The Sooners are officially in the “dog days” of camp, completing their 11th preseason practice on Friday morning. The possibility of threatening weather forced the club indoors at the Everest Training Center, where the team was at least shaded from the hot Oklahoma sun, as temperatures have steadily risen over the course of the week.
On Tuesday the team went through its initial two-a-day practice session after putting the pads on for Monday’s practice. A mini-scrimmage saw the club work on some live situations on Wednesday, while another two-a-day session followed on Thursday. Throughout the week, a steady stream of NFL scouts has been in attendance in Norman, a trend that will continue throughout the season.
Saturday morning the Sooners are expected to conduct their most extensive scrimmage of the preseason with just three more weeks remaining before the club’s opener against Louisiana Tech on Aug. 30. The team will get its first reprieve from practice on Sunday, with only meetings, meals and treatment scheduled for players. Then it’s back to the grind with the third “double-day” session of camp slated for Monday.
While the normal aches and pains of camp have set in for most of the roster, those bumps and bruises were set aside on Friday following OU’s practice session. Despite another sweaty practice session, the Sooners got an extra boost of energy at the Everest Training Center on Friday as the smiles and enthusiasm of Special Olympians brightened the disposition of even the most tired members of the OU squad.
Happiness and joy abounded along the sidelines as a group of Special Olympians waited, with footballs, pictures, posters and other memorabilia in hand, for the opportunity to spend some time with the University of Oklahoma football team.
Annually, head coach Bob Stoops and his staff host the group and offer a chance for them to interact with the players and coaches, receive autographs, take photos and exchange a few hugs.
I just know how much it means to them but also how much it means to us. It really opens a lot of our guy’s eyes. Without a doubt, the best practice ever.
P Jed Barnett
“It’s always fun,” said Stoops. “The players get a chance to be around them and all the Special Olympians are great people and athletes themselves, so it’s great to have them here joining us.”
When speaking with the players after the practice, there was a common theme from this year’s annual visit: encouragement and excitement.
“It’s real special,” said sophomore cornerback Zack Sanchez. “Seeing their excitement gives you a good feeling about yourself when you know you can bring so much joy to their day and it is just fun to give back to them.
“It was loud in this corner, so it was good to get some excitement, kind of like game day excitement from these guys. It was a lot of fun and I’m glad that they were here.”
Redshirt sophomore tight end Conner Knight echoed Sanchez and was more than happy to hear all the cheers and shouts coming from the sidelines.
“It’s awesome just to hear them cheer while we are doing our team sets and stuff and giving them autographs,” said Knight. “We are making their day and they are making our day, it’s a lot of fun.”
Knight was not the only Sooner with an extra pep in his step after the visit from the Special Olympians, as senior punter Jed Barnett was thrilled to have all the fans at practice.
“It’s awesome,” said Barnett. “It’s unbelievable. Just to see them walk in and the energy that they bring. Sometimes it’s easy to get caught up in practice and stuff and they just bring a huge smile to your face. I love it.
“It honestly made you want to work a little harder. You couldn’t help but glancing over your shoulder and just seeing how much excitement they were bringing to practice and we absolutely loved it. It was nice to have people here from the Special Olympics. It was really special.”
When asked if this was among one of his favorite practices of the season, Barnett answered with a resounding, “yes.”
“Absolutely, without a doubt,” said Barnett. “To be able to give back and bring them to our facility and show them how we do it. It’s just so awesome. I just know how much it means to them but also how much it means to us. It really opens a lot of our guy’s eyes. Without a doubt, the best practice ever.”