BY JOHN ROHDE
Special to SoonerSports.com
Dec. 2, 2017
Oklahoma quarterback Baker Mayfield said the reason he chose to return for his redshirt senior season was to win the national championship, not to win the Heisman Trophy.
Mayfield took a significant step toward winning both with Saturday's methodical 41-17 victory over TCU in the Big 12 Championship Game before a crowd of 64,104 at AT&T Stadium in Arlington, Texas.
The triumph advances the No. 3-ranked Sooners (12-1 overall) into the College Football Playoff for the second time in the last three seasons.
Their national semifinal opponent will be revealed Sunday at 11 a.m. and the game will be played Jan. 1 at either the Sugar Bowl in New Orleans or the Rose Bowl in Pasadena, Calif.The College Football Playoff National Championship Game will be staged a week later on Jan. 8 at Mercedes-Benz Stadium in Atlanta.
Next Saturday night in New York City, Mayfield is expected to be a landslide winner of this year's Heisman and become the sixth recipient in OU history, joining Billy Vessels (1952), Steve Owens (1969), Billy Sims (1978), Jason White (2003) and Sam Bradford (2008).
It will be Mayfield's second straight invitation to the Heisman ceremony. He finished fourth for the award in 2015, third last year and will become the fifth player to finish in the top four in voting for three straight seasons. The other four to have done it are Army's Glenn Davis and Doc Blanchard (both in 1944-46), SMU's Doak Walker (1947-49) and Georgia's Herschel Walker (1980-82).
"Obviously, I'm not going to downplay that," Mayfield said of potentially winning the Heisman. "That would be something very special. Getting to go (to the ceremony) is special enough. ... I'm going to enjoy this next week, traveling, going on the road for some of this stuff (various award ceremonies). The good thing is I'll be getting to go with some teammates as well."
Led every season by Mayfield, the Sooners have now won three straight Big 12 titles. They also improved their record to 8-1 in Big 12 title games with six straight victories and have won 11 conference crowns in the last 18 seasons. No other program has won more than two during that span.
Mayfield is putting the finishing touches on what right now ranks as the highest FBS passing efficient rating in a career. If it happens, Mayfield will beat out Bradford for the top spot.
"Give him credit for all the success that he's had," OU first-year coach Lincoln Riley said of Mayfield. "He's stayed hungry and he's continued to be coachable and he's continued to want to improve, as has this entire team."
Against the Horned Frogs, Mayfield completed 15-of-23 passes for 243 yards, four touchdowns and zero interceptions, giving him 41 touchdown passes and just five interceptions on the season. He also added 65 yards rushing on just six carries (a 10.8-yard average).
"The most exciting thing about today was we controlled our own destiny," said Mayfield, who was selected as the game's Most Outstanding Player. "We just had to take care of our own business and all that's out in front of us."
Two of Mayfield's touchdown throws went to redshirt junior tight end Mark Andrews, a Mackey Award finalist who caught a team-high seven passes for 58 yards. Mayfield also connected with sophomore wide receiver Mykel Jones on a 55-yard score (the first of Jones' career) and with sophomore Marquise Brown on a 52-yard score (Brown's sixth of the year).
"I've got great players around me," Mayfield said. "We have all the pieces. Right now, we're playing well together and that's the most exciting thing. I came back (this season) to make sure we had strong leadership and that we would take care of our own business and right now we're doing just that."
"He's stayed hungry and he's continued to be coachable and he's continued to want to improve, as has this entire team."
- Lincoln Riley
For the second time in less than a month, the Sooners' offense shredded the Big 12's top-ranked defense.
In a 38-20 victory over the Horned Frogs three weeks earlier in Norman, OU jumped out to a 38-14 halftime lead with 395 total yards by intermission, then essentially sat on the lead the entire second half with just six pass attempts.
In Saturday's title match, the Sooners' offense rolled up 461 total yards — 243 passing, 218 rushing — while the defense pitched a second-half shutout, allowing just 95 total yards and four first downs after intermission.
