NORMAN — Damien Williams arrived at Oklahoma this summer excited to turn the page with one former gridiron rival.
Two star running backs for opposing San Diego teams from their pee-wee years through high school, Williams and Brennan Clay are now both OU juniors; they'll wear the same uniform for a change, and push each other in new ways to help bolster what they hope becomes a formidable Sooner backfield.
“I've been playing against Brennan since we were yay high, in pee wee,” Williams said Tuesday. “It's great to be here playing with him and not against him.”
Clay signed with Oklahoma out of Scripps Ranch High School in San Diego; Williams, from city rival Mira Mesa High, arrived in Norman via Arizona Western College.
“Him and I went out and we were battling until the fourth quarter,” Clay remembered of their epic high school battles. “I wanna say we put up four or five touchdowns each, and he got the better of me in the end, but it's all good.
“I know what he can do; he knows what I can do. We're going to feed off each other.”
Williams, though, certainly didn't expect to embrace two past football foes. So imagine his surprise when he happened upon Lacoltan Bester, the receiver who months earlier had scored twice for East Mississippi in its 55-47 win over Williams' Arizona Western squad to win the junior-college national championship.
Bester's visit to Oklahoma and quick signing of a letter of intent in May surprised many. Especially Williams.
“I was just like, ‘Oh, we played against you in the national championship,'” Williams said. “It was great to see him come here, knowing that he's another great receiver added on.”
In a coincidence that could've made the unplanned meeting awkward, Bester happened to be wearing his national title ring.
Despite that, both say the initial encounter was a warm one.
“The first thing that came up was the game, and I had my championship rings on,” Bester said. “We were just joking around about it. ... Hopefully we'll be able to bring our talents together and put some more rings on my finger, and hopefully get him some.”
Bester and Williams had never met before the East Mississippi team showed up in Yuma, Ariz., to play No. 1 Arizona Western in its home stadium for the championship.
One of Williams' teammates knew Bester, so the two junior-college stars, completely unaware they'd be teammates months later, were introduced.
The championship game began with East Mississippi's offensive firing on all cylinders and grabbing a 27-0 first-half lead on No. 1 Arizona Western.
Williams finally got his Matadors on the board with a 53-yard touchdown run late in the half.
Despite two second-half touchdown grabs by Williams and a major comeback effort, East Mississippi's early lead proved insurmountable.
Though they're now friends and teammates, Bester can't help but talk a little smack about the game.
“Every time I put my rings on, we joke around about it,” Bester said. “He says he hopes I lose them or something like that. But it's all fun.”
Now, the two former rivals each have an opportunity to immediately contribute as teammates in pursuit of a championship.
Williams, despite adjusting to an entirely new offense, has learned fast and will likely get a significant number of touches in the Sooners' 2012 season opener at UTEP on Saturday. He and Clay are the primary options off the bench for starter Dominique Whaley, who returns from last season's severe ankle injury.
“I'm really excited,” Williams said. “Coming from a junior college, there really is an adjustment with the speed and the size, but it's still football.”
Bester (6-foot-3, 205 pounds) was competing for a starting role until Justin Brown transferred from Penn State. But Bester is still expected to be a regular in the receiver rotation.
“Wanting to get on the field and wanting to start is everybody's dream,” Bester said. “But just being able to play for a program like this is a great opportunity, so it doesn't matter if I start. I feel like I can still get my share of snaps. I'm gonna take advantage of every opportunity. When my name is called, I'll be ready to play.”