NORMAN — Josh Heupel hadn't yet become a national champion — or even been mentioned as a Heisman Trophy candidate — when he began working to make a difference in the lives of Oklahomans.
He'd lived in the state mere months when the first-year Sooner quarterback, along with some teammates, went to local elementary schools each week to read books to youngsters.
“As he did that, he really saw the need and the circumstances of a lot of the kids there,” said his wife, Dawn Heupel.
The junior quarterback talked about what he'd seen with Mike Whitson, who was the Fellowship of Christian Athletes' local director at the time, and the two hatched a plan: They'd ask Sooner fans to bring nonperishable food items to an OU game to help provide holiday meals to needy families.
The next year, the food drive was expanded, with many supporters donating cash. After providing meals, Josh and Dawn took the leftover money and purchased Christmas gifts for about 12 families.
Pretty soon, the 14 Foundation — named after Heupel's jersey number while at OU — was established; it continues on with Saturday's annual holiday food drive before the Sooners' 2:30 p.m. home game against Baylor. Fans can make cash donations at the stadium gates.
“Had a lot of support from a lot of people, and this is an opportunity for me to give back,” Josh Heupel said.
“It's the people of Oklahoma giving back to the people of Oklahoma. ... Ultimately we're trying to impact our state in a positive way one kid at a time.”
The 14 Foundation works with state elementary school counselors, who identify families in need of help during the holiday season. Cash donated to Heupel's foundation is given to the food bank, which puts together meals and sends them to Norman.
Norman families are invited to the Barry Switzer Center to collect their food; FCA volunteers deliver meals to families in other parts of the state.
“It's such a need in this community and across the state, especially on those few days when kids are out of school and they don't get to have breakfast and lunch at school,” Dawn Heupel said. “That's really what makes it so meaningful to families.”
Since the drive's inception, more than 130,000 meals have been served. This year, an expected 30,000 meals will be provided in at least 10 communities around the state.
The holiday food drive is just one of the foundation's projects; the Christmas drive continues to provide kids with gifts, and the foundation also sponsors summer football camps.
“They're athletic based, but at the end of the day, it's really about trying to give kids the skill set to be successful in life,” Josh Heupel said of the camps. “You're talking about discipline, respect, trust and hard work. Most of the camps include an academic day, when we're inspiring kids in the math and science area. It's been a lot of fun.”
The 14 Foundation is unique, Dawn Heupel said, because it requires virtually no overhead costs.
“I volunteer, Josh's mom is a volunteer,” she said. “We don't have paid staff. Once in a while, we have printing costs. But we have virtually no administrative costs at all. All the money that goes into the foundation goes out to help families and kids. We've sort of intentionally kept it grass roots.
“We have lived here for almost 12 years, and so it feels like home to us. ... We have been so blessed, and it's such a good way to give back. Josh gets so busy this time of year that it's hard for him to do as much as he wants to, but he loves the food drive and he loves the Christmas drive, too. We are so thankful we get to do it every year.”
As a senior, Josh Heupel led OU to the 2000 national championship, won in a 13-2 Orange Bowl victory over Florida State. He was the Heisman runner-up that year, and became an OU graduate assistant in 2004.
Heupel joined Mike Stoops' staff at Arizona, coaching tight ends in 2005 before returning to Oklahoma, where he's been ever since.
Kent Bowles, who took over as local FCA director in 2004 and works closely with the 14 Foundation, said Josh Heupel's desire to help the community stems from the way he was raised.
“I think it's Josh carrying on the characteristics and the things that his parents instilled in him,” Bowles said. “They are great people, so they've spent their lives helping others, and I think Josh saw that.
“And he didn't want it to be a thing that happened while he played only. I think he fell in love with Oklahoma and the people of Oklahoma, and wanted to help.”