OU's 41 points were the most against TCU this season, and the Horned Frogs' 17 points were their second fewest this season.
"I couldn't be more proud of our team," said Riley, who became only the fifth coach in FBS history with no previous head coaching experience at a four-year college to win at least 12 games in his debut season. "To beat a really, really good TCU team again was tough."
The Sooners have won eight straight games and 18 of their last 19.
BY JOHN ROHDE
Special to SoonerSports.com
Nov. 28, 2017
During the first week of practice in early October, Oklahoma men’s basketball coach Lon Kruger admitted his team would lean heavily on true freshman point guard Trae Young.
“He’s going to be the center of a lot of what’s going on,” Kruger said at the time. “He’s good with the ball, he keeps pressure on the defense all the time and he likes distributing the ball. He’s got a good feel for the game. Add all that together, he’s a guy who make others around him better.”
The 6-2, 180-pound Young welcomed the responsibility.
“No, I don’t mind at all,” Young said. “I’ve always grown up being the leader on my team. I think that’s definitely put me in a position to be ready for moments like this, being able to come in right away and be leaned on a little bit more than a lot of freshmen.”
Young certainly was ready for the moment on Sunday morning against Oregon at the PK80 Invitational at Veterans Memorial Coliseum in Portland, Ore.
The most heralded recruit in Kruger’s seven seasons at OU, Young erupted for 43 points – 30 in the second half – as the Sooners posted a 90-80 victory in a contest played roughly 112 miles north of the Oregon campus.
OU indeed leaned heavily on its prize rookie.
“We wore him out today, that’s for sure,” Kruger said with a chuckle Sunday night as his team was about to fly back to Oklahoma.
In a game that started at 10 a.m. Portland time, Young was a rude wake-up call for the Ducks, shooting 11-of-22 from the field, 4-of-11 from 3-point range, 17-of-18 from the free-throw line and also adding seven assists, four rebounds and two steals.
The key to amassing 43 points on 22 shots is getting to the free-throw line, which Young repeatedly did.
“A lot of it was just taking advantage of what the defense was giving me,” Young explained. “They were making a lot of switches and putting a lot of bigs on me. Instead of me settling for long jump shots and a lot of 3s, I wanted to blow by them and try to get to the line. That put a lot of pressure on their defense. Coach told me to not settle all the time. He wanted me to continue to be aggressive with the 3-ball, but also to go by them and try to make something happen that way.”
Scoring 43 points in a game is nothing new to Young. Heck, it was the norm at Norman North High School last year, where he averaged 42.6 points during his senior season to become a McDonald’s All-American.
Posting these numbers as a college freshman certainly is not the norm, however, particularly against a Final Four team from a year ago.
Young’s 43 points are the most by a Division I player so far this season and the most by an OU player since national player of the year Buddy Hield scored 46 in a triple-overtime game at Kansas on Jan. 4, 2016.
“He’s not going to get 43 every game, but he’s going to free up others,” Kruger said of Young.
After the game, Young was flooded with text messages and tweets of congratulations.
Two tweets came from Hield, now with the NBA Sacramento Kings: “Trae Young Issa problem” and “Go get you 40 then Trae.”
ESPN’s Jay Williams tweeted: “All I know is @thetraeyoung is officially the real deal. Had 33 pts and 8 ast on Friday & just dropped 43 pts & 7 ast to beat Oregon. #Oklahoma got a real one.”
Jon Rothstein of CBS Sports tweeted: “Trae Young is a collegiate version of Steph Curry --- seriously. Scored 43 as Oklahoma beats Oregon. Averaged 34.7 PPG in three games at the PK80. Flat. Out. Stud.”
“That was really humbling to see, that those guys were watching the game,” Young said.
Young became the 15th Sooners player to reach the 40-point plateau, but is only the second freshman to do so. Wayman Tisdale, a product of Booker T. Washington High School in Tulsa, is the only OU freshman to score more with outings of 51, 46 and 44 points in the 1982-83 season.
