ARLINGTON, Texas â€” To understand how Landry Jones made two of the best throws of his career only a half after making two of his worst last Saturday night, you need to know about his freshman year at Oklahoma.
Not the year that the quarterback was a redshirt freshman taking over for an injured Sam Bradford.
We're talking about his first year on campus, the season when he was a true freshman, the fall that he redshirted.
It was the season that changed his life.
As OU prepares for Nebraska and the Big 12 title game, no player is more important to the outcome than Jones. If he plays well against a stellar Husker defense, the Sooners will celebrate another conference crown. If he doesn't, there will be Lincoln flashbacks.
Five interceptions in a 10-3 loss last season?
Then again, this is a different season, and no player deserves more credit for the Sooners' presence in tonight's game than Jones.
â€œHe's had a special year,â€ Sooner coach Bob Stoops said.
Jones has thrown for 3,947 yards and 34 touchdowns. That's more yards than Boise State's Kellen Moore or Stanford's Andrew Luck, more touchdowns than Oklahoma State's Brandon Weeden or Arkansas' Ryan Mallett.
But the yards and the touchdowns and the success might never have happened had it not been for the season that he nearly quit and the reason that he didn't.
Jones tells his story for â€œI Am Second,â€ an online movement inspiring people to live for God through the testimonies of athletes, actors, musicians as well as average joes.
Jones arrived in Norman a couple years ago as a blue-chip, four-star recruit. He was an icon back home in Artesia, N.M. He was a multi-star standout.
From the time he was little, adults had been telling him that he'd play in the NFL some day.
â€œBy the world's standards, I was a successful person,â€ Jones said on the â€œI Am Secondâ€ video. â€œI had all the friends, all the girls. Everyone liked me.â€
â€œEverybody loved me.â€
Jones built his whole identity around who he was as an athlete. Throwing a football gave him worth. Scoring touchdowns gave him meaning.
His first season at OU, though, he was redshirted.
No meaning. No worth. No identity.
â€œI became sad and lonely, and I went through a state of depression for that first year,â€ Jones said. â€œWhen everybody'd be having a good day, I'd try to drag â€˜em down so I could feel better about myself. I was just drowning.â€
Jones admitted that he tried to find comfort in alcohol and girls, but nothing made him feel better.
â€œI get done with that first year of college not knowing if I want to continue at OU,â€ he said. â€œI didn't know if I wanted to quit. I just wanted to crawl in a hole and just be left there.â€
As bad as that sounds, it gets worse.
â€œI didn't know if I wanted to keep living,â€ he said. â€œHow can I go through another miserable year like that?
â€œI just wanted to die.â€
Jones grew up in a Christian home, going to church and learning all the stories, but it wasn't until those darkest of days that he saw the light. His faith became real.
He remembers one particular time when he was alone and felt the presence of God.
â€œAnd he freed me from all the depression that I had, all the sadness, all the loneliness,â€ Jones said. â€œIt was probably one of the greatest moments of my life.â€
It was the moment that he started seeing himself not as â€œLandry Jones, athleteâ€ but as â€œLandry Jones, child of God.â€ He realized that what he did on the football field didn't give him worth, that the good stuff didn't define him, that the bad stuff didn't either.
His perspective changed. So did his life.
Jones now wants to be a preacher when his playing days are done. He wants to share the love and the joy that he feels because of his faith.
Thing is, his future isn't the only thing that has changed. His here-and-now has, too.
When Jones threw three first-half interceptions last week against OSU â€” two that were meant to be thrown away but weren't quite chucked far enough â€” he didn't fall apart. He didn't self-destruct. Instead, he came through in the fourth-quarter clutch.
First was the strike to Cam Kenney for a catch-and-run 86-yard touchdown.
â€œAny other throw ... and he's going to get caught,â€ Stoops said.
Then came the bullet to James Hanna for a game-clinching 76-yard score.
What's more, those two passes were the next two balls Jones threw after nearly giving up his fourth interception of the game, a ball that went through not one but two sets of Cowboy hands, a pick that would've surely ended the Sooners' hopes.
â€œHe makes mistakes like everybody does,â€ Sooner safety Quinton Carter said, â€œbut he always bounces back.â€
Jones continues to redeem himself.
Then again, he has a unique appreciation for redemption.
â€œI've never felt happier in my entire life,â€ Jones said on the â€œI Am Secondâ€ video, taped long before his big Bedlam performance or his monster season.
â€œIn the end of times, it's not really going to matter if I'm a Hall of Fame quarterback or a great college quarterback or anything like that. It's going to matter what I did on this earth and how I used my gifts for God.â€