After Oklahoma concluded a 6-6 season with a dismal 31-6 loss to BYU in the Copper Bowl, 6'4", 288-pound defensive end Cedric Jones, who was a junior, considered leaving Norman and entering the NFL draft. "I thought I had a good chance to go pretty high," says Jones, whose 14 sacks last year set a school record, "but I wanted to come back and help this program."
He also wanted to check out coach Howard Schnellenberger, who was hired to replace Gary Gibbs last December. Following the Copper Bowl, Schnellenberger said, "The team I saw at the bowl game was out of shape, unorganized and unmotivated. It was clearly the lowest point in the great history of Oklahoma football."
That's Howard Hyperbole for you. Schnellenberger, who built Miami into a national power and turned Louisville into a respectable team, doesn't mind stirring the pot. If you believe the 61-year-old Schnellenberger, it was disgraceful that Gibbs's team didn't go at least 9-3 last season. After watching junior tailbacks Jerald (Thunder) Moore and James (Lightning) Allen in spring practice, Schnellenberger said the Sooners have "the best group of running backs I've ever been around." Furthermore, he says, "I expect this defense to be one of the best in the nation."
Schnellenberger is just warming up. When he talks about redshirt freshman quarterback Eric Moore, who will start because Garrick McGee is still recovering from spinal meningitis, he says, "Now to say that he will be another Bernie Kosar or Vinny Testaverde is premature, but he has made as much progress as any freshman quarterback I have ever worked with."
Schnellenberger wasn't just blustering this spring when he put the Sooners through a 1950s-style Marine boot camp. He demanded that the team lose a total of 1,000 pounds, he required overweight players to report at 6 a.m. so that they could run stadium steps, and he ordered ropes hung from the roof of Oklahoma's indoor training facility so that players could climb them to improve their upper-body strength. At the beginning of spring practice only 10% could get to the ceiling. By the end 85% could.
Schnellenberger was so pleased with all the pad popping during spring drills that he approached a few members of the press and said, "How'd you like all that damn hitting out there?" Jones, for one, liked it just fine. In Schnellenberger's new 4-3 defense, Jones should be even more of a nuisance to quarterbacks than in previous years.
Luckily for Schnellenberger, the schedule is conducive to major improvement. After opening with what should be three easy wins, the Sooners host Colorado. Should they win that game, they have a shot at being unbeaten heading into their regular-season finale, at Nebraska.
If Oklahoma comes close to that, Jones can head to the NFL secure in the knowledge that he helped Schnellenberger put the Boomer back in Sooner football.