NORMAN — David King had the same reaction every time heard about a teammate being suspended last season for missing class.
“That's one of the dumbest things,” the Oklahoma defensive lineman would think.
But it kept happening.
One Sooner after another missed too many classes, then had to pay the price by athletic department policy. Many sat out practice. Some even missed games.
“That was a big issue last year,” King said.
Sooners behaving badly became even bigger issue during the offseason and the preseason. Small cracks in discipline became a flood of suspensions. Jaz Reynolds. Trey Franks. Kameel Jackson. Quentin Hays. Stacy McGee. All were hit with indefinite suspensions.
Safe to say their transgressions were more severe than missing a few classes.
But as the Sooners find themselves once again in the hunt for a Big 12 title, those discipline problems are a thing of the past. No more suspensions. No more issues.
“It was a huge focus for the coaches and our team in the offseason,” receiver Kenny Stills said. “It was preached to us about going to class and doing the right things and staying out of trouble.”
But discipline is preached every year. Take care of your business. Go to class. Keep your nose clean.
I bet college football players hear a variation on those themes every day of the year.
The Sooners heard it last year, and they're hearing it this year. So, why did the message sink in this time around?
Credit the players.
Bob Stoops does, particularly his seniors who will be honored before their final home game on Saturday.
“They've really been a solid group with their attitude and their character,” the Sooner coach said. “They've maintained a really consistent and positive work attitude and been discipline off the field.”
He admits the internal standards for behavior slipped last season.
No doubt it started small with those missed classes, but when minor issues weren't taken seriously enough by the players, it opened the door to more egregious errors.
This season is different. Accountability is on the rise.
Evidence of that: Tony Jefferson's Twitter account after Saturday's defensive struggles at West Virginia.
“Horrible game by me,” he wrote in the wee hours of Sunday morning. “You can start the bashing. I deserve it. Sorry y'all.”
Say what you will about Jefferson falling on his sword — refreshing or unnecessary or something in between — but it's an outward sign of an internal standard. These Sooners are taking accountability for their actions, and that is a result of internal policing by the players.
“Their expectations have been what we're used to having around here,” Stoops said of his seniors but expressing a sentiment that could extend to all of the team leaders regardless of class. “They've done a good job of setting an example of how to do it and influencing other guys to do it right.”
Miss a class, arrive late to a meeting or do anything else that could earn a suspension, and you'll hear about it.
“The leaders of this team ... they're gonna come up to you and say, ‘Why'd you do that? That's stupid. We need you for this game,'” King said.
I don't know if you've seen King talk, but he's a deep-voiced, steel-jawed dude. He looks serious. He sounds serious.
Heck, he is serious.
I'd listen if he told me to cut it out.
King knows that better discipline has had a tangible effect on this team. For starters, having everyone at practice Monday through Thursday makes for a more prepared team on Saturday. And in the Big 12 where there are so many good teams, preparation is vital.
“You can't miss a day a practice ... and think you're going to come out on Saturday and play your best,” King said. “That's just not the way it happens. You need a full four days of practice to be prepared.”
That the Sooners have a chance to win Big 12 title again this season is no coincidence.
“You never hear about guys at Alabama getting in trouble or being suspended,” Stills said of the program that's become the gold standard in college football.
“We're trying to take away the off-the-field distractions. That way we can just take care of business on the field.”
Less bad stuff off the field.
More good stuff on it.