Sooner Born and Bred in Longhorn Country

John Rohde
By John Rohde
Special to

Deep in the heart of Texas, in the same town where locals worship burnt orange, Baker Mayfield's bedroom was drenched in crimson and cream and the interlocking OU.

"We certainly had plenty of it," Mayfield's mother, Gina, said of collecting Oklahoma Sooners paraphernalia in the family's hometown of Austin, which is the home of the University of Texas. "Baker's room in particular was decked out in OU pillow cases, chairs, blankets and jerseys." There also was a football sent by former Sooners receiver Tinker Owens.

Not surprisingly, the same brash quarterback who confidently has led the Sooners the past three seasons walked fearlessly among Texas Longhorns supporters as a youngster while boldly draped in an OU T-shirt, shorts, sweatshirt, jersey or cap.

Older brother Matt recalled him and his little brother wearing Sooners gear while posing for their elementary class pictures. "I always seemed to have something OU on," Baker recalled. "It was something fun to talk about with my friends."

Baker would flash the upside-down Hook 'em Horns sign, even when he was too young to understand what the hand gesture meant. "Not the true meaning of it anyway," Baker said with a smile. "I thought it was all fun and games, but it means so much more than that."

Stunned classmates would ask Baker how he possibly could side with the hometown's Red River rival. "They just wouldn't understand the reasons why," Baker said, shaking his head.

"The local kids would always make comments," Gina said. "Baker and Matt endured that for quite a while."

"Our neighbors don't go out to the mailbox without wearing their orange. They have boys Baker's age. That just fueled all of it."
- Gina Mayfield

The Mayfield cars were adorned with OU window flags. Many who surrounded the family wearing burnt orange actually were friends. Chris Petrucelli, the husband of one of Gina's closest friends, used to be UT's soccer coach.

"Our neighbors don't go out to the mailbox without wearing their orange," Gina said. "They bleed orange. They have boys Baker's age. That just fueled all of it."

Baker got into arguments with schoolmates about the OU-Texas rivalry. "Oh, nothing out of the ordinary," Baker explained. "Just little kids being stupid, bickering back and forth. It was about bragging rights for the whole year until the next rematch."

"We always, always loved OU," said Matt, who is five years older than Baker. "Even more so now with Baker there."

How It Started

The blame — or credit — for this deep-seeded emotion falls squarely on the shoulders of the father, James Mayfield.

James and former OU assistant coach Charlie Sadler played high school football in Carrollton, Texas, where they were coached by Rex Norris, who also served as a Sooners assistant (1973-83). From that point forward, James and Gina quickly befriended an entire staff of former OU assistants, among them Mike Jones, Scott Hill, Bobby Proctor, Charley North, Donnie Duncan, Gary Gibbs and Bobby Jack Wright. "We were great company together," Gina said. "You can imagine, characters that you can write books about, we were hanging out with them."

When Bob Stoops became Sooners head coach in 1999, he welcomed former coaches and players back into the program. As a result, this also welcomed the Mayfield clan. Baker has been taught football by OU coaches his entire life.

Jones was an all-state quarterback at Crooked Oak High School, an honorable mention All-American at the University of Central Oklahoma (then Central State) and served as an OU assistant coach (1978-94), after which he helped teach Baker how to throw a football at an early age.

"That little runt. He used to wear me out playing football," Jones joked of Baker, now 22. "We used to throw the football and have contest after contest. We really had a lot of fun. Baker was a competing son-of-a-gun at a very young age. He loved OU football, loved to hear me tell stories about OU and football."

When Jones got out of coaching, he briefly worked for James and visited the Mayfields nearly every weekend. Their families would vacation together, go to water parks and also take in Texas Rangers games.

At least once every season, the Mayfields would attend an OU home game. Where the Everest Indoor Training Center now sits adjacent to the southeast corner of the stadium is where James used to park his truck and the entire group would tailgate together as Baker and Matt would play catch with the children of former assistants.

When the No. 2-ranked Sooners hosted Oregon in 2004, Baker and Matt were on the field thanks to sideline passes provided by Jones.