Tisdale owns the school freshman scoring record with a 24.5-point average. Young currently is averaging 28.2 points per game and is one-tenth of a point shy of being the nation’s leading scorer, ranking second to Femi Olujobi of North Carolina A&T (28.3).
Informed he was the first OU player since Hield to score 40-plus, Young said, “That’s crazy.”
Informed Tisdale is the only OU freshman ever to score 40-plus, Young said, “That’s even crazier.”
No other Big 12 player currently is averaging more than 20 points per game. Young also is tied for the Big 12 lead in 3-pointers made per game (3.4), ranks second in assists (8.6) and fourth in steals (2.2).
Asked how aware he is of his statistical status, Young said, “I’m going to be 100-percent real with you, the only thing that matters to me are the win and loss columns. My teammates know I’m going to do whatever it takes to win the game that night, whether it’s going out and getting 15 assists or going out and getting 40 points. I’m going to do whatever my team needs from me. That’s just going to happen.”
When defenders give Young space on the outside, he shoots. When defenders apply pressure outside, Young drives past them.
“He can shoot it well. Range isn’t really a concern,” Kruger said. “People are going to push up (defend Young closely at long range). The fact that he can shoot with good range as they push up, that gives him the opportunity to go by. He’s very quick with the ball. When they have to step up and take away the range, then that makes you even quicker. One complements the other, no matter what starts first. Stretch the defense and attack.”
OU and Oregon held a private scrimmage in Las Vegas last month and the Ducks reportedly won by four.
“Well, in that game, Trae Young didn’t get 43,” said Oregon head coach Dana Altman, who served as an assistant under Kruger at Kansas State from 1986-89. “He (Young) controlled the game and got to the line.”
For his efforts, Young was selected Big 12 Player of the Week for the second time in the first three weeks of the season.
“I’m pretty excited about the whole group and Trae is the cornerstone for all that,” Kruger said. “He did a great job.”
BY JOHN ROHDE
Special to SoonerSports.com
Nov. 25, 2017
Oklahoma's home finale on Saturday gave its fans a unique opportunity to say goodbye to maybe the program's greatest quarterback ever while also getting a sneak peek at the future.
Quarterback Baker Mayfield's final appearance at Gaylord Family - Oklahoma Memorial Stadium resulted in a 59-31 domination of West Virginia and kept alive the Sooners' hopes for a College Football Playoff berth.
An already emotional setting intensified when Mayfield was removed from the starting lineup and stripped of his captaincy by head coach Lincoln Riley as punishment for making gestures and remarks during last week's game at Kansas.
It was the first time in his three-year career at OU that Mayfield did not start. In his stead, redshirt sophomore Kyler Murray was given the reins for the opening drive.
On the first play from scrimmage, the speedy Murray gutted the middle of the Mountaineers' defense and sprinted for a 66-yard gain to the WVU 4-yard line. The sellout crowd of 86,117 erupted and the Sooners literally were off and running — even with their beloved Heisman hopeful on the sideline.
Mayfield being Mayfield, he playfully gave Murray grief for getting caught by a defender. "He got caught from behind," said a smiling Mayfield. "That's something I would not have guessed." (Murray, who is one of the fastest players on the roster, countered that the defender had the angle.)
Riley said he had predetermined Mayfield would be inserted on OU's second possession, no matter what transpired on the opening drive. "I said, 'Hey, I'm going to make a decision. I'm going to stick with it no matter what happens,'" Riley said. "That first series went a little bit quicker than I thought (70 yards in just two plays), but I wasn't complaining."
Murray said, "I knew going into the game I only had one drive, so I was going to try and make the most of it."
Even with all the emotion of being disciplined and playing his final home game, Mayfield calmly completed 14-of-17 passes for 281 yards, three touchdowns and an astronomical quarterback rating of 279.4, strengthening his grip toward becoming OU's sixth Heisman Trophy winner.
