NORMAN — “Grandma, I'm getting ready to go play football. Pray for me right now.”
These are the words Doris Finch hears through her cellphone before almost every college football game her grandson, OU's Roy Finch, plays.
That's when grandmother and grandson bow their heads and ask God to give the team its protection and guidance.
When she hangs up, Doris is happy to know that her grandson is continuing his life the way she raised him.
“Even if somebody hates you and you don't like them,” Roy said, “to still show love toward them.”
Finch came to Norman as a four-star recruit. A 5-7, 175-pound running back, he earned the nickname “Little Roy” on the football field as Doris prayed from the stands or her home on the East Coast. Her grandson may have muscle, but he's small, and all she envisions is 300-pound football players hitting him.
It scares her. Her prayers never end when he's on the field.
Roy was touted as the 20th best running back in the nation by Rivals. There was so much hype surrounding him. Then he suffered an ankle injury and missed the first five games of his freshman season, recovered and then injured it again, making him unable to play in the Fiesta Bowl after the 2010 season.
There were many times during that year he called his grandmother to pray. Those days were trying.
Then came his sophomore year, when he got Dom Whaley'd from the starting position until Whaley himself suffered an ankle injury and Finch took over the starting running back spot.
Now Finch is in Year 3. Whaley is expected to stay the starting running back if he is injury free, and Finch is looking to play more slot receiver. For him, it's not about being the player that the media rushes to interview. He just wants to be known as an unselfish player.
Finch said he wants to help Whaley gain 2,000 or 3,000 yards and make plays where he can.
“I know I'm a very athletic person and I know I can make plays on the field, but it's not just about me,” Finch said after a recent practice. “It's about the team and us getting to the championship. I really want to be in Miami this year, and I'm just going to do everything in my power to get us there.”
Despite all that's happened to him — going from the top of the running back class to being injured to taking on a new role with the team — Roy remains positive through what his grandmother taught him.
Nila Kasitati watches No. 22 smile from under his helmet and wonders why Roy always walks around practice so happy. Brennan Clay finds him a source of motivation. And the best way to find Roy's inspiration for fans is on Twitter.
“I just try to tweet things very positive because there's so much negativity out there, so why be with the norm,” Finch said.
He learned that from his grandmother, too. She raised him to be a plus in this world, not a minus. He'd attend church with her on Sundays and most midweek services. He went to Bible study school and learned the Bible verse his grandmother taught every one of her children and grandchildren: John 3:16.
When game day comes around this year, Roy will have to find a few minutes many hours before kickoff. Sometimes Doris gets a quick phone call. She knows Roy has sneaked off to call her before the coaches take the players' cellphones away.
Then she'll wait for the game, to watch and pray that her grandson and his teammates and the other team stay protected from harm.
Then she'll watch as her grandson breaks free into the end zone, raises his finger and points to the sky.
And in that moment, they'll both thank the man above.