Crazy Dream Coming True

John Rohde
By John Rohde Contributor

This story was originally published on Thursday, Dec. 1, four days before Baker Mayfield and Dede Westbrook were both named Heisman finalists.

In a word, Dede Westbrook's senior season at Oklahoma has been crazy. For that matter, his entire football career has been crazy. It's Westbrook's word of choice.

On his achievements at OU: "It's been crazy and very humbling for me," Westbrook said. "This past year has been filled with a lot of excitement."

On the record-setting numbers he has posted in Big 12 play this season: "To go on the streak that I've been going on here lately, it's crazy."

On Saturday's 11:30 a.m. Bedlam game being his last appearance at Gaylord Family - Oklahoma Memorial Stadium: "It's crazy for me," Westbrook said. "My years of college are almost finally up. I'm happy for that, but I'm not ready to leave the University of Oklahoma."

The Sooners and their fans aren't ready for the junior college transfer to leave, either, after just two seasons on board.

Know what else is crazy? Despite having one of the most prolific passing offenses this millennium, no OU receiver has ever been honored as the nation's top receiver. No Fred Biletnikoff Award winner at wide receiver. No John Mackey Award winner at tight end.

Also crazy is thanks to his meteoric rise that began Oct. 1, Westbrook possibly could become the Sooners' sixth Heisman Trophy winner and just the third true wide receiver ever to be given the award, joining Notre Dame's Tim Brown in 1987 and Michigan's Desmond Howard in 1991.

Westbrook is ranked third in this week's Heisman Watch poll on (redshirt junior quarterback Baker Mayfield is fourth), and on Tuesday ESPN ranked the wide receiver as the top player in all of college football. The Heisman's leading candidate, Louisville quarterback Lamar Jackson, threw three interceptions and lost a key fumble in his regular-season finale this past Saturday in a home loss against Kentucky, which is coached by Mark Stoops, the youngest brother of Sooners' coach Bob Stoops.

Westbrook's Last 8 Games vs. the 3 Heisman WRs' Seasons
Historical Comparison
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Here's the craziest part of all: If Westbrook were to win the Heisman and/or Biletnikoff awards, he will in essence have earned the honor in a span of just nine games after being hobbled with a strained right hamstring the first three games this season.

Westbrook chuckled at the potential scenario and said, "That'd be crazy."

There's that word again.

Westbrook had 17 receptions for 154 yards and zero touchdowns through the first three games when he estimated his hamstring was never better than 70 percent. "Pretty much every time I tried to get up to top speed, it felt like I had pulled it again," Westbrook recalled. "There was a real sharp pain. Our open date (Sept. 24) was just enough time for me to stay off it and it healed up on its own."

In eight Big 12 outings since, a healthy Westbrook has 53 receptions for 1,200 yards (22.6 yards per catch) and 15 touchdowns — the most ever by any Sooner in an eight-game span.

Westbrook leads all Power Five players in receiving yards (1,354) and receiving yards per game (123.1). He also leads the nation in receptions of 20-plus yards and his 11 touchdowns of at least 40 yards are the most by any FBS player in the last 18 years. No other OU player has had more than five touchdowns (rushing and/or receiving) of 40 yards or more in one season. Also, Westbrook's 15 touchdown receptions in the last eight games are more than 38 teams (18 Power Five teams) have this season.

Imagine the possibilities had Westbrook been healthy all season — not just him, but a half-dozen other key players for the No. 7-ranked Sooners (9-2 overall, 8-0 Big 12). "Of course it enters my mind, but we can't change that," Westbrook said of what might have been. "We have to keep moving forward."

Westbrook has had to keep moving forward through adversity ever since his senior season at Cameron Yoe High School in Cameron, Texas. A two-way starter, Westbrook was playing safety when he went high to defend a pass. "As he (the receiver) came down, he put his knee up to break his fall and I was draped over him," Westbrook explained. "I landed on top of him and his knee went into my stomach."

For the next few days, Westbrook kept vomiting blood as doctors explored to find the cause. A CAT scan revealed Westbrook had ruptured his small intestines, which required surgery. Though doctors told Westbrook he might never play football again, "I wasn't going to let an injury like that determine my fate," Westbrook said. "I didn't play any more sports until the end of basketball season and then I ran track. Whenever I played basketball, my stomach would still bleed because it wasn't all the way healed up."

When he went to play football at Blinn (Texas) Community College six months later, "I wore a rib protector, which for a receiver felt kind of weird," Westbrook said. Alas, his freshman season ended early with a leg injury.

With his two infants back home with their mother, and Westbrook feeling the need to do more as a father, he left behind his full scholarship at Blinn and stepped away from football for a full season four years ago to be with his son, Vincent, and daughter, Destiny.

The following year, Westbrook was determined to provide for his family by playing football and returned to Blinn, where he led the junior college ranks with 1,487 receiving yards and 13 touchdowns in only eight games to earn NJCAA First-Team All-America honors as a sophomore. Westbrook then chose to sign with OU over Oklahoma State, Baylor, Texas Tech and Arizona State, among others.

A mid-year transfer, Westbrook arrived in Norman and one month later Dennis Simmons had replaced Jay Norvell as the Sooners' outside receivers coach. Having previously coached receivers at Texas Tech, East Carolina and Washington State, Simmons knew of Westbrook through the recruiting process and realized OU had someone special.

"When you first look at his (game) film, (anyone) could see that he has talent," Simmons said of Westbrook. "You could see the potential in him. He had been successful everywhere he had been. The things you didn't know about were his toughness, his competitive drive and all of those things. When I met him I didn't know all that."

Now Simmons knows all about Westbrook, who also has captured the nation's attention. "He's a fun, charismatic guy to be around," Simmons said. "Sometimes he'll come into our (receivers) meeting singing. He's a good team guy."

"You get into this business as a coach to see guys capture their dreams, so it's been fun watching him capture his so far."
— Receivers coach Dennis Simmons

For two solid months of record-setting performances, a humble Westbrook continually deflected praise toward teammates and coaches.

"It's not tough to be humble," Westbrook explained. "Pretty much, it's not me that's doing it. You've got to thank (quarterback) Baker (Mayfield) for giving me the opportunity by throwing to me. You've got to thank (offensive coordinator) coach (Lincoln) Riley for believing in me and calling the play. And of course, if it wasn't for the offensive line, Baker wouldn't have that time he needs to get the play off. There's also (running backs) Samaje Perine and Joe Mixon, so it's easy to be humble."

Last season, Westbrook started all 13 games and finished with 46 receptions for 743 yards (16.2 per catch) and four touchdowns. His primary focus was on standout senior receiver Sterling Shepard, who wound up being a second-round draft choice of the New York Giants. "That first year, he was soaking everything in like a sponge," Simmons said of Westbrook.

Westbrook and Shepard quickly built a bond that hasn't waned. "We come in contact after every game, regardless if it's a good game, a bad game, a win or loss," Westbrook said. "It's a brotherhood. He looks after me just as well as I look up to him. He wants to see me do great things."

Superlative performances have become the norm for Westbrook these past two months. More of the same against Oklahoma State (9-2, 7-1) on Saturday might bring him some individual hardware, plus the 10th Big 12 title in 18 seasons under Stoops.

"It's been a privilege to be able to work with him," Simmons said of Westbrook. "It's been a joy. You get into this business as a coach to see guys capture their dreams, so it's been fun watching him capture his so far."

Crazy dreams that continue to come to life.