NORMAN — Kenny Stills couldn't help but smile each time he saw the image.
It landed in his hands somewhere between five and 10 times last Saturday at OU's Meet the Sooners Day.
Each time, a fan requested the sophomore receiver autograph the photograph that evokes both a fond memory and a forgettable mistake. But Stills, as much as any Sooners player, is built for taking the good with the bad. And how he responded to seeing the shot that captured his excessive celebration penalty following his 59-yard touchdown reception against Texas Tech last year only characterizes that part of his makeup.
“It's funny, and it's cool,” Stills said of having to sign portraits of his likeness frozen in the air just before slamming the ball to the ground. “I took the wrath for it already. It's pretty much over with now. I don't plan on celebrating anymore.”
Just about every fan that showed up Saturday armed with the photo advised as much. But the only thing Stills is spiking these days is his hair. He returned to Norman this season with a raging Mohawk, punctuating it with orange dye at the tail.
The in-game spike, however, was just one of Stills' rookie lumps. But it's now one that he insists he's learned from and will remember as he looks to build on last season's 61 receptions and 786 yards, both OU freshman records.
“I definitely knew what was coming as soon as I did it,” Stills said of the ensuing earful he received from Sooners coach Bob Stoops. “A lot of the time when I make mistakes, I know what I've done wrong. I'm just young and I do it. I still have a lot of learning to do. I know that. I'm trying to minimize as many of my mistakes as I can.”
Stills has yet to forget Stoops' tongue lashing. The coach told the player he was calling attention to himself. Said he was hurting the team and the defense specifically because of the 15-yard penalty on the kickoff.
“I was being selfish,” Stills said. “That's what (the message) was. That's how I took it. That's definitely right. I didn't feel like they were in the wrong by saying that at all.”
But when it comes to Stills, the coaching staff must be careful to avoid harnessing his bravado too much. It's his endless confidence that's allowed him to break records and supply big plays.
“Kenny is a true West Coast guy. Things don't faze him,” said co-offensive coordinator and receivers coach Jay Norvell. “When bad things happen, he just doesn't come unraveled like a lot of guys do…And he knows that you're going to get kicked around every once and awhile, but you got to come back. I think that's the greatest thing about him is he's unaffected by things.”
Stills is a self-described instigator on the practice field, using trash talk to either motivate or get under the defense's skin. At times, even he isn't sure which way he's going with it. But it's all a part of trying to become more of a leader — in his own special way, of course.
The wild hair and the sleeves of tattoos covering both arms and the piercings (one under his bottom lip and two in his left ear) and, yes, that excessive celebration call, sometimes overshadow what Stills is about. But that's where having senior receiver Ryan Broyles to lean on has been beneficial.
Stills credits time spent with Broyles for helping him become a better player and person. Broyles has shown Stills how to practice harder, how to watch film and how to read coverages.
“Ryan is kind of like a big brother to Kenny. He doesn't really get too excited about things. He's very consistent,” said Norvell. “And that's good for Kenny because Kenny's like every day is New Year's Eve.”
Stills said being around Broyles during a mission trip to Haiti this summer opened his eyes even more about carrying himself with class. Stills, Broyles and a handful of teammates are now trying to be mindful of small things like their language.
“He's working real hard towards being a man of God. That's kind of what all of us are working toward,” Stills said. “And he's just been a great leader in that way for me off the field and just trying to keep me out of trouble, which is always helping.”
In many ways, Stills will continue to exhibit his animated personality.
The Mohawk, Stills explained, is the result of a bet.
“I told them I was going to do it and I did it,” Stills said.
He did the same thing as a high school senior, when someone said he wouldn't buck his weekly routine of getting a fresh haircut on Sundays and grow it long. Stills did, letting it go throughout his entire senior season.
“I just make bets with people, and I win,” Stills said. “I'm all about winning.
“It's been made a big deal about my hair and my tattoos and stuff. I'm just being me. I don't feel like it's a maturity thing or I'm trying to find myself or trying to grow. That's just who I am and that's always who I'm going to be.”