NORMAN — Anywhere footballs are passed through the air, or laws through legislatures, team success can be — and often is — commandeered by individuals.
A popular bill becomes law, or important compromise isn't reached, and public debate immediately begins over who was responsible for the success or failure.
In the football world, wide receivers are the ones most often maligned for craving personal acclaim, glory and statistics above all else.
Reputations like that — for both receivers and politicos — are sometimes deserved, but they can also be quite unfair.
OU junior Kenny Stills has certainly never shied away from attention; lots about him, from his tweets to his hair, is criticized by fans who think his high jinks are distractions.
Stills is clearly comfortable with his silly personality and the occasional consequences of it — much more so than many politicians would be; would any male elected official ever be photographed in a dress, watch it go viral and then stand at a news conference, calmly explaining it away like Stills did earlier this month?
Don't expect that side of Stills to change and, as long as it stays harmless, it's really nothing to worry about.
What Stills' teammates and coaches have noticed this offseason is the transformation he's made into a mature leader for the OU receiving corps, even as his personal on-field production may decrease because of talented newcomers.
When the summer began and throughout it, Stills embraced his role as someone younger players could learn from and look up to.
“I would run my route, and then stand out there and watch them, individually run their routes,” Stills said, adding that he'd give specific critiques to each of his teammates.
“In high school, sometimes you just got open because you were better than the other guy. I just try to help them realize some of those little things. We have to correct those small mistakes to get better as a whole.”
With Ryan Broyles gone to the NFL and other experienced wideouts suspended, Stills' status as the only receiver on the roster with major-college football experience was the focus of much of the talk about the position.
By the time fall camp came to a close, though, the narrative about Sooner receivers had changed drastically; the unit is suddenly seen as a team strength with the addition of promising Penn State transfer Justin Brown, and the ever-increasing hype surrounding freshman Trey Metoyer.
Stills' role in the offense changed, too; he will almost certainly be the Sooners' slot receiver, with Brown and Metoyer manning the outside spots. Stills tried his hand at the slot last year after Broyles' season-ending injury, but struggled to develop chemistry there with Jones.
But coaches and teammates alike have continued to praise Stills as a consummate teammate and leader, despite the brewing competition for the role of Jones' go-to guy.
Competition is “great for a guy like Kenny,” Jones said. “He's super competitive, coming in with that No. 1 receiver tag, and then you've got another young guy (Metoyer) that's trying to come in and take that from him. He's not just going to lay down and let him have that. He's going to continue to fight for that; that's what makes him a great player.”
Stills was an immediate starter when he arrived in Norman a true freshman, and said he sees a lot of himself in Metoyer.
“When I was in his position, I was so hungry to be on the field,” Stills said. “And I feel like that's exactly the way he is. Trey's a great player. He's been doing everything he can to continue to get better. I'm really proud of where he's at.”
KENNY STILLS' CAMPAIGN SLOGAN
“Yes we can!”
The popular chant from Barack Obama's successful 2008 presidential campaign seems fitting. Players and coaches alike have praised Kenny Stills for his maturation as a leader to the younger, less-experienced wide receivers. Some of that leadership has shown through in Stills' encouraging words and positive attitude, teammates say.
TREY METOYER'S CAMPAIGN SLOGAN
“Change OU can believe in.”
Metoyer's slogan also derives from Obama's 2008 campaign. The true freshman knows a thing or two about change; he spent last fall at military school changing a whole lot about himself — particularly when it comes to study habits. He showed OU coaches that new side of himself after arriving on campus in January and performing well in the classroom. Now, Metoyer is looking to use his big-play ability to change the OU offense for the better.
KENNY STILLS' ENDORSEMENTS
* OU quarterback Landry Jones: “Kenny has more maturity now than he did, especially last year. Just realizing that he's coming to the end of his time here and he's only got a couple years left ... I think that's a huge deal for him to have that realization.”
* OU guard Bronson Irwin: “I've seen Kenny, when someone messes up, trying to not necessarily yell at them, but be positive and try to make them realize what they did wrong and how to correct it. That's something you didn't see two years ago. He's really stepped up a lot as far as being a solid guy in the unit that the young guys can really feed off of.”
TREY METOYER'S ENDORSEMENTS
* OU center Gabe Ikard: “He's got unbelievable physical ability. It's one of those things where, you just look at him on the field and you know he's going to make plays this season. He's a good, good football player.”
* Troy Davis, postgraduate coach at Hargrave Military Academy: “After what he went through at Hargrave, he can endure anything. I think you're going to see a humble young man who is going to go out and compete at the highest level. ... We're his biggest fans, and we're excited to see him play for the Oklahoma Sooners. We're looking for big things.”