Mayfield has thrown a touchdown pass in a Big 12-record 38 consecutive games (every contest of his OU career) and also holds the Big 12 record with 25 consecutive games of at least two TD passes (77 TDs to 13 interceptions during the stretch). That is believed to be the second-longest streak in FBS history (Boise State's Kellen Moore had a streak of 26 games in 2010 and 2011).
The Sooners scored touchdowns on all six possessions Mayfield played before he was pulled with 3:10 remaining in the third quarter and the Sooners leading 52-24.
Mayfield left to a thunderous ovation and was replaced by Murray, who finished with 80 yards rushing on just three carries (26.7-yard average) while also completing 2-of-2 passes for 52 yards and one touchdown. "Having the support of them, it's pretty special to me knowing how loud they got," Mayfield said of OU's fans.
After completing an ESPN postgame interview on the field, Mayfield trotted along the front row of the entire stands, slapping hands with fans leaning over the wall. "I try to give back, as much as they support me," Mayfield explained of his stadium exit. "It's not equal, but I try to do as much as I can after everything they supported me through."
The OU offense rolled up 646 total yards in just 54 plays, setting a school record of 12.0 yards per play. The Sooners' balanced attack amassed 333 yards passing and 313 rushing, marking just the sixth time since 1996 they have surpassed 300 yards in both categories.
Mayfield and Murray took similar paths to OU. Both started some games as true freshmen — Mayfield at Texas Tech and Murray at Texas A&M — before transferring to OU, and both were required to sit the first season after switching schools.
"I can relate to Kyler, where he's at right now mentally," Mayfield said.
Including Mayfield, Saturday was the home finale for 18 seniors. "Our guys were very emotional coming into this game, for a lot of reasons," Riley said.
Oklahoma is the only program West Virginia has not defeated since joining the Big 12 prior to the 2012 season. The Sooners are 6-0 against the Mountaineers during that span and have scored at least 44 points in five of those contests.
OU (11-1, 8-1 Big 12) will play in its ninth Big 12 Championship Game next Saturday, facing TCU (10-2, 7-2) at 11:30 a.m. at AT&T Stadium in Arlington, Texas. The Sooners are 7-1 in the Big 12 title game, which hasn't been held since the 2010 season.
BY JOHN ROHDE
Special to SoonerSports.com
Nov. 18, 2017
Last weekend was the first time the entire Calcaterra family had been together since June, and their timing couldn't possibly have been better.
They gathered at Gaylord Family – Oklahoma Memorial Stadium for the showdown between No. 5-ranked Oklahoma and No. 6-ranked TCU and were part of the largest crowd (88,308) ever to witness any event in Oklahoma.
On hand were the mother (Diane) and father (Chris), their eldest son (Nick) and the triplets (Andrew, Claire and Grant).
"It was the perfect weekend," Grant said. "You couldn't have done it any better."
The Sooners (9-1 overall, 6-1 Big 12) kept their College Football Playoff hopes alive with a convincing 38-20 victory over the Horned Frogs. With the clock ticking inside the 4:00 mark in the first quarter, Grant entered the game. Never before had starting tight end Mark Andrews and Grant been on the field together.
There's a good chance they'll play together again because Grant made a dazzling 13-yard touchdown catch in the back of the end zone from quarterback Baker Mayfield to give OU a 17-7 lead. "I was shocked when I saw Grant run on (the field) and I didn't see Mark run off," Chris said. "And who was the first one to congratulate him after the touchdown? Mark Andrews."
Grant said, "It was just a good play for the defense they were in. Hopefully, we'll keep on doing it."
Since joining the Sooners, Grant has created another set of triplets. His best friends on the team happen to be the aforementioned Mayfield and Andrews. That's pretty heady company for a true freshman out of Santa Margarita (Calif.) Catholic High School.
Grant left high school last December to enroll early at OU. Three months later, a budding friendship grew during spring break at Cabo San Lucas, where Grant joined Mayfield, Andrews, plus a slew of other teammates and OU students. Andrew and Claire also were on hand.
