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.
"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.
"Jimmy does work hard at it," Stoops said.
Over the summer, Stevens went to camps, watched hours of film, even traveled to California to work with renowned kicking expert Chris Sailer.
In other words, Stevens didn't sulk or slink.
He slogged away at it.
Stevens says he didn't change anything major in his technique. The biggest changes came between his ears.
"I really didn't used to visualize or do any mental work my first couple years here," he said. "It's helped quite a bit since I started doing it."
He pictures the ball going through the uprights, remembers the solid kicks he's made and visualizes good things happening to him. He isn't always on the football field when he's using that technique, either. Those positive thoughts will be running through his head while he's walking across campus or even sitting in class.
"I should be paying attention," Stevens said, smiling, "but sometimes, I'll sit there and visualize."
No one is any bigger critic of Stevens, after all, than he is.
"I kind of want to be perfect," he said, "and it's sometimes not realistic."
"But I still want to be perfect."
Stevens focused on that all summer and throughout fall camp. Then, Stoops came out late in camp and said placekicking was his biggest concern. Then, the team held an open walk-on tryout that most people assumed was to find a new kicker.
To say Stevens was miffed about that would be an understatement.
"You've got to have a chip on your shoulder all the time," he said. "Someone could take your job at any minute. You've got to go out there and do your best every day, or you're going to lose your job."
Kicker is like no other position in football. If Landry Jones throws one incompletion, the Sooner quarterback isn't going to get benched. If Travis Lewis busts one assignment, the OU linebacker isn't going to be sidelined.
One mistake, though, could do in Stevens.
He says he isn't fixated on such negatives anymore. Stevens tries to stay focused now on the potential payoffs, not the possible pitfalls.
"I've got to keep doing my thing," he said, "and hopefully, I'll keep my job."
Say what you will about Jimmy Stevens, but he's endured the ups and downs, the twists and turns. Walking in his cleats hasn't been all that easy.