During these frequent trips to Norman, Gina would purchase much of her sons' wardrobes on Campus Corner and in bookstores. "I really didn't have to bring them any OU gear when I visited," Jones recalled. "That was Baker's school and he didn't mind wearing (Sooners gear) in the middle of Barton Creek, where all those Longhorns fans are saturated. And he was proud of it, too."

One of the Mayfields' favorite memories was going to halfback Jakie Sandefer's house before one game, where Baker and Matt got to meet All-Americans Jerry Tubbs and Jack Mildren. "Very special," Gina said. "Jakie had like six TVs going with a different game on each channel. That's what the boys were so enamored with. (Meeting past OU greats) was just a natural progression and they loved being in that environment."

Growing Older

When Baker began excelling on the football field, his hometown non-allegiance became even more of a debate.

Baker went 25-2 as a two-year starter at Lake Travis High School in Austin, which included a 16-0 record and winning the Class 4A state championship as a junior in 2011. During his junior and senior seasons, Baker passed for 6,255 yards and completed 429 of 666 passes (.644) for 67 touchdowns and eight interceptions.

Even though Lake Travis is located just 18 miles northwest of the UT campus, Baker had no interest in playing for the hometown Longhorns. And the feeling was mutual. Texas did not offer a scholarship, and indicated no desire for him to walk on.

So he instead chose to play at Texas Tech, where he became the first true freshman walk-on quarterback to start an FBS season opener and was selected 2013 Big 12 Offensive Freshman of the Year.

Would Baker have remained in Austin had UT offered him a scholarship out of high school? "I really didn't want to go there at all, but it would have been interesting," he conceded. "If I had what I originally had (scholarship offers from Washington State, Rice, New Mexico and Florida Atlantic) and I had Texas offer me, it would have been a little bit tougher decision to walk on at Texas Tech instead of taking a scholarship right there in my hometown. But it wouldn't have been the same because it wouldn't have been where my heart was at."

Coincidentally, it was the Red Raiders' 2013 game against OU that set the wheels in motion for Baker to transfer from Texas Tech and eventually join the Sooners.

Baker started the first five games his freshman year before injuring his right knee against Kansas. The unbeaten and 10th-ranked Red Raiders played at OU in the season's eighth game, but Davis Webb remained the starter ahead of Baker, who spent two weeks rehabbing the injury. "That was my first game back when I should have started, so I was a little disappointed I was not," Baker recalled.

Turns out, Baker never got to play against the team he grew up loving. "Gosh, that would have been weird," he said of facing the Sooners. "I definitely would have competed against them, but it would have been weird being on the opposite sideline."

OU beat Texas Tech 38-30 that day and the Red Raiders closed out the regular season with five straight losses. Baker, who was never on scholarship at Tech, started the last two games and left the team before it played Arizona State in the Holiday Bowl after Red Raiders coach Kliff Kingsbury announced there would be an open tryout for who would start at quarterback.

One More Go-Round

Interestingly, the Mayfield family had never made the annual October trip to the Cotton Bowl to watch the Sooners and Longhorns do battle.

"We would make it such a special event at our house." Gina said of watching all televised OU football games, particularly when the Sooners played Texas. "The entire time through the game, Baker would be throwing the ball down the hallway with either Mike Jones or James. We would do all the yells. It was a full-fledged event."

Baker said his reason for steering clear of Dallas was "so I could stay home and have bragging rights for when one of my friends got back from the game."

The Mayfields did not attend their first Red River Rivalry game until two years ago, when Baker played as a sophomore. His last OU-Texas game at the Cotton Bowl is Saturday at 2:30 p.m. and Gina freely admits each game this season gets a little more sentimental.

"It's one game closer to the end of him being at OU," Gina said. "It's going to be really hard at the West Virginia game (Baker's final home game). We're reminiscing and thinking about all of the things that happened to get here."

The story of how Baker Mayfield got to this point in his life has been mostly indescribable. "A lot of it is surreal," Gina said. "We couldn't have scripted this any better."

For Matt, Saturday's game will hopefully lead to more sentimentality for the family:

"A win this time would be special. That would top it off for the Mayfields."