During the Sooners' open date in late September, Mayfield went to California and stayed with the Calcaterras. "He was such the gentleman," Diane said of Mayfield, who is anything but when battling an opponent on the football field. "(Mayfield's mother) Gina was like, 'Are you sure this is OK?' I told her, 'I'll treat him like one of mine.'"
Mayfield enjoyed home-cooked meals, huddled around the fire-pit at night, went to the beach and even took in an Anaheim Ducks preseason game. "We fed them well and we let them rest," Diane said. "It was really nice to get to know him (Mayfield) away from the stadium, away from the crowds. To us he's Baker, the kid who is Grant's friend. The same with Mark. They're just great, talented players who happen to be friends of my son."
Chris also is member of the Mayfield-Andrews fan club. "They are tremendous mentors for Grant in so many ways," Chris said. "Baker in particular has taken it to the next level in terms of advice for future stages Grant might experience. It's been really cool."
Grant has taken full advantage of learning under two of the nation's elite at their positions. It was Andrews and Mayfield who helped lure Grant to sign with OU during his recruiting visit.
"I really spent a lot of time with Mark," Grant said. "It was a big part in my decision because I really love the position that Mark plays (split wider than the usual tight end position) and how they use him in the offense. I fell for that. I thought I could come in and kind of step into his shoes when he leaves and play that role."
On the season, Grant has four catches for 63 yards (15.8-yard average) and half his receptions have been for touchdowns.
"I think I made my biggest improvement because of Mark, just because of his understanding where the defense will be, especially on running plays," Grant said. "He's helped me a lot with my blocking, where I need to position myself. Once Mark leaves, I think I can be everything that he was. I have good potential and I think coach (Lincoln) Riley is going to put me in position to be successful. I think I have all the tangibles, but there's always room for improvement in every area."
Andrews' and Mayfield's friendship with Grant has spread throughout the entire Calcaterra clan. They all frequently stay in touch via text.
Chris and Diane don't seem to mind adding a couple more boys to their family, especially with their biological children spread throughout four states.
Nick, who is five years older, attended the University of Oregon and lives in Seattle. Meanwhile, the triplets have scattered since sharing the same womb.
Andrew is a freshman at Ohio State, which made for an interesting trip to Columbus for the Sooners' 31-16 victory over the Buckeyes on Sept. 9. "He said he was kind of indifferent about who won," Grant said of Andrew's allegiance, "but it was cool to go up there and beat them."
Claire is a member of the Kansas State soccer team. Chris, Diane, Grant, Mayfield and Andrews were on hand to watch K-State's game at OU on Oct. 22, which the Sooners won 3-2. "Mark and Baker came to the game and cheered for Claire, even though it was Oklahoma's turf," Diane said. "It was really sweet. They have a good friendship."
The triplets were born Dec. 4, 1998, on a Friday afternoon at The Christ Hospital in Cincinnati. Andrew arrived first at 2:58, then Claire at 2:59 and finally Grant at 3:01. They were born prematurely. Andrew weighed 3 pounds, 10 ounces; Claire weighed 3 pounds, 11 ounces; Grant tipped the scales at 3 pounds, 15 ounces. Diane was restricted to bed rest for 20 weeks.
From the start, Grant evidently was born to play for the Sooners. Chris gave each of his children a nickname. He called Andrew "Boo-Boo" after Yogi Bear's best friend. The heftier Grant earned the name "Boomer."
"He was always the biggest," Chris said of Grant, who is now 6-foot-3 and 232 pounds. "Grant got the name 'Boomer' just because he was so physical and so strong and bigger than the other kids. I'm probably the only one who calls him that. Maybe Diane every now and then. 'Booms' for short."
Grant also excelled in lacrosse and basketball at a younger age, but football always topped the list. Grant stopped playing lacrosse after eighth grade and gave up basketball after his sophomore year in high school.
Around Easter of Grant's junior year in high school, he and Chris hit the road to scout colleges. The trek began at OU and included stops at Vanderbilt, Michigan, Notre Dame, Northwestern, Indiana and Kentucky.
