Walk a mile in OU kicker Jimmy Stevens' cleats
NORMAN — The question posed to Jimmy Stevens was fairly mundane.
The answer was not.
On the heels of the Oklahoma kicker winning back the starting job earlier this week, a reporter asked if he was a better kicker now than a year ago.
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"Really, honestly, I didn't kick the ball all that bad last year," Stevens said.
He glanced at the reporters gathered around him.
"You guys kind of crucified me for missing two kicks, but... I feel like I kicked pretty well last year."
Welcome to the life of a kicker, where media and fans will crucify you and coaches will bench you for missing two field goals out of 13 attempts, where open tryouts for walk-ons will be perceived as the search for your replacement, where a career field-goal percentage of 77.8 will make you the most maligned Sooner in the past decade.
Come walk in Jimmy Stevens' cleats for awhile.
Stevens, you'll remember, was a hotshot kicker at Heritage Hall. He broke the national high school record for career field goals with 50.
"Playing in high school, I thought, 'Yeah, it's a kick,'" he said with a no-big-deal look on his face. "I came out for my first extra point here, and I was like, 'It's not a normal kick.'"
Not with 85,000 people in the stands. Not with a television audience of millions. Not with everyone expecting perfection.
Stevens understands the high expectations — he's been an OU fan all of his life — but still, he struggled with losing his job not once but twice last season. After kicking throughout 2008 and through the first six games of 2009, he was replaced by Tress Way in late October. He missed a 45-yard attempt in a 16-13 loss to Texas the week before.
"It was disappointing," Stevens said, "but it was coach's call. I just kept working."
It paid off. A few weeks later, he returned to the starting lineup against Texas A&M, but after flubbing an extra point, Stevens lost the job for good to Patrick O'Hara, a walk-on who'd never before played football.
Oh, the horror.
Stevens could've tanked right then and there.
Instead, he put his head down and went to work.
That work ethic is one of the reasons Bob Stoops was most fired up by Stevens' performance against Air Force. When O'Hara suffered an injury in warm-ups, Stoops called on Stevens. The Sooner coach was almost giddy after the game talking about his junior kicker and the two field goals he hit in relief.
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