NORMAN — When opposing quarterbacks pump faked, Tom Wort sometimes overreacted.
That was Tom Wort the redshirt freshman middle linebacker thrust into the starting lineup a year ago.
The sophomore version of Tom Wort that coach Bob Stoops and others raved about during two-a-days is vastly improved.
“You can see on film I'm a lot more confident player,” Wort said. “Last year I'd bite on play-action. This year I can see the formation, know what to expect and recognize what the linemen are doing, which makes pass coverage that much easier.”
Wort ranks fifth on the team with 41 tackles despite sitting out the Texas Tech game with a concussion and sitting out the second half against Kansas (concussion) and Texas (back).
“He's played great (in) coverage, (run defense), everything,” Stoops said. “He's had a really good year. ... He's improved in every area.”
Wort didn't play in the 41-38 loss to Texas Tech two weeks ago. He had to sit out after he suffered a concussion the previous week at Kansas on a kickoff.
“I went blank,” Wort said. “I didn't pass out, but I really don't remember what happened the second half of that game.”
A few days later, Wort felt much better. The following Thursday, two days before the Tech game, doctors informed Wort they wanted him to sit out one game.
“I was hoping to play, but I didn't get cleared,” Wort said. “Having to watch is the hardest thing. The worst thing you can do is make me watch.”
It was a hard game to watch. Texas Tech compiled 572 yards, 452 through the air.
But OU's defense is healthy for a revealing matchup Saturday afternoon against high-powered Texas A&M.
Wort should play against the Aggies, the most balanced offense the Sooners will see all season.
“Both of their running backs (Christine Michael and Cyrus Gray) are patient, strong, fast,” Wort said. “They're a great offense.”
Wort sometimes comes across as your stereotypical linebacker, a high-motor, physical player who will hit you.
But there are glimpses of his fun side. A good example is he developed a relationship with the Ultimate Warrior. Two months ago, the professional wrestler filmed a two-minute YouTube pep-talk message for Wort.
At home games Wort has worn Warrior-like tassels on his arms during pregame but has been informed he can't wear them during the game.
“I'm still trying to sneak them in,” Wort said. “When I ask the refs they always say, ‘No.' Maybe I'll have to put them on midway through a game and hope they don't notice.”
One constant form of motivation is Wort is playing this season for Austin Box, who died in May. They both played middle linebacker. Box taught Wort a lot about football and life. Wort thinks about his good friend every day.
“It's more noticeable on game day,” Wort said. “You see his locker, his helmet, his jersey. It reminds me of all the things he did, the love he had for the game. He'll always be on our hearts. ... I want to always play hard like he played.”
The next opportunity to play hard is against a dynamic A&M offense. Playing with more confidence, Wort is looking forward to the matchup.
“You have to play with emotion,” Wort said. “Emotion is contagious. It can get the whole defense going, get the crowd going ... It's going to be a big challenge. We're looking forward to it. That's why you play these games.”