"We had set up a full week of tours," Chris recalled, "but we could have gone home after Norman. As soon as we did Oklahoma, I called Diane and told her, 'He's going here.' It was a great visit. It's a beautiful school, a big-time program. Yeah, I knew right away."
So did Grant.
"After I took my visit, I was pretty dead-set on coming here," Grant said. "I knew I belonged here. I think I made the right decision."
Chris chuckles at the irony of where Grant wound up playing college football.
"It was destiny," he said of Boomer playing for the Sooners.
BY JOHN ROHDE
Special to SoonerSports.com
Nov. 18, 2017
Perhaps no football player feels more at home while playing on the road than Oklahoma senior quarterback Baker Mayfield. Teams hoping to beat the Heisman Trophy favorite on their home field are now all out of chances.
A 41-3 victory at Kansas on Saturday not only clinched a spot for the Sooners in the Big 12 Championship Game on Dec. 2 at AT&T Stadium in Arlington, it also meant Mayfield finished his OU career with a 14-0 mark in true road games and a 12-0 record in Big 12 road contests.
First-year head coach Lincoln Riley became the Sooners' offensive coordinator/quarterbacks coach in 2015, the same year Mayfield returned to the field after transferring from Texas Tech. This means Riley also is 14-0 in true road games and 12-0 in Big 12 road games at OU, as is every third-year player on the roster.
Odd as it sounds, playing on the road fit perfectly into Mayfield's wheelhouse. His attitude, confidence and determination seemed equally as heightened on the road as they are inside the friendly confines of Gaylord Family - Oklahoma Memorial Stadium.
"I've had a mindset that's perfect for going on the road and I think I've been able to kind of help out other guys on the team," Mayfield said prior to his final conference road game. "When those fans start chirping, you want to shut them up or come right back and talk to them."
Every time they hit the road in conference play, Mayfield and Sooners extend their historical success in the Big 12.
Against the Jayhawks, Mayfield completed 20 of 30 passes for 257 yards, three touchdowns and no interceptions, marking the 15th time he has thrown at least three TD passes without a pickoff. Mayfield set a Big 12 record with his 37th straight game (every game of his OU career) with at least one touchdown pass. He also extended his record of at least two touchdown passes to 24 straight games, which is believed to be the second-longest streak in FBS history.
"It's about bragging rights on the road," Mayfield said. "It's about going into someone else's house and winning. It really is just you and your team on the sidelines."
The more hostile the crowd, the more Mayfield embraces the atmosphere.
"When you go on the road, there's always people who buy seats behind the visitors' bench for certain reasons," Mayfield said. "They want to chatter back and forth. I love that. They take it personal and try and get under our skin."
Asked which Big 12 road trips ranked as his favorites, Mayfield smiled and said, "Whenever you go to Stillwater there's always someone there chirping. West Virginia's always a fun place to go play. They always bring their 'A' game there."
Riley said preparation during the week of a road game doesn't seem particularly more focused or intense than it is for a home game, and he credits his team's pre-existing mentality under coach Bob Stoops.
"I don't really feel anything different during the week, but I always feel we have always embraced playing on the road," Riley said. "Going on the road is something you just have to handle as something you're up against. I've always been wired that way and I know he (Mayfield) certainly is."
Riley chuckled at the notion it appears Mayfield was born to play in hostile territory. "The more they yell, the better it is for us, honestly," Riley said. "He feeds off that stuff. He really does. (Mayfield embraces) the challenge of going into someone else's place and playing as well as you can."
Saying you love to play on the road is one thing, but the proof is in the performance.
"We talk beforehand about the mentality we want going into those environments," Riley said. "You can talk about it all you want, but it's still about the guys believing. And when your leaders feel that way, the rest of the team tends to follow suit."
The Sooners have now won 16 straight true road games, the nation's longest active streak and the second-longest in OU history. The Sooners' 14 straight Big 12 road wins also is a conference record. OU's last true road loss came more than three years ago with a 37-33 setback at TCU on Oct. 4, 2014.
