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.