NORMAN — After the 31/2 quarters of Saturday night football and a round of questions from media, Jesse Paulsen dropped into the ice tub mentally exhausted.
Going into the Sooners' game Saturday against Florida A&M, Paulsen knew he would get to see some plays at safety, but he hadn't expected to start during the middle of the first quarter.
Honestly, he hadn't mentally prepared for that. But when injured starting safety Tony Jefferson pointed at him and said, “You're in, bro,” Paulsen felt a rush that had been building up for the past two years.
Paulsen's path to his playing time Saturday night is a story of hope for so many players who think it will never be their time.
The path begins in New Mexico. Paulsen used to play 7-on-7 against the state's best player. Quarterback Landry Jones was the big guy who was always put in the spotlight. Paulsen was the little guy who never really received the attention.
He started his college football career in 2008 at New Mexico, where his dad is a strength and conditioning coach. Paulsen redshirted a year there and played until he was a redshirt sophomore. That's when the tape he sent in found Oklahoma coach Bob Stoops.
Soon enough, Paulsen found his way as a walk-on at Oklahoma.
Then came 2011 — his junior year — when Paulsen was ready to help the Sooners. Instead, he found himself sidelined with a broken foot.
This summer, he was working out in the weight room when he received a phone call from Stoops. Paulsen figured it was a call about something he had done wrong. When he hung up with Stoops, he turned around and called his father.
“Dad. They offered me a scholarship.”
“He was whooping and yelling,” Paulsen said.
Then came Saturday night against Florida A&M. Paulsen first realized he was going to play earlier than expected when he saw Jefferson hobbling around with a sprained ankle.
“He was tough, he stayed in for a little bit, but then he was like, ‘Come on Jesse, get me out,'” Paulsen said.
That's when he Paulsen started to mentally prepare.
“I had some butterflies,” Paulsen said. “I wasn't really prepared to get in that situation, but I just went in there and tried to calm my heart down and do the best I could.”
If Jefferson were to remain sidelined, Sooners fans will see a lot more of Paulsen. But neither Paulsen nor Stoops thinks Jefferson will miss game time on Sept. 22, when Oklahoma plays Kansas State.
Although Jefferson did not practice Monday, he has plenty of time to recover. The Sooners have a bye week before taking on the Wildcats.
On Monday, Jefferson stood on the practice field, wearing a boot. He offered advice to Paulsen to make him better.
“He knows all those little tips because he's been there,” Paulsen said. “I encouraged all of his advice. Having his experience and him telling my eyes what to read, for me, it's important.”
The senior spent significant time on the field helping on kickoff, punt and punt returns. He made three solo tackles.
Although Paulsen said it was his mistake for the 75-yard touchdown pass FAMU posted late in the second quarter when he wasn't in deep coverage, senior Demontre Hurst said he'd take the blame.
“Me being a veteran, I have to be better at communicating with him,” Hurst said. “It was his first time playing on defense in a big game like that. He was probably a little nervous, but I think the jitters are out now.
“To kind of see his story, he's come a long way to work his way up to getting on the field. He had his opportunity.
“I don't blame him for anything on the field. He did pretty good. He came and made some plays. I was just happy to see him flying around out there. His dream came true.”