Heisman candidate Baker Mayfield is hoping to lead Oklahoma back to the College Football Playoff in his senior season, and while the Sooners’ chances took a hit in last weekend’s upset loss to Iowa State, their path to a Big 12 title and a shot at the final four is still well within reach, with rivalry games against Texas and Oklahoma State coming in the month ahead. Before the Iowa State game, I sat down with the Sooners’ star quarterback to talk about his career, leadership, the rivalries he seems to relish and more.
Bruce Feldman: Do you think [Oklahoma coach Lincoln Riley] had a pretty unique understanding of what drives you early on? It wasn’t like he chose you or you chose him. You guys were both kind of here by circumstance. He seemed like he let you embrace playing with that edge, probably more than a lot of coaches. Would you agree with that?
Baker Mayfield: I would. And I think that is what makes him so special. He coaches to his players’ best traits and he lets them do their best by doing that. I think that is why [we connected] so quickly because I think he relates to his players and he lets them be themselves and feel comfortable. The open relationship and trust that I have with him is very special, and I think that is why we have so much success.
BF: How much has he changed now that he is in the big chair and that huge office?
BM: I tell him he is spoiled with that huge office all the time, but he hasn’t changed as a person. Just time/responsibility wise. It might be here and there; spending more time with special teams or looking at the defensive stuff instead of our individual drills as a quarterback, but other than that he is always—when it comes to an offense during practice I think he trusts [assistant head coach and defensive tackles coach Ruffin McNeil] and [defensive coordinator Mike Stoops] on that side of the ball to handle their business and get the job done. I think that is what makes him special. He expects you to get your responsibilities, so he is able to go and just be himself.
BF: You have had some amazing highs and some pretty trying times too since you have been in college. What has been the hardest thing for you, looking back at your career now?
BM: You know, might be too obvious to say getting past the arrest stuff, but it really was the hardest point for me, you know? Just one mistake in a short amount of time that kind of dragged me down for a while there. Wasn’t in a great place, but just battling through that and realizing that I have a great support system here and I am able to rely on those people. I don’t have to do everything myself.
BF: For a guy who is pretty out there personality-wise and active on social media, what was going through your mind when you found out that there was a video of you getting tackled by a cop that was going to be online now?
BM: It wasn’t a great feeling. Disappointing really, knowing that it was going to be out there. There would be no stones left unturned with that one so everybody would know what happened. I just kind of had to shut my phone down there for a while and not respond or look at anything and really just kind of rely on the people that were right there for me instead of looking into everything.
BF: Was the worst part of that giving people ammunition to take shots at you? Or was it the feeling of “I’m in this position of leadership and now all these people who have gone to bat for me have to explain me?”
BM: The people that know me on the outside, they can have their own opinion. So be it. It is fair enough. They are entitled to that. It is the disappointment of the people that were there for me and supported me and counted on me to handle myself in the right way, that I let them down.
BF: What was the biggest thing you learned from going through that process?
BM: I’m in such a position that I have been so blessed with how I am able to give back. It makes me feel so much better as a person knowing that I am in that spot where I can make somebody’s day or make a difference by just going and either helping out at camp or talking to kids, delivering meals. Just the little stuff here and there, it is a huge difference. And so, I think I realize that it really was a blessing in disguise. No, I would not want to go through the arrest and humiliation again. At the same time, I learned so much from it and I learned so much about myself after all of it.
BF: You come in here and just kind of show up as a transfer. Trevor Knight is here, and he is a really established leader, everything a coach could probably want. Some of your teammates say you’re the best dancer on the team, and we saw that video of you dancing in front of the guys. How important do you think it was for your teammates to see you as this guy with a presence and be this “cool” guy?
BM: I think not only [my teammates] had an idea of kind of who I was before then, but I think them getting to know me on a personal level was the most important thing, knowing how much I cared about the game and the team, and I really did everything I could for this team.
I gave it my all. I treated each practice like it was a game, and that was my game during that time period. They saw who I was and I didn’t say one thing and mean another. What they saw is what they got. They saw that I was an up-front person and I was going to be honest with those guys all the time. Sometimes that, you know, offends some people with how brutally honest I was. I would rather let them know how I feel instead of it being two-faced.
BF: Your teammates are 18, 19, 20-year-olds as opposed to 45 and 50-year-olds. How much do you think having a little bit of swagger and a little bit of edge helped them buy into you as a leader?
BM: You come here and you have, I don’t know how many egos, but to be somebody that truly believes in themselves and has that confidence is not just putting on a front. It is for real and every time I step out there I believe in myself. I think playing with that edge, it pushes the other guys. I think that is why Coach Reilly doesn’t want to reel me in as much and wants me to be as competitive as I am. It pushes those other guys, and they see how I care about it.
BF: Some people have compared you to Johnny Manziel. He won a Heisman. He was a great college player. Obviously, it hasn’t worked out to this point in pro football. How do you take that analogy?
BM: We are two completely different guys. And I think there are some similarities on the field but at the same time he ran around—he is a great athlete and he ran around to run. I don’t do that. I ran around to spread the ball out and put our team in the best position to win. It is kind of humbling. He won a Heisman. He is a great player. But at the same time we are not the same at all, and especially I mean off the field it is ... he gets his guys to play better. I think that is one similar thing off the field, but we are two completely different people.
BF: You are from the Austin area—how much would it suck if you end up not winning the last time you play Texas?
BM: That would be very disappointing, knowing that last year was my first win against them; even going back to Texas Tech I had lost. Last year was special. Knowing this is my last run at it, this is why I have worked so hard to get where I am at now. Senior year. It has flown by, I can’t believe it. I have already played four games. Just knowing that it is my last opportunity to make the most of it. Obviously, that game means a lot to me being from Austin, so I do want to take care of business.
BF: You are going to have a communications degree here pretty soon. What do you want to do after football?
BM: It has been kind of a wishy-washy thing. I used to think I wanted to coach and I would be a great coach. But after watching some of the hours those guys put in, and they have families, and it takes them away from that so much, it is hard to watch. I respect them so much for that. I don’t know if that is necessarily something that I want to do down the road—I think I would be a great commentator, but we will see. I will see how long I can keep on playing until I decide what I am going to be doing.
BF: What do you expect from the Oklahoma State fans when Bedlam is in Stillwater this season?
BM: What to expect in Bedlam? I expect my mugshot to be everywhere. Quite frankly, I would be a little disappointed if they didn’t do it. I am expecting there to be a lot of trash talk. Our sidelines [at Oklahoma], our fans are very close; it is very enclosed. There is not a lot of room right there. You hear what the fans are saying. In Stillwater they are even closer and they are on top of you. They get those paddles going. I expect there to be just a great atmosphere and a lot on the line for that game given the Big 12 implications. I expect them to bring their A game, and I got a funny story here.
After I got arrested, I got something in the mail at my house and it said like, it was like Posters-R-Us or something. I can’t remember the company name. I thought it was going to be a big thing of my mugshot that I would take out—‘O.K., that is a good one.’ It was a spring-loaded confetti bomb with orange and black glitter—they sent that to me and got me pretty good. That is why I love college football. Rivalries. I expect that game to be a lot of fun.