NORMAN — Ryan Gilliam expected to get an up-close look at Oklahoma’s football team during Thursday’s Sooners practice.
Gilliam didn’t expect to wind up front-and-center in a group picture after the practice, the Sugar Bowl trophy between his legs and Sooners coach Bob Stoops to his right.
“Usually it’s pretty exclusive,” said Gilliam, a 19-year-old sophomore from McKinney, Texas. “It shows they’re really trying to broaden their horizons not only with the students but the media as well.”
More than 200 students took advantage of the open practice, Oklahoma’s first in several years.
During the open period, which lasted about 45 minutes, the Sooners went through a scrimmage that started off with Dakota Austin picking off starting quarterback Trevor Knight. Taylor McNamara and Derrick Woods also caught touchdown passes during the scrimmage, which serves as a warmup to Saturday’s 2 p.m. spring game.
“It’s awesome,” linebackers coach Tim Kish said. “Anytime you can interact with the students, that’s what it’s all about. We’re dealing with students too, on the field, so it’s great they can have this opportunity to be together.”
The students were treated to free hot dogs and soft drinks and several prize drawings that included jerseys and game-worn cleats. Also, eight students were chosen to be “student coaches” during Saturday’s game. The students — two per quarter — will be on the field during the game, receive game-day coaching gear and will each run a play from the sidelines to the huddle.
After the practice, the students were allowed onto the field, first to take a picture with the team. The photo will be featured on the Sooners’ schedule poster.
Oklahoma’s basketball team under Lon Kruger has done something similar in recent years, taking a team picture after the alumni game each fall.
Kruger’s practices are also open to fans and media.
While Stoops doesn’t figure to be as open as Kruger, he did say when he announced the practice that he wanted the students to be able to get closer to the players.
“I think it’s just giving them more opportunity to participate with our students that are athletes and be around them after practice,” Stoops said.
Stoops also wore a microphone for a few minutes during the practice, first thanking the students for coming, then keeping it on for a few plays during the scrimmage before handing the mic off to Hatari Byrd and Dominique Alexander.
“It’s good to get them out here,” Alexander said. “It was fun to give them the chance to come see us.”
Afterward, students mingled with the players while several threw footballs into a target net and others tried to kick footballs through the uprights at Owen Field.
Students were also given the opportunity to take a photo with the trophy.
“My best friend and I went to the game and that was quite the experience,” said 21-year-old Olivia Osterlund of Midland, Texas, after taking a picture with the trophy. “But just being around the football players — it was a beautiful day outside — it was just a wonderful day.”