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Oklahoma football: A tale of two holders, Nyko Symonds and Grant Bothun

Nyko Symonds was the OU holder but wanted to play more — so he transferred to OBU, where he's gotten playing time and got called to preach. But someone else got to be the hero in Stillwater, and that someone was holder Grant Bothun.
by Berry Tramel Modified: December 15, 2013 at 1:06 pm •  Published: December 14, 2013

Grant Bothun took the center snap, but instead of setting the ball down for a kick, Bothun sprang to his feet.

And watching the Bedlam game from his parents' home in Moore, Nyko Symonds' spirit soared. A fake field goal has accelerated many a heart.

Bothun was a little excited himself. On the sidelines, he had heard Bob Stoops tell kicking game coach Jay Boulware to put on the fake. Boulware told Bothun on second down, get ready.

“It kind of hit me,” Bothun said. “OK, we're about to run one.”

A fake is Nirvana for a holder. On a kick, the holder is indispensable but completely invisible, unless something goes wrong. Like the starter on a car. But a fake is different. A fake is not automation, not an assembly line, like a hold.

On a fake, a team places its immediate future in the hands and on the feet and in the mind of a guy who rarely otherwise plays and who often isn't even on scholarship.

On a fake, suddenly everyone would know Bothun's name. Most of Sooner Nation would have been hard-pressed, before Dec. 7, to even name the OU holder. Which is no high crime, since even Stoops struggled to summon Bothun's name when discussing the field-goal unit earlier this season.

So Bothun sprang to his feet, rolled to his left and Bedlam momentum was about to swing mightily, one way or the other.

“I kind of jumped around in the living room; ‘Ah, that might have been me,'” Symonds said. “I never got the chance to run a fake. That did spark a little something inside me. I'm not going to lie. I did get pretty excited and frustrated as well.”

Symonds had been the OU holder in 2011. A non-scholarship player, same as Bothun.

But Symonds left the Sooners after that season, succumbing to the siren song of more playing time.

Soon enough, Symonds was hastening a call, all right. But it had nothing to do with football.

* * *

Bothun and Symonds share a similar story. Excellent high school football players, just not quite big enough to warrant a scholarship from a major university.

Bothun, 5-foot-11, 188 pounds, was a running quarterback at Rowlett High School in suburban Dallas. Recruited by the likes of Sam Houston State.

Symonds, 5-11 and 170, was a wide receiver at Southmoore. Recruited by the likes of Wyoming, Marshall and Colorado State.

Both decided to attend OU as invited walk-ons.

OU offensive coordinator Josh Heupel visited Rowlett and encouraged Bothun to be a Sooner.

Bothun's brother, Garrett, was an OU walk-on from 2004-07. “I loved the atmosphere,” Grant said. “Always wanted to play here. I told my dad when I was in the seventh grade, ‘Might not be here, but I'm going to get on a big field like this one day.' I always thought I could come here.”

Same with Symonds. He decided to be a Sooner. But the walk-on experience is not always smooth.

Both Symonds and Bothun say their scholarship teammates were great. Made them feel as much a part of the team as anyone else. Symonds and Roy Finch remain the best of friends.

“You go through the grind together,” Bothun said. “They don't treat you any different. Doesn't matter if they're walk-on or scholarship, we all hang out.”

But Symonds grew disenchanted with the status of a walk-on.

“There's still a little bit of separation that you feel,” Symonds said. “As a senior in high school, the (college) coaches tell you a lot of things they don't necessarily mean.

“I was told I was going to have all the opportunities. I didn't really feel I got them there. In a way, it kind of made me step back. If I'm not going to get the opportunity, why even try?

“I got the opportunity to be holder. I was thankful to be a part of that. Most walk-ons don't see the field.”

The holding was fun. Jimmy Stevens' game-sealing field goal at Florida State in September 2011? Symonds was the holder. He fielded a couple of bouncing snaps at Kansas State, allowing Michael Hunnicutt to get the kicks in.

“It's a tough job,” Symonds said. “Very nerve-wracking. I took pride in it. Loved contributing to the team in any way.”

But Symonds was itching to play. He decided to leave OU. His parents warned him he might still get a chance to play receiver.

But, Symonds said, “I just felt like it wasn't where my heart wanted to be.”

Turns out it was more than that. OU wasn't where Symonds' heart was supposed to be.

* * *

In Stillwater on Dec. 7, Bothun took the snap, sprang to his feet and rolled to his left. OSU safety Lyndell Johnson bore down on Bothun. Cornerback Tyler Patmon peeled back to cover OU tight end Taylor McNamara, only to discover linebacker Caleb Lavey already there. That left Hunnicutt, the kicker, uncovered.

So Bothun dumped the ball to Hunnicutt. A holder throwing to a kicker.

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by Berry Tramel
Berry Tramel, a lifelong Oklahoman, sports fan and newspaper reader, joined The Oklahoman in 1991 and has served as beat writer, assistant sports editor, sports editor and columnist. Tramel grew up reading four daily newspapers — The Oklahoman,...
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