Black History Month: Prentice Gautt
NORMAN, Okla. -- In 1956, Jakie Sandefer didn't realize what was really going on.
And maybe, Prentice Gautt didn't either.
The two -- Sandefer white and Gautt African-American -- were college roommates on the Oklahoma football team. They didn't really see it as much more than that.
Now, as we celebrate Black History Month, the impact Gautt had on Oklahoma and beyond is still felt at OU.
"Prentice had such an inner-strength that was so powerful because of the way he set examples through his life, his response to the challenges in front of him and more," Oklahoma Athletics Director Joe Castiglione said. "He never fashioned himself as a pioneer, but he's respected as one."
A pioneer because Gautt was the first African-American to play football at Oklahoma, joining the team in 1956. He was twice an All-Big 8 selection and was also an Academic All-American in 1958. Gautt played seven seasons in the NFL and also went on to coach at Missouri.
Beyond football, Gautt graduated from Oklahoma, went on to earn master's and doctorate degrees in psychology at Missouri. He worked for the Big 8 Conference and also the Big 12 Conference.
Beyond academics, Gautt did even more before his death in 2005.
"Looking back, I didn't know it was that big of a deal," Sandefer said of Gautt breaking the color barrier at OU. "I talked to him some about it. I asked him about what was going on, but really I was so worried about making the team and making my grades that I wasn't aware of much of anything else.
"And the funny thing is, when I asked Prentice about it, he said he was the same way -- he just wanted to make the team and make his grades."
Gautt might have been entrenched in football and his school work, but he was fashioning a trail at OU.
"He was someone you realized was unique in so many different ways," said former Oklahoma football coach Barry Switzer. "You just knew he wanted to go way beyond football. He had the abilities and talents to do anything."
"He was such a class act. A great ambassador for the state of Oklahoma and the University."That's the kind of impact he had on OU. A trailblazer in football but a difference-maker off the field.
— Jakie Sandefer
"I knew him when we were both at Missouri and before I came to OU," Castiglione said. "Prentice Gautt might be Oklahoma's Jackie Robinson."
Gautt grew up in Oklahoma City and went to Douglass High School where he was the first African-American to play in the Oklahoma All-State football game. In 1955, that same year, he took place in the first Oklahoma high school game between black and white players when Douglass played at Capitol Hill.
But back to Sandefer and Gautt and 1956 Oklahoma when the two were paired together for road trips -- not because then-Oklahoma coach Bud Wilkinson thought Sandefer and Gautt were a natural fit, but because back then, the first and second team players at each position roomed together.
"We came back from that first road trip and I think the coaches knew," Sandefer said. "They asked if I minded rooming with him full-time."
Sandefer had no way of knowing what would ultimately happen as Gautt became a legendary name at the University of Oklahoma and eventually culminating with his name appearing permanently at OU as the Dr. Prentice Gautt Academic Center for OU student-athletes opened in 1999.
"He was such a class act," Sandefer said. "A great ambassador for the state of Oklahoma and the University."
But at the time when the two were rooming together? Sandefer said it wasn't the color that was the biggest difference between Gautt and the rest of the Sooners.
"Was Prentice different?" Sandefer said. "Yeah, Prentice was different. He had more class than the rest of us, and he was a better student."
This is the first in a four-part series originally published in 2012. Stay tuned as OU celebrates Black History Month.
Impact still felt at OU and beyond.
|Lee Roy Selmon
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