NORMAN — Former Oklahoma receiver Kenny Stills caught 82 passes for 959 yards and 11 touchdowns during his just-completed junior season, after which he declared for the 2013 NFL Draft.
Stills finished his college career with 204 career catches; he’s only the fourth player in Oklahoma history with at least 200 career receptions.
Stills and I spoke by telephone last week. I wrote a story about his decision, which can be read at this link, but here is more from our conversation.
How long after the Cotton Bowl did it take to make your decision, and what went into it?
“It was just sitting down, talking with my family. They were kinda dealing with the process for me, and they thought it was the best decision for me to make. I trust a lot what my mom and my dad have to say, and they truly thought it was the best decision for me. Within a day or two, they had spoken and sat down, and I knew that was the right thing to do.”
The OU receiver corps seems to be set up well for next season, even with your decision to leave. Did that make it easier?
“That definitely made things a little bit easier as well. I didn’t feel like I was leaving the team in a bad position. I feel like the guys that were recruited and the guys that are there are ready to step up. They’re excited. They’re probably a little bit sad, as I am, but they’re excited to get their opportunity to play. I told them when I left, ‘It’s you guys’ time to shine.’”
How was the conversation with Bob Stoops?
“We sat down and that was very difficult for me. I took a few deep breaths, and just looked him in his eyes and told him that I had an opportunity to pursue my dreams. I had left high school early to get to OU to get to my dream, and my dream was to get to the NFL. I didn’t want there to be any hard feelings, and I hoped he wished me the best. It was definitely very difficult for me, and to him, I feel like, and I feel like we left on a really good note.”
Did anything about college football surprise you?
“Everything. I knew what I was getting into, but I didn’t fully understand the position I was putting myself in, and the opportunities I was gonna have. The places we were gonna see, and we were gonna get to visit. The whole experience in itself was very day-to-day, and I was learning as long as I was there.”
How much school do you have before you’ll graduate, and is that something you’ll try to finish?
“A semester and a half. … I’m still enrolled in class. My classes are online. It’s very important to me as well to finish school. My parents have spoken to me and have continued to harp on me about that. I actually had my books sent here yesterday. I want to be able to take care of both things and finish up school as well.”
What aspect of your game do you feel improved the most over this past season?
“Just the leadership. The leadership role as a player really changed for me, being that before Justin got there and Jalen got there, I was the only guy who had taken a snap. I had to lead by example, and not just talk about it, but really be about the things I was saying. Just for me to be able to take that step and be able to lead a group of guys, and have them put trust me, it really changed me as a player over the last year.”
Did you feel a lot of pressure when Jaz Reynolds, Trey Franks and Kameel Jackson were suspended last May?
“I would just say that I have high expecations for myself. That just made my expectations a little higher. I was gonna have to be the guy to carry the load, and it just helped me to work harder in the offseason. I feel like it just made a difference in the way I prepared for this season. Knowing that I was gonna be the only guy, I was really putting my whole heart and soul into everything I was doing in the offseason, knowing that I was gonna have to carry the load.”
Did it take some pressure off when Jalen Saunders and Justin Brown joined the team?
“Them being there definitely took the pressure off me, knowing I had some guys to lean on. That was a 100 percent benefit for us, both on and off the field.”
How huge was it for your position group and the OU offense when Jalen Saunders became eligible?
“Practiced erupted. Compliance came, and usually when compliance comes we’re in some type of trouble, but they show up at practice, and they told coach Stoops that Jalen was cleared.
“He brought Jalen over from the scout team to the offense, and everybody was running around, chest bumping him. The practice really erupted. When Jalen came in, I knew he was gonna be able to make a lot of plays for us, so it was exciting for me to be able to move back outside.”
Was your early-season success inside important in helping you prepare for the next level?
“I think that just shows that I’m capable of being inside or outside. It really helps with the confidence if a team were to ask me to play inside. I had a lot of fun; I learned a lot about the slot position that I didn’t know. I got really comfortable. If a team were to ask me to do that at the next level, I would be a lot more comfortable.”
You’ve been outspoken on Twitter about your opinion that colleges should consider paying athletes. Is that something you think is possible, and do you think it will eventually come?
“I really don’t think I have a say-so in it. Everybody has their opinion; obviously I’m more outspoken that most kid. It’s not really my business. I’m just gonna go out there and play. If things change, they change. I don’t really have any control over it.”
Do you have a favorite NFL team?
“When I was younger, I grew up a Packers fan because my dad played for the Packers. As I got older, I’ve fallen away from it. I’m not a big fan of any team; I’m a fan of players. I’ll choose a team when the game’s on, but I’m not a big follower of any team in particular.”
Are there any players you would like to play with, or train with?
“Just a guy like Larry Fitzgerald. I love the way he handles his business on and off the field. It’d be great for me to get with somebody like that, just so I can learn from them. That’s something I’d love to duplicate, being a professional, and the way that he’s looked at. I’d love to be looked at that way.”
You came to Oklahoma and played with the same quarterback throughout your college career. Would you prefer to land somewhere with an established, veteran quarterback?
“I don’t have any control over that, but either way, it’s gonna work out. I have a positive attitude toward it. I love getting the work in with the quarterback. If it’s a young guy, a rookie like me, we’re gonna do what we have to do to be successful. If it’s a veteran, I’m gonna get underneath his arm and make sure I’m learning all the right things.”
If you aren’t picked in as high a round as you’d like, will that motivate you?
“I would say that regardless of where I’m picked. I’ll always have a chip on my shoulder. I always view myself as an underdog. I don’t care if I’m the first pick or the last pick. I’m gonna have the same attitude going into it because that’s how I was raised. That’s how I view myself.”
Have you and any of your college teammates talked about the possibility of landing on the same NFL team?
“Every once in a while we’ll say something about it, but we know the opportunity of that happening is pretty slim. It would be great to be on the same team with any of these guys. Javon’s out here training with us. Just have a familiar face to have around to laugh and joke with would be awesome, but I know that either way, I’m gonna be finding a new family, a new sort of brotherhood.”
Lots of former Sooners have come out and been critical of the program since the Cotton Bowl. Does that bother you?
“Yes and no. Everybody has their opinion. They’re a different generation of player, and we’re a different generation of player. Some of the things they’ve said, we agree with, and some of them, we disagree with. Everybody has their opinion and they’re entitled to it. Hopefully we’ll see and the program continues to progress.”
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