NORMAN — The football felt absolutely perfect when it left James Winchester’s hands.
On the first play of his college career, Oklahoma’s back-up deep snapper committed the biggest of blunders. He snapped it too high and too hard, over the punter’s head and out of the end zone for a safety.
It was Chattanooga’s only score Saturday night.
“It’s kind of a bad way to start college,” Winchester admitted, “but it’s all right.”
Saturday, you see, was not a disaster for the walk-on from Washington. It wasn’t even a disappointment.
It was a dream.
On a night many wondered what the Sooners could’ve possibly gotten out of a 57-2 rout, Winchester took away a lifetime of memories. He wasn’t even old enough to be in kindergarten when he started going to OU games, but he’s been dreaming about becoming a Sooner ever since.
He watched for all those years with his family in the southeast corner of the stadium, 32 rows from the field.
Saturday, Winchester saw the game from a new perspective.
“It’s really cool being on the other end of it,” he said. “Just to get an opportunity to come up here and play, it’s really cool.”
Don’t let the aw-shucks personality of a kid from McClain County fool you. This opportunity didn’t just fall into his lap. This dream didn’t just happen.
Winchester fought for it.
He has crimson and cream in his blood. His father, Mike, was the punter on OU’s 1985 championship team. His older sister, Carolyn, is a walk-on turned scholarship player on the OU women’s basketball team.
Still, the Sooners weren’t beating a path to Winchester’s door. Neither were many other teams. A few small colleges showed interest in the first-team Little All-City wide receiver, but Winchester decided to walk on at OU.
And he thought deep snapping might get him noticed.
The only trick was learning how to do it.
Winchester wasn’t a deep snapper in high school. He was actually the punter. But occasionally when his dad would help young punters, Winchester would provide the snaps.
“It was one of those things that I put in my back pocket,” he said.
He started working on it a couple months ago and made steady progress throughout the summer. Still, Winchester might not have gotten a chance had veteran deep snapper Derek Shaw not partially torn his Achilles last spring.
But with Shaw still nursing that injury, Winchester got the call Saturday night.
“I hate to hope for an early punt,” his dad said, but that’s exactly what he did.