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

“When the play starts, it's adrenaline, it's all practice,” Bothun said. “We've done it so much. Instincts just take over.”

Hunnicutt caught the ball just before he crossed the goal line, took a thunderous hit and the ball popped free. But Hunnicutt had crossed the goal line first. Touchdown.

Grant Bothun had throw a game-tying TD pass in Bedlam.

“It was fun to contribute to such a big game, you know?” Bothun said. “You come to play in big games like that. To be able to make a big play like that with Hunnicutt was awesome.

“After I saw Hunnicutt … get crushed, I had to look around, make sure he caught it. Then the first thing that went through my head, that's exciting. I want to do that again.”

You know the rest. The Sooners won 33-24 with two touchdowns in the final 20 seconds. But that fake field goal in the waning seconds of the third quarter had reversed the tide.

Bothun knows the frustrations that Symonds felt. Bothun is a receiver, too, and really hasn't played other than the holds on kicks.

“It's tough,” Bothun said. “You definitely have to earn all your respect, that's for sure. “To me, it's understandable. You're not one of these big All-American guys. My dad taught me to never to expect to be given anything.

“To get into a coach's head that you belong here, and that you can play here, you have to go above and beyond … to get noticed, that's for sure.”

Getting noticed within the context of Oklahoma football never again will be a problem for Grant Bothun.

* * *

When Symonds decided to transfer from OU before spring practice 2012, he first told receivers coach Jay Norvell, then Stoops.

“Oh man, we're going to lose our holder for the next three years,” Stoops told Symonds.

That made Symonds feel good. Stoops offered to help Symonds find a new school.

But Symonds' high school coach, Chris Jensen, had been hired to implement the revived program at Oklahoma Baptist University. OBU seemed like a good spot.

Symonds didn't know how good. He was headed to OBU to play football, he thought. But God had other plans.

In May, before Symonds made it to Shawnee, he was in his Norman apartment. For about three weeks, Symonds had felt funny. He'd been reading his Bible more than ever. Suddenly, he fell to his knees and started weeping.

“Just happened in an instance,” Symonds said. “God just spoke to me, revealed himself in a mighty way.

“I've always been a Christian. But it was just something that was a part of my everyday life, everyday routine. Didn't really dive into the word and truly believe with all my heart, like I do now.”

Symonds was being called to preach. Called to pastor a church. He was headed to OBU to play football. Turns out football would be secondary in Shawnee; Symonds entered the pastoral studies program.

“What's going on? Who are you?” friends and family asked.

But Symonds had no doubt.

“God had already set that up for me to go to OBU,” Symonds said. “I have no doubt in my mind this is where I'm supposed to be.”

In OBU's first season of football in more than half a century, the Bison went 3-8. Symonds was elected captain and made second-team all-conference.

The football life is different at OBU from OU. When it rains, you practice in puddles, not in an indoor facility. You bus to games, rather than fly charter. You play in front of hundreds, not tens of thousands.

“Night and day difference,” Symonds admitted. “You're not treated like a king. But it brings it out, this is about work, even if I'm in the puddles, if I'm in the heat.

“Going down a level has helped me work even harder. Allowed me to not take the sport for granted. Let it be more fun.”

Symonds admits that while he's content, his imagination wanders. Even before the Bedlam fake field goal, Symonds wondered if he might have gotten on the field at OU as a receiver. The 2013 Sooner passcatchers aren't nearly as deep as the 2011 Sooner receivers. Then came the Bedlam play that thrust Grant Bothun into Oklahoma lore.

“There's always that what if,” Symonds said. “But I try not to do that so much. More than football, this is where God has me right now, preparing me to be able to preach his word.

“That's another thing that blows my mind. I never imagined in my wildest dreams, my faith would be the main part of who I am and everything I want to do in life.

“There are those times I look and I'm like, I know I could be playing out there on Saturday with the Sooners. But at the same time, what's more important, playing for OU or doing God's will for my life?”

Berry Tramel: Berry can be reached at (405) 760-8080 or at btramel@opubco.com. He can be heard Monday through Friday from 4:40-5:20 p.m. on The Sports Animal radio network, including FM-98.1. You can also view his personality page at newsok.com/berrytramel.

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by Berry Tramel
Columnist
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...
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