NORMAN — Eric Striker’s high school position coach can’t remember anyone ever using the Sooner linebacker’s first name.
“Everything has always been ‘Striker’ or ‘Strike,’” said Corey Peterson, the linebackers coach at Armwood High in Seffner, Fla.
After a season of wreaking havoc on opposing quarterbacks, there is little doubt Striker has the most fitting name in college football. But beyond that, he has become the perfect representative of a reinvigorated, confident Oklahoma defense.
Only two years ago, this was a unit that surrendered an average of 535 yards and 37.8 points over its final five games. The Sooner defense was embarrassed by Heisman Trophy winners Robert Griffin III and Johnny Manziel in consecutive seasons.
Oklahoma developed a reputation as a team that needed its offense to consistently out-score opponents in shootouts. Striker doesn’t anticipate that being a problem in 2014.
“If the offense can put seven points on the board, that’s good enough for us,” Striker said in early August.
The junior certainly isn’t lacking in confidence. He carries himself both on the field and in media interviews with a swagger that has endeared him to Oklahoma fans.
A few days before the Sugar Bowl, Striker said he was tired of being asked about being a heavy underdog in the game.
“It’s a terrible question,” he said.
On the Superdome field after recording three sacks in the Sooners’ 45-31 victory, Striker called out ESPN “First Take” hosts Skip Bayless and Stephen A. Smith, who had predicted an Alabama rout.
“He remembers the people that said something bad about his team,” Peterson said. “He'll always keep that stuff in the back of his mind.”
Striker has used that mentality to become a budding superstar at Oklahoma. His team-leading 6.5 sacks last season were the most by an OU linebacker since Torrance Marshall’s 8.5 sacks in 1999.
A new defensive scheme and Striker’s excellence helped the Sooners record 18 more tackles for loss and eight more sacks in 2013 than they did the year before.
He also saved his biggest moments for the biggest stages. In addition to his Sugar Bowl performance, his hit on Notre Dame quarterback Tommy Rees caused an interception that was returned for a quick touchdown in last year’s historic victory in South Bend, Ind.
Striker also scooped up a fumble and scored a touchdown as time expired in the Sooners’ 33-24 upset of Oklahoma State to end the regular season.
Just before his senior year of high school, Striker committed to then-OU defensive coordinator Brent Venables, who left to take a job on the Clemson staff about a month before signing day 2012.
New defensive coordinator Mike Stoops and linebackers coach Tim Kish had to fly to Florida to make sure Striker would remain committed, but even then, they didn’t’quite know what they were getting.
“We saw some things on tape that we were like, 'Whoa,' but you know how that goes,” Kish said. “That's high-school level ball. You're hoping that transfers over.
“One he got here, we realized he was that special. I expect great things out of him this year as well.”