NORMAN — Ryan Broyles is excited about the spotlight on top-ranked Oklahoma. Enthused about the hype around a senior season when he could set every Sooner receiving record so high that no one will ever approach them. Energized about the attention that will start Saturday in Norman and might not end until January in New Orleans.
But none of it is for his glory.
It is for God's.
Meet Ryan Broyles, man of God.
Yes, this is the guy who was arrested and charged with attempted larceny for trying to steal gas in Norman four years ago. Yes, this is the player who high stepped his way into the end zone during a beatdown in Lubbock three years ago.
But this is also a 23-year-old who did what many of us did in college — he matured.
“I really have a different outlook on life,” he said.
It's a perspective that changed radically in the past year. Rewind to last season's opener, and you'd find a guy who was beginning to ask some serious questions.
What was his place in the world?
What was his purpose beyond football?
But during a summer mission to one of the poorest places on the planet, Broyles had a realization.
“I felt like God was calling me,” he said. “I felt like, ‘Yeah, I know I'm good and I've done good things, but really, what does that mean?'
“I felt empty.”
His place is football. His purpose is faith.
* * *
Ryan Broyles grew up in a Christian home. His family went to church. His parents taught right from wrong.
Broyles listened and learned. He even believed.
But living for God?
Not so much.
That was evident with the incident right before the Sooners' 2007 opener. Broyles, a true freshman, was expected to play but instead was suspended indefinitely; Norman police arrested him at Mr. Shortstop, a local gas station, when they found him with a fuel-pump key and a pump-override code.
The misdemeanor landed him a six-month deferred sentence and a $100 fine.
“I took life for granted when I did that,” Broyles admitted. “I took my scholarship for granted. I took all the people around me and people who helped get me to that point for granted.”
He felt invincible.
“I've definitely humbled myself since then,” he said.
But the journey hasn't always been easy.
Broyles was in the midst of a record-setting season last fall when Sooner quarterback Landry Jones made a suggestion.
“Let's do this Bible study,” Jones said.
Broyles agreed, but it didn't feel right.
He didn't feel right.
“I felt like I needed something else in my life,” Broyles said.
He started going to church weekly and reading the Bible regularly. He learned verses. He absorbed doctrine. He developed, as he calls it, head knowledge of God.
“But I never had a relationship,” he said. “I never really put him in my soul.”
All that changed in Haiti.
* * *
Ryan Broyles was in one of the poorest places on the planet, and he was envious.
Last spring, nearly two dozen OU athletes traveled to Haiti and volunteered at the Mission of Hope. In a country that has long been the poorest in the Western Hemisphere and is still reeling from the effects of a massive earthquake more than a year and a half ago, Broyles witnessed poverty unlike anything he'd ever seen. People with no roofs over their heads. People with no running water, no electricity, no modern convenience of any kind.
Everywhere he looked, he saw people with nothing — nothing but their faith.
In that stripped-down, laid-bare world, people found joy in their faith. They smiled. They laughed. They celebrated.
“I was jealous,” Broyles said. “I wanted to be like that.”
He remembers Sunday morning at Mission of Hope, standing in the church service looking down at the children as they sang. They had their heads thrown back and their arms raised up. They didn't care who was around. They worshipped with every ounce of their bodies.
Something clicked inside him during that trip.
Longtime girlfriend Mary Beth Offenburger met Broyles at the airport when he returned from Haiti. The person who hugged her as tears streamed down his face was not the same person she'd told goodbye a week earlier.
“There's no going back,” Broyles told her.
No going back to the way he was.
Offenburger marvels at how much Broyles has changed. He eats better and stretches more because his body is a gift from God. He takes bike rides just so he can enjoy God's creation. He studies the Bible daily with her — and sometimes without her.
“Listen to this verse I've been memorizing,” he'll sometimes say.
“When have you been doing this?” she'll wonder.
“It wasn't something that hit him and then like two weeks later he went back to normal,” Offenburger said of Broyles' spiritual transformation in Haiti. “It's crazy how different he is.”
Broyles said, “I felt like I had purpose and meaning. I felt like I could do more for people than just play football.”
* * *
Ryan Broyles has never looked forward to the start of football season quite like this.
His faith, you see, hasn't made football less important. If anything, he cares more about it than ever.
How does that work?
Allow Adam Barnett to explain. One morning a week, Broyles meets with the college minister at Journey Church who was also one of the organizers of the Haiti trip. During one of their meetings a few weeks back, Broyles mentioned a Bible verse, Colossians 3:23.
“Whatever you do, work at it with all your heart, as working for the Lord.”
That includes shuttle drills and suicide sprints, route running and film watching.
That includes football.
“I can honestly say that I have seen more interest and passion and excitement for football ever since he has been walking with God,” Barnett said of Broyles. “He cares deeply about his influence, and he wants to set the right example.
“He knows that this pedestal that he's on is not a burden. It's an honor and a privilege.”
It's also an opportunity.
Broyles can set an example for teammates who look to him as a leader. He can be a witness to fans who see him interviewed, read his quotes or follow him on Twitter.
Broyles tweeted to his more than 8,000 followers on Tuesday morning, “Let's be active Christians today! Control our thoughts and watch our tongues! Let our voice be sweet to each others ears! Think b4 we speak!”
Those closest to him have noticed his change.
“It's really affected his maturity and how he deals with everybody here,” Sooner wide receivers coach Jay Norvell said. “He used to want to just want to sit in the shadows and not have the attention on him. That's changed now.
“I think he's just really excited to lead and affect his teammates.”
Jones, who Broyles credits for helping him along his spiritual journey, said, “God definitely opened up his eyes.”
The impact goes beyond the walls of the Switzer Center.
Over the weekend, one of Broyles' Twitter followers wrote that his son had accepted Christ as his savior.
“You have inspired him,” the man said.
Broyles shook his head at that.
“It's really amazing,” he said, adding that he'd heard from two others who had been moved by his testimony. “Before, I was in my own life. I didn't really want to stand out. I didn't want people to follow me. Now, I'm really pushing to be a better person. I've actually found something that's allowing me to do that.
“I know I have so much influence; I just want to keep doing it the right way.”
If not for football, if not for the spotlight and the hype and the attention, Broyles wouldn't have the same audience. He wouldn't have the same opportunity to witness.
“Football,” Offenburger said, “is his stage ... to show what really matters in life.”
Broyles said, “There's no way I can't talk about it. I'm not ashamed at all.
“I'm not ashamed of my Lord.”