Cotton Bowl coaches Bob Stoops and Kevin Sumlin were asked at Wednesday's news conference about what it's been like to battle against each for recruits, considering they're good friends.
Sumlin was an assistant at Oklahoma under Stoops for five seasons. Now that he's become Texas A&M's coach, the two former colleagues have fought — and will continue to fight — for many of the same recruits in Texas.
“I don't know about Kevin, but business is business,” Stoops said. “I mean, we're friends, but you have to do your job. As long as we're not doing anything unethical. We understand that it's just the competitive world that we live in.”
Sumlin added, “There's no doubt. As long as you're not doing anything unethical, you're friends. It's like playing golf: sometimes you win and sometimes you lose. You might get a little upset, but you come back and do it again; that's just the way it is.”
HEUPEL: ‘OUR SCHOOLS SHOULD BE SAFE'
Josh Heupel grew up in a family of educators. His father, Ken, was a football coach; his mother, Cindy was a high school principal and now is an education consultant in Oklahoma.
Heupel, OU's co-offensive coordinator, cares so deeply about the power of education that he established his 14 Foundation, which raises money for a holiday food drive, provides children with Christmas gifts and sponsors summer football camps.
His passion for children and educators — and his efforts to improve their lives — made the tragedy in Newtown, Conn., when a gunman entered Sandy Hook Elementary School and killed 26 students and staff members, particularly harrowing for Heupel.
“Ultimately, what we're trying to do is change our state, change our communities, one kid at a time,” Heupel said. “The tragedies that happen across the country ... you're trying to reach kids like that so those tragedies don't happen.”
The idea for Heupel's foundation took root when he was a first-year quarterback at Oklahoma in 1999. He and some teammates visited elementary schools and read to students, and Heupel realized how tough some kids have it.
The 14 Foundation raised enough money this year to provide around 35,000 Thanksgiving meals to families around the state, he said.
“Our schools should be safe,” Heupel said. “When you drop a kid off in the morning, it's a place of education. A place of betterment. You should be able to go and pick those kids up at the end of the day and bring them back home. When that doesn't happen, it's a shock to everyone. Us as a society ... we have to find a way to make our schools safe.”
NEW-LOOK A&M DEFENSE
Much has been said about Texas A&M's offensive impact on the SEC in the Aggies' first year in the league. The Aggies brought a Big 12-style spread to the SEC.
But A&M definitely changed its defense to accommodate SEC-style offenses.
“They've built their defense to play in that league,” said OU co-offensive coordinator Jay Norvell. “They get an extra safety down in the box. It's built to stop the run. They blitz a lot. They add an extra hat.
“But they do leave a lot of receivers one-on-one. They're basically challenging your quarterback to beat you. And your receivers.
“They've had a month to study us. I'm sure they look at our strengths and are going to have to defend our strengths, so we may see a little different style from them. But then again, when you play 12 games, it's hard to change too much.”
WOODS HELPED BY CALI CONNECTION
Oklahoma true freshman receiver Derrick Woods, from Inglewood, Calif., said having other guys from his home state around helped him adjust to an unfamiliar environment.
Junior wideout Kenny Stills, one of those fellow Californians, gushed over Woods' development this season on the scout team.
“Most improved player — by far — in our receiving core,” Stills said. “He's a great athlete, but there's a lot of stuff that kids have to learn coming from high school to college.
“We're taking care of him, and with the guys that I recruited, they knew I was gonna be here and take care of them if they ever needed anything. He's continuing to get better and he wants to make an impact next year on the field.”
IKARD WINS SCHOLAR-ATHLETE AWARD
Oklahoma junior center Gabe Ikard and Texas A&M senior defensive back Steven Terrell were honored Thursday as recipients of the Dan S. Petty Scholar-Athlete Award at the Big Play Luncheon in Dallas.
Petty played in the 1960 Cotton Bowl for Texas and went on to serve as chairman of the game's team selection committee for 10 seasons. He died in January 2011.
Each respective head coach and athletic director selects its school's award recipient.
Texas A&M's offensive coordinator, Kliff Kingsbury, resigned a few weeks ago to become head coach at Texas Tech.
“Losing Kliff was big,” said offensive tackle Luke Joeckel. “He was such a great offensive coordinator for us. He is a great coach. He is definitely a cool guy to follow and I enjoyed having him with us. I'm glad he is at Tech. It is great for him. It is such a great opportunity.
“With my dad being a Texas Tech grad, he is definitely excited about that.”
WRONG LEAGUE FOR MILLARD?
OU fullback Trey Millard is a hard-nosed, physical player who can block and run tough. He also has exceptional athletic ability, witness his hurdling of defenders on multiple occasions.
Does Millard ever think he belongs in another conference? A more rock-‘em, sock-‘em league?
“A little bit, when you see guys like (Eddie) Lacy from Alabama, those really big backs,” Millard said. “But not really. I've always been happy with what I've done here. Wouldn't take my decision back.”
MALENA: THE MAD HATTER
A&M tailback Ben Malena wears many hats. He started eight games and rushed for 752 yards. He's also on the kickoff unit and on the punt team, as a protector.
“This guy is crazy,” Sumlin said. “You would think a guy like him would like to return punts, but he wants to get out there and block. I'm extremely appreciative of his efforts.”
Malena said it's fun doing so many different things. “It is something I take pride in,” Malena said.
MANZIEL'S EYES HAVE IT
A&M quarterback Johnny Manziel scrambled his way to the Heisman Trophy. Manziel even has developed some chemistry with his receivers, who seem to know when the quarterback will tuck the ball and run.
“There is a distinct look in his eye that we kind of know, he is going to run this one,” said A&M receiver Uzoma Nwachukwu. “He is going to try to make a play with his feet. Ryan (Swope) and I definitely go try to look for people (to block).
“We always try to take account of who has the best hit or who is being more aggressive and things like that. We compete on that.”