NORMAN — Personally, James Hanna didn't need a breakout game last season.
His coaches needed it from him.
When the OU tight end capped a career day by hauling in a game-sealing, 76-yard touchdown pass at Oklahoma State, it put the staff on notice about exactly what kind of ability Hanna held.
Hanna, of course, always knew.
That's why the game that Hanna describes as his most enjoyable last season did little to boost his confidence.
“To be honest, it probably did more for the coaches than me just because I've always believed I've had the ability to do something like that,” said Hanna, who finished the Bedlam game with four catches for 130 yards, both career highs. “But once everybody else sees it in the game, it kind of makes it more legitimate for everybody else.”
Now going into his senior season, Hanna wants to build on the success he found toward the tail end of last year.
“I'm trying to have a real good year,” Hanna said. “I'm certainly trying to appear on a few charts, like All-Big 12 or something like that. Other than that, I just want our team to do well.”
To do his part, Hanna wants to first focus on blocking. Hanna and fellow tight ends Trent Ratterree and Austin Haywood know it'll be critical to pump life in a Sooners' ground game that averaged just 3.3 yards per carry last season, last in the Big 12.
But Hanna also is hiding his desire to be a bigger part of the offense by catching more passes. He had just 18 receptions last season, though seven went for touchdowns.
If he's taken anything away from his Bedlam performance it's the feeling of being a big factor in a big game. It's a feeling Hanna wants to hold onto this season. In the game against the Cowboys, Hanna fondly remembers his reception in the first half that led to a field goal right before halftime. His pair of chain-moving catches in that contest also still excites him.
“Toward the end of the year, things kind of started going the way I hoped they would when I came here,” Hanna said. “I wanted to contribute and be a big part of what's going on offensively for our team. Hopefully that's going to be the way it goes this year, too.”
The coaching staff now expects nothing less.
“I probably couldn't have higher expectations for him,” said tight ends coach Bruce Kittle. “He's an extremely bright guy. Great athlete. He came into camp right at 250, which is where we targeted him. He's in great shape…So the sky's the limit for him.”
Hanna's mix of size and speed (he runs a sub-4.5 40) make him a nightmare matchup and a big-play threat anytime he touches the ball. And with the Sooners often lining up in two tight end sets, the opportunity for Hanna to leave his imprint on any game this season should be there.
“He's one of those guys that can kind of come out of nowhere because we have perimeter players that can do a good job,” said co-offensive coordinator Jay Norvell. “And if he can come out of nowhere on a naked or a power pass like he did in the Oklahoma State game, he kind of can get lost in the shuffle and really hurt a team. I think that just gives us more flexibility.”