NORMAN — Dom Whaley spent his life trying to prove to football coaches he could perform. When he finally found a coach who believed in him, injury struck and kept him from the field.
Call it fluke. Call it sports. Call it the Sports Illustrated cover curse. A player is only worth something to a coach if they can stay on the field. Whaley was replaced.
This is the continued story of the Sooner who went from walk-on to the cover of Sports Illustrated to third-string running back in three seasons.
Whaley arrived at OU with his only college football experience coming as a backup running back at Langston. Before that, he spent his final two years of high school at Lawton MacArthur, where he was also a backup — to future Sooner teammate Javon Harris.
But once Whaley joined the Sooners, he got bigger and faster, and in 2011 he burst onto the college football scene. Whaley rushed for 131 yards and four touchdowns in OU's season-opening win over Tulsa. He didn't stop there and had a team-high 627 yards and nine touchdowns before injuring his ankle on the Sooners' first play against Kansas State.
After recovering from the injury, Whaley spent his senior year watching a junior-college transfer carry the ball, went undrafted and then unsigned by the Seattle Seahawks, who were interested but showed concern over his ankle.
Then on June 12, Whaley underwent ankle surgery to fix the things that the Seahawks were “unsure” about. He will take the next year off to rehab and try again for a shot at the NFL.
Coming back from an injury turned out to be a little bit tougher than Whaley thought the first time.
“I came back pretty strong,” he said of his senior season. “I was 100 percent, but once you lose a step or two initially, that gives room for other people to take over, I guess. As the year went on, I progressed and it got better and I got closer to where I was, but by then it was a little too late, I felt like.”
By that point, though, Oklahoma football already had fallen into a routine. Damien Williams and Brennan Clay's feet were the ones flying across the field. Williams and Clay played all 13 games. Williams carried the ball 176 times for 946 yards, scoring 11 touchdowns. Clay rushed 93 times for 555 yards and six touchdowns.