NORMAN — Oklahoma football coaches have said it time and time again: “We play who we think is best to play for us right now.”
Or some version of that.
De-coded it simply means: The guy who gets the starts, or the touches or whatever it may be, is doing everything the coaches want the right way. He's working hard. He's showing he wants it. He is running the proper plays. And he's mature.
For all last season, that guy wasn't Roy Finch.
On Saturday, during Oklahoma's spring game, it was Finch.
The Sooners say Finch has shown more responsibility and consistency all spring. He is, after all, a senior. This is his last go-around.
In his final spring game, the running back from Niceville, Fla., had eight carries for 20 yards, and four receptions for 73 yards and one touchdown. Oklahoma coach Bob Stoops said throughout spring, Finch has done a “really good job.”
“(Finch) really has played well every day, so it's been exciting and good to see Roy doing what he's doing,” Stoops said. “I believe he's going to continue and keep it up.”
On Saturday, he kept his head down and gained one or two yards to start a drive. The last time Sooners fans saw Finch carry the ball as a running back was during the Bedlam game in November. He carried it once for a single yard.
But the last time Sooners fans really saw Finch carry the ball was when Dom Whaley was injured and Finch took over at the end of the 2011-2012 season. Finch finished the year with 605 yards on 111 carries.
Then in the 2012 season opener against El Paso, a still-injured Dom Whaley got the nod, then Damien Williams, then Brennan Clay. Finch never saw the field. It even caused an argument between a reporter and Stoops.
“From today through the end of the year, guys play who we feel are in the best position to play at the time,” Stoops said with irritation last September. “I'll repeat that answer from here to the end of time.”
Maybe it was the spotlight that got to the once-starting running back. Maybe faster guys just came in. Maybe Finch just didn't know how to handle all the responsibilities that came with a high-profile position. He's always been talked about as a nice, humble guy, but not always as the starter kind of guy.
This spring, he's drawn more talk about his responsibility, his maturity and his game.
He showed his unquestioned athleticism Saturday when he caught a pass over the middle from quarterback Blake Bell, cut through a little traffic and ran for 49 yards.
Sure, the final numbers are a bit skewed. Clay and Williams barely touched the ball Saturday. Then redshirt freshman David Smith ran for 65 yards on 16 carries with one touchdown.
Yet Finch drew praise from Heupel for being “reliable on a consistent basis” this offseason.
“(Roy is) doing what we're asking him to do in the meeting room, on the practice field, or in the classroom, in the weight room,” Heupel said. “He's maturing as a person. If you're going to play at a high level, you have to mature as an individual. So he's doing a lot of things in the right way that give him hope that he'll be able to have a bigger role than a year ago.”
There are still 140 days until kickoff. Still plenty of time for Finch to prove he's matured enough to carry the load of an Oklahoma running back. Still plenty of time for his coaches to choose who is best for them to play.
“Ultimately, it'll be the guy who give us a chance to win,” Heupel said.