During the 16-game streak, the Sooners have outscored opponents 784-436 (49-27 average) and outgained them 8,798 total yards to 6,456 (579-413 average). Seven of the 16 wins have come against AP Top 25 teams.
OU has won 23 of its last 24 conference games dating back to the 2015 season. Its lone loss came Oct. 7 at home against Iowa State this season.
The Sooners also have now won 13 straight against the Jayhawks, including seven straight in Lawrence. Each of those 13 victories have been by at least 15 points. OU's last loss at KU came in 1997 in the Big 12's second year of existence.
The Sooners are finished playing true road games this season. They close the regular season at home Saturday against West Virginia. Then come neutral site contests at the Big 12 title game and potentially two postseason games in the College Football Playoff with a shot at the program's eighth national title.
BY JOHN ROHDE
Special to SoonerSports.com
Oct. 27, 2017
Lincoln and Caitlin Riley have two daughters, but you'll frequently hear Caitlin refer to “the boys.” In her eyes, her husband doesn't coach the Oklahoma Sooners. He coaches the boys. And Caitlin considers them family.
"That's the truth," OU senior quarterback Baker Mayfield confirmed with a chuckle. "She has two daughters, but she also has about 115 boys."
Having always been a football wife, Caitlin said there were no major adjustments when Lincoln was promoted from offensive coordinator/quarterbacks coach to replace Bob Stoops as the Sooners' head coach on June 7 of this year.
"It's been good, exciting, never a dull moment," Caitlin said. "It's what I had anticipated — having the desire to win, to feel strongly involved and invested, that didn't really change. I felt that way when Lincoln was offensive coordinator."
Caitlin already is reaping high praise from OU players.
Senior defensive end/outside linebacker Ogbonnia Okoronkwo: "She's really one of the nicest humans I've ever met."
All-American junior offensive tackle Orlando Brown: "Great, great woman."
Mayfield: "She is one of the sweetest ladies."
At age 34, Lincoln Riley is the youngest FBS head coach, but Caitlin said a lot of work went into her husband's rapid ascent.
"Him coaching football started fresh out of high school, so it's all I know," she explained. "I thought he'd be a high school coach when we started dating in high school. It's seems like a long time ago. We left (Texas) Tech eight years ago, four years as a coach and as a student before that. So it seems like a lot of work has gone into it. He is very young, but he has put a lot of time in."
Lincoln attended Muleshoe (Texas) High School, about 70 miles northwest of Lubbock, and rival Dimmit High School was located roughly 45 miles northeast of Muleshoe. The Rileys started dating in 2002 when Lincoln was a freshman at Texas Tech and Caitlin was a senior at Dimmit. Lincoln graduated in December of 2005, Caitlin graduated in May of 2006 and they got married July 14, 2007.
Every Monday and Wednesday, Caitlin brings Sloan, who will be 5 in December, and Stella, 1, to practice. "We go to see dad," Caitlin said. "Those are two of his later nights, so he's generally not home to put the girls to bed. So we run around and see the boys. We take dinner out there and have practice picnics."
Caitlin, who was a kindergarten teacher before starting a family, said she particularly enjoys having the boys over to their house for functions. "I love to be involved in the middle of it, get to know the boys as people and learn about their families and what they love," Caitlin said.
Lincoln and Caitlin used to host players on offense, but now it's the entire team, plus recruits. "We just needed a little more space to have them all over," she said. "We get to have everybody. We get a lot more hugs now. We have our two girls and we have all our boys. That's who we know and love and that grows."
Mayfield laughed at the sheer magnitude of hosting an entire football team at the house. "It's kind of like a herd of animals coming in and out of the house," Mayfield said of the occasions. "They always do a great job caring for us. It's not under their contract or job description to truly care for us, but that's what makes it so special about them."
The Rileys' mutual admiration is easily evident, and they don't mind sharing that bond with the entire program.
"The family atmosphere has always been here," Mayfield said. "With Carol Stoops, the special thing about her is she would write hand-written letters to the guys. She would always do stuff like that. Now you have Caitlin. For kids who come a long way from home, it's important to see Coach Riley and his wife really hold together the family and the unity. They truly care about everybody around here and that's important."
