NORMAN — As offensive tackle Daryl Williams jogged to the sideline in the third quarter of Oklahoma's 34-0, season-opening rout of Louisiana-Monroe, he felt a cramp forming in his leg.
“Coach Tiff! Coach Tiff!” Williams screamed to Tiffany Byrd, OU's first-year Director of Sports Nutrition, who rushed over with some salt packets and oranges.
“I was good to go,” Williams said. “No more cramps.”
Several Sooners described their amazement at their lack of cramping Saturday. Lots of factors are involved in that, but player nutrition is undoubtedly one of them. It's just one of the many benefits to having Byrd around.
Byrd estimates she's one of around 50 directors of sports nutrition around the country. OU added the position earlier this year, joining a growing trend in college athletics.
“It's about where strength and conditioning was about 30, 35 years ago,” Byrd said. “Our vision for our field is that every school be able to have a director of sports nutrition.”
Byrd, a former gymnast at Alabama and Nebraska, spent last year at Baylor. When she arrived in Norman, she jumped right in with the football team. That clear, immediate dedication made the players buy in quickly.
Byrd's top three priorities have been ensuring athletes eat a good breakfast every day, stay hydrated and are able to sufficiently recover from workouts.
“I noticed that recovery was not as present here,” Byrd said. “I focused on all three of those, but recovery was really the main thing that I tried to target.”
The first weight lifting group arrives at 5:45 a.m. each day. Byrd gets there an hour earlier than that.
“Coach Tiff's done a great job providing us with food, shakes, all kinds of supplements and snacks we haven't had here in the past,” said senior center Gabe Ikard. “I think it'll really help us as we get deeper in the season, being able to recover from long games, from long days of practice and from the lifting we still do during the season.”
Jerry Schmidt, OU's longtime strength and conditioning coach, said that before Byrd joined the team, players' post-workout nutrition was basically left up to them.
“Back in the old days, guys were working hard, but they weren't putting the right things in their body,” Schmidt said.
Senior receiver Lacoltan Bester readily admits he was one of those guys.
He transferred to OU last summer from East Mississippi Community College, and said he gained some unhealthy weight over his first several months on campus.
“I was just eating fast food all day,” Bester said. “Coach Tiff showed me how to eat the right way and maintain my healthy weight. It's helped me move faster and be quicker.”
Bester went from rarely playing as a junior last year to seeing significant action this season. Since the spring, he's worked mostly with Oklahoma's first-team offense.
The Sooners who have benefited most from Byrd's presence, though, are the big boys up front.
Bill Bedenbaugh was hired as Oklahoma's new offensive line coach last February, and immediately worked to increase his new players' toughness and physicality. Part of that was gaining weight.
“It was just getting them to realize that there is a better weight to gain,” Byrd said. “You still need to be powerful. You still need to be explosive and you still need to be fast. So if you put on the wrong kind of weight — if you increase your fat mass and you don't need to — then that hinders you on the field.”
Oklahoma's offensive line seemed to get better as Saturday's season opener progressed, with the group eventually wearing down Louisiana-Monroe's defensive front. The Sooners rushed for 305 yards in the win.
“When you go into two-a-days, it's about who's gonna work the hardest,” Schmidt said. “But as soon as you come out of camp, who's gonna recover? You see a lot of teams that lose. They might not be that bad of a team, but they're still fatigued from camp.
“This was the final piece. The players have bought into conditioning; they bought into what our coaches do. This was just the third piece that we needed to add, and I think you can notice a difference. Wherever the team is — wherever they move — she's gonna be there. It's another shell in their vest.”