MIAMI GARDENS, Fla. — Sam Bradford won the Heisman. Jermaine Gresham, G.K. McCoy and Duke Robinson made All-American. Jeremy Beal, Jon Cooper, Nic Harris, Travis Lewis, Phil Loadholt, DeMarco Murray and Trent Williams made All-Big 12.
But since November’s arrival, when the offense jumped aboard a 60-points-a-game carousel and the defense grew fangs, no Sooner has played better than the Hispanic kid who once was scared to get hit. When Oklahoma plays Florida in the Big Bowl on Thursday night, few will be more central to Sooner success than Juaquin Iglesias. "I don’t think anybody’s played better than him the last month of the season,” said OU receivers coach Jay Norvell. "He’s so competitive and tough.” I watched Iglesias play down the stretch, rise up the school pass-catching charts, become an open-field terror who lives off yards after the catch, and decided to write a column about how he’s a poor man’s Mark Clayton. Then I talked to Norvell and found out Iglesias is a poor-man Hines Ward, the Pittsburgh Steeler flanker who plays like an offensive linebacker. Norvell told Iglesias the comparison. "Incredibly tough,” Norvell said. "Makes catches in traffic. Makes blocks. He’s been so unselfish, played so hard when his teammates need him to.” Heady praise for a guy who once preferred basketball because he didn’t like contact. "I was scared to get hit when I was little,” Iglesias said. "My freshman year (of high school), I wanted to quit playing. Play basketball instead.” Good thing he didn’t. Else someone else would be the No. 2 receiver in OU history in both catches (197) and yards (2,803). Else someone else would have to bail out Sam Bradford when the pass protection fails, which it hasn’t much this season but could more against the ferocious Floridas. Iglesias has become as important to these Sooners as Clayton was to the 2003-04 Sooners. And Clayton merely is the best receiver in OU history. Iglesias can go deep — Bob Stoops declared in August that OU wouldn’t miss Malcolm Kelly’s deep threat, because Iglesias was faster. But Iglesias also can go short and make it a big play. He’s a remarkable open-field runner, because of size and speed. "The ability to maneuver after the catch and strength in traffic are his best qualities,” Norvell said. Much is made of Florida’s speed, and rightfully so. But speed only helps you get in position to make the tackle; it doesn’t make the tackle for you.