easy, but they’re easier with a fifth-year senior starting at quarterback.
“At the end of the day, Landry came back here to win championships. It’s why he chose to come here.,” OU offensive coordinator Josh Heupel said. “He wants to win another conference championship and be able to play for (a national championship). If he does that, it’ll be pretty special.”
John Shinn 366-3536 firstname.lastname@example.org