IRVING, Texas — It was a rare sight to see Tuesday at Big 12 Media Days: A team having a Heisman Trophy winner and two All-Americans on its roster doesn’t happen often.
But Oklahoma brought an even rarer group to Irving Tuesday, when quarterback Sam Bradford, defensive tackle Gerald McCoy and tight end Jermaine Gresham arrived to represent the Sooners. Keeping NFL caliber players in college past their sophomore or junior years gets harder and harder.
All three, along with offensive tackle Trent Williams, delighted Sooner fans when they decided in January to forgo the NFL for at least another year.
“I think it says a lot about the overall program that they’re pleased and excited to be in and want to participate in one more year and then maybe give up some fortune for a year to have that opportunity to be here one more with their teammates, with their coaches,” OU coach Bob Stoops said.
The coach has long been a strong proponent of players maximizing their draft stock before leaving college. He’s talked about it every year when his underclassmen weigh the decision to stay or go.
Bradford spoke openly about his decision at a press conference last January, but Gresham and McCoy were mostly mum on the subject until Tuesday.
“When you have guys like Sam, Jermaine and Trent Williams decide to come back, players of that caliber, it’s gonna be exciting for anybody,” McCoy said. “I’m on the team, and I was super excited when I heard everybody was coming back. It makes it a lot easier on the coaches because they don’t have to do as much developing. Guys have experience. It’s gonna be a lot of fun. It makes it easier to make a run for the national championship.”
To ask Gresham, the roots of their return were firmly planted after the loss to Florida in BCS title game. Walking off the field at Dolphins Stadium and turning around to see the Gators celebrating was tough.
Returning to a somber locker room was tougher.
“It just left a really bad taste in my mouth,” Gresham said.
It was OU’s third straight BCS bowl game loss. Gresham had played a significant role in all three, along with Williams. McCoy and Bradford both redshirted in 2006, but felt the end-of-the season aches the last two years.
McCoy was the first to make up his mind after no one in the NFL could guarantee he would be a first-round pick. But he was on the defensive side of the ball. The discussions between Bradford, Gresham and Williams were more frequent.
“I don’t know why they came back. I haven’t asked them since,” said McCoy, who also said this will likely be his last season at OU. “I wanted to graduate. I wanted my degree, and that’s what I came back for. I will graduate in May.”
According to Gresham, it was Bradford who helped him nail down his decision.
“I think if Sam would have, left there would have been a domino effect,” Gresham said. “He was the leader.”
Bradford, perhaps, had the easiest decision to make. The quarterback who’s routinely shown an ability to decipher any complicated scheme a defensive coordinator can throw at him, did the same when it came to deciding to stay in school.
“I went in with an open mind, and it really started out 50-50 whether I was gonna come back or go,” he said. “After I gathered some information, that’s when I really looked at it and made my decision.”
The rest fell into place. When the season starts Sept. 5 at Cowboys Stadium in Arlington, Texas, the Sooners will be loaded for another national championship run. Anything less than another trip to the BCS title game, and this time a victory, will hurt the quartet as bad or worse than it would any OU fan.
“Anything less than a national championship would be (a disappointment),” Gresham said. “That’s what we work for and play for. Nobody on this team plays for individual awards — nobody. We play as one, and the ultimate goal is to win every game.”
Oklahoma has a shot to do it because Bradford, Gresham, McCoy and Williams decided to stay around for one more year.
“It is pretty special,” Stoops said. “I think it says a lot about the quality individuals they are.”