LANDRY JONES IS ALREADY OKLAHOMA'S ALLTIME PASSING LEADER WITH 12,379 CAREER yards. He has won a Big 12 championship and gone 29--8 as a starter, including 3--0 in bowls. Given that he is widely projected as a first-round draft choice, one could hardly have faulted the 6' 4", 229-pound quarterback if he had left early for this past spring's NFL draft. "I went back and forth so many times," says the Artesia, N.M., native. Ultimately, however, the desire to ease the sting of a disappointing end to his junior season kept him in Norman.
Hobbled by the loss of Ryan Broyles, OU's All-America receiver, to a torn ACL in the ninth game of the season, Jones and the Sooners (8--1 at the time) dropped two of their last three regular-season games. A quarterback with nine career 400-yard performances to his credit failed to throw for more than 256 yards in those final three starts while throwing five interceptions. "I felt there was more out there for me, individually and as a team," says Jones. "[The NFL's] always going to be there. I don't get another senior year, I don't get another chance to win a national championship."
Yet Oklahoma fans did not all hail Jones's decision. Even before that end-of-season funk, the three-year starter had endured a steady stream of criticism, in part because of a habit of throwing interceptions (he's had at least 12 every season, including 15 last year) and in part because of the standard set by his predecessor, 2008 Heisman Trophy winner Sam Bradford. As a redshirt freshman, Jones took over for Bradford when the eventual No. 1 NFL draft pick injured his shoulder in the season opener against BYU. Oklahoma struggled through an 8--5 season, the team's worst in a decade. "It was really hard coming after Sam," says his wife, Whitney, also the Sooners' All--Big 12 point guard. "Sam was the golden boy at Oklahoma, and rightfully so. I felt sorry for [Landry] that whole first year. He was pretty miserable."
Jones progressed significantly over the next two years, excelling in a breakneck offense that has allowed him to throw 40-plus times per game. A highlight came last year against Texas, when he threw for 367 yards and three TDs without an interception in a 55--17 rout. Still, Jones knew he had room to improve. He spent spring break in Palo Alto, Calif., training with a private quarterbacks coach, George Whitfield, who has also worked with Cam Newton and Andrew Luck. "I wanted to pick his brain about moving in the pocket, on how to do it efficiently and play as fast as you can," says Jones. He also put himself on a diet of lean meats, fruits and vegetables, sacrificing his favorite sweets. "A big thing for me is eating the right way so I can be lean but weigh as much as I can," he says.
Jones will play his final season with a young receiving corps. Broyles was drafted by the Lions, and in May, Bob Stoops dealt indefinite suspensions to returnees Trey Franks, Kameel Jackson and Jaz Reynolds for violating team rules. (They're likely off the squad until at least September.) That leaves second-team All--Big 12 wideout Kenny Stills and a bunch of freshmen, most notably spring standout Trey Metoyer. Jones knows his play as a senior will have a big impact on just where he slots in on that NFL draft board. "The worst thing that could happen is I fall," says Jones. "But I'm not going to let myself regress and get worse." He didn't skip all those desserts this off-season for anything less than a triumphant finale.