NORMAN — On his first day of football practice at Armwood High School in Seffner, Fla., 15-year old Eric Striker immediately told coach Sean Callahan his future plans.
“He told me that he was gonna play wide receiver for me, and that he was gonna go to Oklahoma,” Callahan said. “Most ninth graders don't tell me stuff like that.”
The first goal changed after about one day of practice, when Callahan moved Striker to defense. The position change, though, made Striker's second goal possible, and through seven games this season, the sophomore linebacker has arguably been Oklahoma's best, most consistently effective defender.
Not only that, the switch to defense ultimately made Striker — with his knack for disruptive blitzes — one of the most appropriately named college football players in America.
“No,” OU coach Bob Stoops responded with a chuckle when asked if he'd been around a player with a more fitting name than Striker's.
“And you've got to know he just has the absolute best personality to go with it. He's special.”
Oklahoma hosts No. 10 Texas Tech and its high-powered offense Saturday afternoon, and Striker's ability to pressure quarterback Davis Webb could be critical in determining the game's outcome.
Striker has recorded 27 tackles, four tackles-for-loss and just one sack so far this season, but if defenders were credited with sack assists, the sophomore would surely lead the team in that category.
As Kansas' offense lined up on third down early in the second half last weekend, color commentator Brock Huard warned ESPN viewers of what was coming.
“You have got to block Striker,” Huard said. “He's at the top on that left tackle.”
Within seconds, Striker blew past Kansas' Pat Lewandowski, forcing quarterback Jake Heaps to his left, where defensive end Charles Tapper sacked him for a six-yard loss.
“That's a team effort,” Striker said. “That's good to help the guys get a sack. The one with Tap … I got good penetration this week. That led to him getting a sack. That's all good. I'm cool with that. Somebody's gonna get it.”
After that quick position change, Striker became a defensive superstar at Armwood, recording 109 tackles, 11 sacks and 18 tackles for loss as a senior. His 42 career sacks are a school record.
But even as other programs started taking notice, Oklahoma initially didn't show any interest in Striker.
“He kept putting pressure on me to give Oklahoma a call,” Callahan said. “I called (former defensive coordinator) Brent Venables, and he said he'd look at his film and get back to me in a week or so because he was going on vacation.
“But Venables called me back in maybe two minutes.”
Striker became an Oklahoma fan as a middle schooler, just from watching the Sooners play on TV. The lifelong Florida native knew he wanted to leave the state for college, and decided early on that Oklahoma was his preferred destination.
Striker appeared in every game as a true freshman last season, mostly on special teams. Callahan said his impact this year is the result of Oklahoma coaches finally playing him in his natural, outside linebacker position.
“We're just so happy that they've got him playing in the right position,” Callahan said. “They tried to make an inside linebacker out of him, but that's not what he was cut out for. It wasn't working.
“I still think he can do more. He can blitz. He can cover you man-to-man. If they get creative with him, I think he could do even more. He's gonna be quite a force.”