In just her first five games, Caitlin already had experienced the highest highs (a 31-16 victory at No. 2-ranked Ohio State) and the lowest lows (a 38-31 loss at home to then-unranked Iowa State) of being the First Lady of Oklahoma Football.
"The hardest part about losing a game is I know what they all put into it, how hard they've worked and how badly they want it more than anybody else could ever want it," Caitlin said of those within the OU program. "Their heart is totally in it."
Caitlin is so invested in her husband's duties, she asked permission to attend his often-tedious weekly media luncheon every Monday. Lincoln initially balked at the idea, until Caitlin explained why she wanted to do it. "I've always felt it's important to be by his side in the good and the bad, so I want to be there every week no matter what," Caitlin said. "Honestly, it's a good 10-minute walk (from his office) that we get to see each other and visit alone. It's some time we get to catch up during the day."
Lincoln smiled and said, "She's got some good points. This time of year, finding 10 minutes just to talk or spend some time together, you don't get much of it right now."
Brown said he believes Caitlin is partly responsible for her husband's calm demeanor. "I think she really understands everything that he (Lincoln) goes through," Brown said. "For the most part, I think the reason he's able to be so calm and be there for us is because of her and all the pressure she takes off of him."
Whenever Lincoln seeks some head coaching counsel, he can easily chat with former bosses in Stoops and Ruffin McNeill, whom Riley served with at Texas Tech (2003-09) and at East Carolina (2010-14). After becoming OU's head coach, Riley quickly hired McNeill as the Sooners' assistant head coach/defensive tackles coach.
Turns out, Caitlin looks in the same direction when she seeks insight. "I talk to Carol Stoops a lot and to Erlene McNeill also," Caitlin admitted. "They're both very dear to my heart. I trust them and know they will always have great advice, plus I got to see first-hand how they handled things."
At 7 p.m. Saturday, the No. 10-ranked Sooners host Texas Tech, the Rileys' alma mater. Caitlin and Lincoln may have experienced some unpleasant flashbacks this week.
Caitlin's first-ever experience at Gaylord Family – Oklahoma Memorial Stadium was the 2008 contest when the No. 5 Sooners hosted the No. 2-ranked and 10-0 Red Raiders. It's affectionately referred to as the "Jump Around" game, with OU fans incessantly bobbing up and down to House of Pain's rhythmic rap blasting full volume through the loud speakers. The Sooners dominated with a 65-21 victory.
"Oh my goodness, I've never seen anything like it," Caitlin recalled.
The game remains fresh in the mind of Lincoln, who was Texas Tech's inside receivers coach at the time. "Ooh, a nightmare," Lincoln said Monday, with a nodding Caitlin watching roughly 25 feet away to his left. "That was still to this day probably the best atmosphere I've ever played or coached or been a part of. That's one of my lasting memories of it. Those who think a crowd or a great atmosphere can't have an effect on the game, they weren't at that game that night. I mean it was just unbelievable. It was a tough game, man. Oklahoma got the momentum and took it away from us and we could never get it back. It felt like we were just going head-first into a buzzsaw. It was amazing. It was a great atmosphere. It was a great team. It was a long night for us."
Fully aware that being a football wife is no easy gig, Lincoln said he knew he found a special match in Caitlin.
"It's a hard life for them, but she's been nothing but incredibly supportive and unselfish," Lincoln said of his better half. "You hear about it a lot, but it really is a hard life for them. It's lonely a lot, and all that goes along with it, especially if something doesn't go well. It's hard, but she's been great. She keeps me going, there's no doubt. She inspires me to keep things rolling because she certainly does. She's always been supportive and she's always been a person to put others in front of herself and she's certainly done that with me and my family."
And what does Caitlin admire most about her husband? "His honesty. His integrity. His heart," she said. "This (coaching) is really what he loves. The boys are what he loves. Well, they're not boys. They're big, but they're boys."